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Be careful of these 9 hotel 'gotchas'

Don't get caught up in a financial scam when you're on vacation.

By Jul 15, 2014 1:34PM
This post comes from Bob Sullivan at partner site on MSN MoneyWhen you check into a hotel, don't set let scam artists or misbehaving companies check into your wallet. It's summer travel season, and that means vacations, road trips and hotel stays.

It also means you'll be facing a minefield of gotchas. So don't let your healthy skepticism go on vacation when you do.

Hotel maid © Simon Jarratt/CorbisThere's ripoffs, and there's sneaky fees, but to your wallet, they are the same thing. Together, I call them all "gotchas." So before you pack your bags, here's a quick reminder of what to watch out for the next time you check into a hotel.

The Federal Trade Commission just published a list of "hazards" consumers can face at hotels. These identity theft-related scams are a good place to start.

1. The late-night call from the front desk

After you check in, the room phone rings, allegedly from the front desk. There's a problem with your credit card, the operator says, please give me the account numbers again. This popular scam tactic works because many elements combine to make it seem feasible. To pull it off, all a criminal has to do is trick their way through a hotel switchboard and catch a patron in the room. If you get a call like this, hang up, call the operator, and ask if there's a problem. That's a good habit at home, too. Hang up and call back. If there's really a problem, don't reveal your number over the phone. Just walk back to the front desk.

2. The pizza delivery deal

"You find a pizza delivery flyer slipped under your hotel door," the FTC says. "You call to order, and they take your credit card number over the phone. But the flyer is a fake, and a scammer now has your info." I've not seen widespread incidence of this; it would be pretty brazen for ID thieves to physically walk around hotel hallways, where cameras might be used to identify them. Still, the same principal applies. Use a smartphone to double-check the phone number you see on any flyer placed in your room before you order pizza.

With scams like the pizza and late-night call schemes, the goal is to get a hold of your credit card number for fraud. You should monitor your bank accounts regularly so you can react early if you become a victim. Also, you may want to consider monitoring your credit score and credit reports for signs of fraud. You can check two of your credit scores for free every month on and you can get your credit reports for free once a year at

3. The fake Wi-Fi network

The single easiest way for a hacker to hijack your computer is to set up a rogue hot spot named "linksys" and trick you into connecting to it. "Oh, free WiFi," you think. While that's a very real problem, it's also not terribly likely in a hotel room. After all, to be close enough to pull it off, the criminal's technology would in most cases have to be inside the hotel. That's a risky proposition. On the other hand, you might be visiting a lot of strange coffee shops on the road, where rogue Wi-Fi is a more likely possibility.

It's always smart to double-check the safety of the networks you connect to, however. It might be wise to stick with your smartphone's connectivity, if that's possible.

About those hidden fees

Your wallet doesn't care if a criminal is stealing your money or a corporation is tricking you out of it, so here's the other half of the gotcha story. The NYU Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management says hotels collected a record $2.1 billion in fees last year, up from $1.2 billion a decade ago. No reason to believe this year won't be a record, too.

4. Internet fees

The more expensive the hotel, the more likely you will be charged a hefty Wi-Fi fee of $10-$15 per day. The new trick I've seen lately is for hotels to offer "free" Wi-Fi in the lobby, but charge for access in the room. (That means be skeptical of free Wi-Fi offers now!) Best way to avoid that fee? Before you leave, make sure you know how to use your smartphone for broadband access.

5. Resort fees

Hotels have a love-hate relationship with websites like Priceline or Expedia, which help them fill rooms, but systematically put downward price pressure on their inventory. Extra fees, added at check-in, are the hotels' way around this problem. Many folks pay online, only to find there's additional charges when they arrive at the hotel. Resort fees are often the biggest culprit. As the name suggests, this fee is most prevalent in restort-y places like Las Vegas. But resort fees can pop up anywhere. Or they can come with other names, such as...

6. Housekeeping fees

Hotels like charging to clean your room now, as if that's not included in the price. The worst part of the housekeeping fee: Often, housekeepers don't get any of the money.

7. Pet fees

Traveling with Fido (or Rusty)? The good news: More hotels are embracing travelers with pets. The bad news? They are doing it because it's good business. Hotels charge anywhere from $10 to $100 for allowing a pet in your room. If you use a site like Expedia to sort through pet-friendly hotels, make sure you manually check the fee. Not all pet-friendly hotels are created equal.

8. Safe fees

This one bugs me. Some hotels put a safe fee on your bill, even if you never use the safe. You can ask that it be removed. Same for the newspaper fee.

