If you've stayed at a hotel in the last few years, you've become accustomed -- if not anesthetized -- to these annoying extras. You expect them. You're indifferent to them when they appear on your bill.
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Consider these two facts: 2010 is shaping up to be another "down" year for the hotel industry. PKF Consulting forecasts that hotel occupancy will remain flat compared with 2009 and room rates will slide 1.5 percent. That means it's a buyer's market -- actually, make that a beggar's market -- with hotels practically giving away their rooms.
At a time like this, no hotel manager in his right mind would add a new surcharge. If anything, they'd remove them to make us happy. "Upsetting guests is not worth it," says Robert Mandelbaum, a PKF analyst.
All of which raises the following questions: Which hotel fees are still out there that shouldn't be? Which ones should be euthanized? And how do you go about finishing them off?
Here are five hotel fees that must die.
These add-ons to your room bill started innocently enough. Resort guests complained that they were being nickel-and-dimed by extras for beach towels, umbrellas and the use of exercise facilities, among other things. So the properties rolled them all into a "resort fee" and made those amenities "free." But along the way, greed horribly twisted these fees. First it became mandatory, so you no longer had a choice about using the amenities, or, more specifically, being charged for them. And then larger, urban hotels that didn't have resort-like amenities, decided to copy it. Before long, resort fees had become an embarrassment to the hotel industry. Guests were being hit with the fees everywhere, causing their room charges to mushroom by $15, $20 or even $30 a night. Unacceptable. It's time to give resort fees the heave-ho!
How to kill them: No hotel should charge a mandatory resort fee. Ever. If you book a room at a hotel that has one, and it's clearly disclosed, you have few options. Trying to negotiate your way out of one when you check in is your best bet. However, few resort fees are adequately disclosed. If the hotel refuses to strike the surcharge from your bill, talk to your credit card company. I've dealt with several cases in which the fee was refunded directly by a credit card company.
FEES FOR FURNITURE
The most common flavor of this fee is a surcharge for your safe. (Ironically, the hotel often doesn't vouch for the safety of the items you store in one.) But that's not the only item hotels ask you to pay extra for. Corinne McDermott, who runs a Web site about family travel, asked to be put in a room with a refrigerator on a recent visit to Quebec City. The hotel asked for an additional $10-a-day-fee. She said "no." "We made room in the minibar and managed to fit our daughter's milk and other snacks inside," she says. "And we paid extra attention to the check-out receipt, to make sure there were no additional charges." Billing a guest for furniture that's already in the room is unconscionable. What's next, a fee for your bed?
How to kill them: Always ask if there's an additional fee when you make a special request, like a room with a refrigerator or any other amenity, such as a coffeemaker. (Don't laugh -- I've come across hotel guests who were charged extra for their coffeemakers.) If the answer is yes, you can always decline. If you find yourself staring down one of these surcharges at check-out, you should protest -- first to the front-desk employee, then to a manager, and finally to your credit-card company.
CONCIERGE, BELLHOP AND HOUSECLEANING FEES
Believe it or not, some hotels tack on a fee for their bellhops and concierges -- two optional services that guests usually pay for with tips. At one hotel, motivational speaker Barry Maher was hit with a mandatory fee for bellhop service. "Never mind the fact that I rolled my own roller bag to the room and never even saw a bellman," he says. He also found a fee for housecleaning on his final bill. "Mentioning that I write and speak on customer service got the first fee removed," he recalls. "But I think I just shrugged and shook my head over the housekeeping fee." A lot of other hotel guests, do too. What if you don't pay a fee for cleaning the room? Will they refuse to service your room? Come on.
How to kill them: Common sense is your most effective weapon against these unreasonable fees. Not only are they often improperly disclosed, but they also fly in the face of reason. The cost of your room should include housekeeping. Use of a concierge or bellhop should be optional, not mandatory. Explain to a manager that if they ever want your business again, the fees must be removed. Immediately.
Never underestimate a hotel revenue manager's creativity. Seriously, these employees sit around all day wondering how to make more money from us. George Webb, a blogger who has been traveling the world, recently encountered an "air conditioning fee" at an airport hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. "You paid for it by the hour," he remembers. "Plus, there was even a service charge and taxes on that fee, in addition to another service charge and tax on the price of the room." Fees like this shouldn't exist, and the only reason they do is that guests put up with them. Look, do you really think visitors will tolerate an un-air conditioned room at an airport hotel in Kuala Lumpur? Neither do I. These fees must die.
How to kill them: Logic. Some of these fees are so laughable that you just have to ask about them in order to have them removed.
FEES THAT OUGHT TO BE ILLEGAL
Leslie Dykeman stayed at a Comfort Inn in Scottsdale, Ariz., and an Econo Lodge in Tempe, Ariz., recently. Both charged a $3 per day "energy fee." "Mind you, I am from the northeast," Dykeman added, "and in Scottsdale, I didn't turn on the air conditioner once." Some chain hotels were sued several years ago for adding energy fees to their bills, and backed down. But smaller, franchise properties still do it and get away with it. Surcharges like this ought to be illegal, and in some states they practically are. Adding $3 for electricity is outrageous. If these fees are allowed to stand, it can't be long before we're charged for pillows, blankets and toilet paper. Enough already.
How to kill them: Like many other nuisance fees, these kinds of surcharges are poorly disclosed. (And for good reason. They work better when they're sprung on guests.) Given the surprise nature of these bizarre charges, negotiating them off your bill shouldn't be too difficult.
Point is, at a time like this, you shouldn't have to put up with any of these fees. A property charging mandatory resort fees, valet fees, safe fees or energy fees doesn't just hate its customers -- it probably also has a death wish.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at email@example.com.