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6 ways to avoid sneaky hotel fees

Whether it's in the air or on the ground, the fight against fees is an eternal struggle. Use these tactics to push back against fee-focused hotels.

By Stacy Johnson Nov 21, 2011 2:21PM

This post is from Jason Steele at partner site Money Talks News.


MoneyTalksNews on MSN MoneyDo you really know how much your next hotel stay will cost you? You may have a confirmation in hand, and you might think you know what the price will be -- but the hotel industry is following the lead of the airline industry in trying to charge customers extra for services that were once free.


"Following in the footsteps of the airlines, hotels are piling on a slew of hidden fees," CNN reports. "Now guests are getting charged for everything from access to a gym (or a pool), to early check-ins or departures to holding your luggage."


Fortunately, avoiding these fees on the ground is actually easier than doing so in the air.


1. Shop around. If you need a nonstop flight from Denver to Des Moines, you probably have the choice of only one or two airlines with similar fee structures. On the other hand, you'll have dozens of lodging options. When choosing a hotel, take into account optional expenses such as parking, Internet service, and breakfast in order to determine where the best deal is. Unlike with airlines, it's still relatively easy to call a hotel, speak to a live person, and ask about fees.

2. Confirm everything. Just because a hotel lists amenities like Internet service or garage parking doesn't mean they're free. Go directly to the hotel's website and see if it lists the amenity as complimentary.  If it's not clear, send a brief email or make a quick phone call and ask what the charges will be for the services you'll use. If you use email, print it out as proof in case the hotel tries to change its policies later.


3. Be careful with third-party booking sites. Online travel agents are notorious for including language that absolves themselves from any mandatory fees a hotel may decide to tack on. For example, Expedia only informs customers at the very end of their reservations process that, "The price shown DOES NOT include any applicable hotel service fees, charges for optional incidentals (such as mini-bar snacks or telephone calls), or regulatory surcharges." Notice how they obscure their policy by lumping in optional expenses like the mini-bar and telephone charges with unspecified mandatory charges such as resort fees and regulatory surcharges -- rendering their price quotes almost useless. I've found this to be especially a problem with Las Vegas-area hotels.


4. Be pushy. I once checked into a hotel in Phoenix and was informed that there was a mandatory "safe fee" added onto my bill. I told them that I wasn't informed of this charge when I made my reservation, and that I had no intention of using the safe during my brief stay. They responded by offering to remove the charge when I checked out. I got them to relent only after I told them that I was leaving for an early-morning meeting, and I insisted the charge be removed at check-in. Managers do have some discretion to remove charges, especially when they failed to properly disclose them. At a resort in Beaver Creek, Colo., I had a parking fee taken off after their valet failed to close my car's window. Post continues below.

5. Consider low- and mid-range properties. While I enjoy staying in luxury hotels for cheap, I can do without paying a $40 "resort fee" or $15 a day for Internet. There's a strange dynamic going on in the hotel industry, where low- and mid-range properties offer free amenities while high-end hotels – even within the same corporation – tack on additional charges. For example, Hampton Inns offer free local calls, high-speed Internet, and breakfast, while their corporate parent Hilton often charges for these amenities. It's as if the industry has discovered that  luxury guests are not price-sensitive and will consent to anything.


6. Bargain. A hotel might have a long list of fees, but again, most of them can be waived at the manager's discretion. If you're booking a longer stay, visiting during a slow season, or have multiple rooms, you'll be in a great position to suggest that some fees be eliminated in return for your business.


More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Nov 24, 2011 10:17AM
I have issue with #4 - Be pushy.  I've been in the hotel industry for over 9 years now, and while you can usually get your way with the manager, you may want to make sure he or she is there before you start pushing your point too harshly.  If you are checking in at 9pm, don't expect there to to a manager who can approve changes to protocol.  If the unempowered clerk says no, and you keep pushing, you may not only not get your way, but also be flagged as a belligerent guest for future stays.  Remember, politely requesting is one thing, but rudely demanding crosses the line, and there are consequences for rudeness for employees and customers alike.
Nov 26, 2011 6:42PM

What I dislike most about this new source of profits for hotels is the sneakiness. If you don't read the fine print under the fine print you could pay significantly more for a stay than you had planned. What would happen in a restaurant if there was a "bread service fee" added to your bill when you didn't ask for or eat any bread with your meal....  they could say that bread was available if you had wanted it. Just like an in room wall safe. Any time a per night charge is given to a customer  it should, by law, include the unavoidable fees that will be added to the bill.  I will stay in as nice a place as I can afford, I just don't want any surprises at check out.


And yes, I dislike pushy people also. Perhaps one of the reasons the upscale properties are getting sneakier is that it is usually the more affluent customers who are the most demanding.  I have friends who work in four and five star properties and you wouldn't believe the accounts of what some of these folks demand and the lengths to which they will go to receive something for free. It's like a game for the very well-to-do. Hurray for mid and low range properties disclosing add on fees in advance.

Nov 25, 2011 12:49PM


  1. If you go through a 3rd party booking company, they may not have all of the details about the property.
  2. ASK FOR THE LOWEST AVAILABLE RATE at the hotel or call the hotels 1 800 number for additional rates.
  3. ASK if their are discounts for the company you work for, consider Costco, Sam's club or rates for certain insurance company customers. Do NOT assume that Expedia or others have the lowest available rate.
  4. Often when you book with a 3rd party site, you have to go back through that 3rd party to have problems fixed or refunds given.
  5. Join the hotel's rewards program, especially if you travel often. It's FREE. I have seen a lot of free nights, restaurant meals earned this way. And major retail stores, gas stations and airline partners let you use your points to purchase goods and fly free. Some of the hotels have programs where your points never expire so let them accumulate and redeem them when you can.
Apr 29, 2013 5:31PM
I was recently unimpressed to be stung for a late check-in fee (9pm!) that amounted to 30% extra on the bill (
Nov 25, 2011 12:35PM

Well said Jaclyn.

I totally understand the frustration over extra fees in most cases. But I don't budge the minute someone starts "pushing me around"... for a number of reasons. I have been in the industry over 20 years now, and have worked from the front desk to top management and have witnessed hoe some people go way over board with the pushy.

One other thing I may add is that when making the reservation, take the time to listen to any advisements when booking over the phone and READ ALL of the small print when booking the room themselves over the internet. Here is why: Most hotels have policies in place that each employee must follow during booking, and are enforcing the rules with those employees by "shopping" their own hotels posing as guests and listening to calls for training and ensuring that employees are following protocol. Some reservation centers have the representative state during your call (which may be recorded-so if you lie and say you were not told, it can be investigated and you will most likely be flagged)  "additional taxes and fees may apply and give information on strict cancellation policies and refund information".

 It is also on your online confirmation when you book it yourself. If you fail to read it, or hang up on the reservationist who is booking your room for you in the middle of the advisements, then it's on you and the manager does not have to do anything.


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