9. Cancellation fees

Finally, gone are the days when hotels could be canceled by 6 p.m. on the night of a reservation for a full refund. Cancellation policies are all over the map now, and can even vary based on how the reservation was initially made. Never book a hotel without knowing what the cost of a breakup would be. Travel always involves adventure, which involves unpredictability, which means plans change. Make sure you plan for that.

More from

Jul 17, 2014 8:50AM
Most of those fees should be illegal if not disclosed clearly at booking time.
Jul 19, 2014 8:37AM
Christ, they're getting as bad as the airlines.  Makes you not want to go anywhere.
Jul 19, 2014 9:57AM
I have been tapped for some of these add on fees and for the most part been able to talk my way out of paying for them but some of their managers were hard nose and would not negotiate..... Now when I check in we get all the add on stuff straight up front. 
Jul 19, 2014 11:24AM
I haven't run across these fees. Some of them are common sense avoidance. Generally what the receipt says when we check in is what we pay going out. However, If they have a mini bar, don't use it.
Jul 19, 2014 4:17PM

When looking at a hotel to stay at in Wailea last year, I read through the comments of some of the people that had stayed there prior.  This particular hotel had housekeeping fees, valet fees, self-parking fees, tennis fees,.......all told these fees totaled over $100 every night.  I mean damn !!!!

Jul 19, 2014 9:50AM

Does the author check spelling? +restort-y"

I have encountered resort fees of $25 to $50 per person per night. But, it was in the rate description.

Parking fees are another potentially expensive item. Anticipate paying $45 per night in San Francisco.

Jul 19, 2014 10:52AM
Be careful trying to use your phone for internet access. Tethering and data can easily cost more than the hotel's Wi-Fi.
Jul 19, 2014 3:59PM
Was in a fancy hotel in Kansas City, and found the wifi fee.  Went to the front desk and asked if they were serious, I mean Motel 6 has free wifi.  They gave me wifi in my room for free, makes it feel like a scam for the folks just willing to accept it.
Jul 19, 2014 10:51AM
I don't necessarily mind paying for a good internet connection, but I HATE when they charge by device.
Jul 19, 2014 1:32PM
Become a member of tripadvisor and write reviews on every place you stay. This is the best way to make sure hotels don't do any of the silliness suggested in this story. High priced hotels are no more apt to charge for wifi than cheap hotels, in fact I've found the opposite to be true. It is the low priced hotels who try to up the cost once you are there by charging for wifi and higher in-hotel restaurant food. I report on every hotel regarding wifi and if it is free or paid. Take away the TV and give me wifi. ALL HOTELS SHOULD BE INCLUDING FREE WIFI! It is 2014, not 1997. 
Jul 19, 2014 3:11PM
Just like "shop fees" when you get your car services.  Only you can never get those removed.
Jul 19, 2014 5:31PM

Always check the fine print when booking a good deal on a site not directly with the hotel.  Sometimes they will squeeze in small print that it does not include resort fees, especially Vegas deals which when added sometimes makes the savings moot.  Also, I learned not to book vacation packages through Travelocity and to reserve and book separately.   I booked one to Vegas early and got an email from them saying our return flight ended up being cancelled for some reason and they re-booked us on a return flight a day earlier.  The airline could do nothing as far as refunding so I could choose a different airline on the way back.  It was a hot mess dealing with Travelocity to get them to switch us on a different flight for the day we booked to check out of the hotel and come home for the same price.

Jul 19, 2014 8:50AM

I travel a lot. I have never, ever been charged for any of these things unless told up front. As far as the pizza thing goes....Don't leave your brain at home when you travel.



Jul 20, 2014 2:20AM
bout the author...he didn't sleep in a holiday inn last night...and it shows...
Jul 19, 2014 5:34PM
In general, hotels charge as if you're buying the place. Gone are the days, you could jump in the car and find a room en route.  You find sooooo many motels, hotels owned and/or managed by people from the Mid-east, whom I suspect can't comprehend the hospitality industry. Their standards are simply not on a par with ours. I never thought I would entertain the idea of buying an RV; but at least it's your own dirt and you do not need a black light.  
Jul 19, 2014 7:34AM
Always consult with your doctor first.
Jul 19, 2014 12:51PM
Avoid these problems...stay at a Marriott chain hotel. And most of this advice is common sense and you should already be tuned into the scammers...if not get out from udder that rock and wake up.
Jul 19, 2014 5:38PM

I say this much regarding the “extra fees” hotels like to add to their guest bill. If the hotel maid assigned to service my room looks as good – and as wholesome -- as the one appearing in the above photo – SURE – I'm willing to pay an extra fee, ESPECIALLY if, when her shift ends, she'll meet with me for a meal and/or drinks.

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