It may not be the most annoying thing in the world, but it’s pretty close: after booking an overpriced room at a hotel or resort, you discover that a resort fee is being added to the already exorbitant room rate. Usually, those fees cover things that should be included in the first place: Wi-Fi, a daily newspaper, or access to the fitness center or pool.
Hotel and resort fees are a North American phenomenon. While you’re unlikely to encounter them outside the United States, they’re rampant in the popular tourist destinations in this country (New York City; the Hawaiian Islands; Orlando, Key West or Miami, Florida). Las Vegas is the epicenter of the resort fee, and it’s nearly impossible to find a hotel on the Strip that doesn’t charge one. Bellagio currently levies a fee of $45 per night, which covers high-speed internet, unlimited local and toll-free calls, airline boarding pass printing, notary service, and fitness center access for guests over 18. At some of the lower-priced Strip hotels, the combination of resort fees and mandatory taxes nearly equals the nightly price of the room.
These fees are not advertised, so they allow the property to pretend that the room is cheaper than it really is. They also make price comparison impossible, since fees are left out of online booking engines such as Priceline or Expedia. They’re a classic example of bait and switch, as they allow a hotel to advertise one rate and charge another (similar to the dealer prep fee in the automotive world).
Hope is on the horizon. Karl Racine, Attorney General of the District of Columbia, is suing Marriott for deceptive resort fees that ranged from $9 to as high as $95 per night. Racine is seeking a court order to force Marriott to disclose the true cost of rooms, and to pay both monetary damages to consumers as well as civil penalties. If he succeeds, the lawsuit will probably be replicated around the country. It will be a tough fight, though, given that the hotel industry in the U.S. brings in nearly $3 billion annually with resort fees.
In the meantime, how do you avoid resort fees? Here are some strategies that might work:
This is almost as lame as the “avoid hotels that charge a resort fee” gambit, but it could succeed. Point out that it’s February and you won’t be using the hotel pool, that you have a cell phone and won’t be making in-room calls, that you get your news online rather from a daily newspaper. If you hit the right desk clerk (or manager) at the right time of year, they have the authority to waive the fee.
Book an Award Stay
Hilton and Hyatt waive resort fees on award stays (as opposed to points and cash bookings), and Wyndham also claims to do so. Hilton points are easy to earn using the American Express co-branded portfolio of cards. Hyatt is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, which also makes the points simple to obtain.
Use Your Loyalty Leverage
If you’re an elite member of the hotel’s loyalty program (whether that status comes from actual room stays or from a co-branded credit card), you’re in a better bargaining position. Hyatt routinely waives resort fees for Globalists, their top-tier elites, and VIPs seldom pay them in Las Vegas (although the cost of being a high roller could make the resort fee seem insignificant). If you’re a frequent traveler who logs dozens of nights with a particular chain, don’t hesitate to point that out; the information will be in your profile and be easy for the hotel to verify. You’re a valuable customer, and one the hotel chain doesn’t want to lose.
Dispute the Charge
Now we enter the hardball zone. First, make sure you pay with a credit card and receive documentation that you paid the resort fee. On returning home, contact your credit card company. Explain that you were forced to pay an additional fee that wasn’t advertised as part of the room rate, and that you didn’t use the services covered by the fee. Tell them you want to dispute the charge and be reimbursed by the hotel. This is a strategy that may work, particularly if you’ve used a high-end credit card such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Amex Platinum (American Express has a reputation for protecting cardholders in similar situations).
Small Claims Court
While this may sound extreme, it’s a feasible solution if you have the time to pursue it. You can file a claim in your home district if you booked the room in that jurisdiction (i.e., on a home computer). If you stayed at a hotel for one week, the resort fees could easily exceed $300. No lawyer is required on your end, and there’s a good chance you’ll be reimbursed.
Is this worth making a fuss over? In a word, yes. The more travelers who complain, the more impact it may have. If you’re hit with a resort fee you didn’t expect, make sure the hotel knows you won’t be returning; it may not mean much in Hawaii or Orlando, where they have a steady stream of guaranteed tourists, but it can be significant elsewhere. In the meantime, watch for the outcome of the Marriott suit and hope for a positive outcome that has a domino effect across the country.