Did you know that hotels worldwide take in about $2 billion a year in hidden fees? With all of us looking to save money in today's economy, we need to research our choices and avoid the hotels that are overcharging. This, however, is easier said than done because many hotels don't break down their fees until you receive the final bill.
Although there are many ways to avoid some of these sneaky fees, the obvious is to just ask! Pick up the phone and call the hotel directly to inquire about which fees will be charged to your stay. Avoid calling the 800 reservations number, because even chains will vary from hotel to hotel. Many times if you have a problem with a fee, it will be waived if you ask, but make sure that you write down the staff member's name and the exact fee they agreed to drop. During your stay, don't take anything for granted. Always ask if a fee applies.
One of the biggest fees that you can avoid is the use of the room's mini bar. Other than the outrageously marked up prices that the hotel will charge for its contents, sometimes just picking up an item and putting it back can trigger the mini bar's sensors and result in the price of the item being added to your bill. Putting your own items in the mini bar can also incur fees because you will have to move items to make room for your own. Try calling ahead and asking the staff at the hotel to empty the mini bar before you arrive. Beware, however, because some hotels have been known to charge a $50 "re-stocking" fee! Be careful also about that big bottle of water left in your room. That is not a gift; it will usually cost between $6 and $10!
Resort fees are another big surprise for many travelers. These fees can run as high as $25 per day in some places, and you're not even sure what they cover. Most of the time, resort fees are charged to cover the cost of the business center, pool, gym, daily newspaper, grounds keeping, housekeeping, etc. Without inquiring, you will be charged this fee, even if you use none of the services.
Many hotels are now adding housekeeping and bellman gratuities to your bill, sometimes as much as $30 per stay. Although most people want to tip these hard workers, just be sure that you are not doing it twice. Ask when you check in, and if a fee will be added, ask that it be removed so that you can tip at your own discretion.
Do you ever check into your hotel early or later than the stated time? Arriving early can sometimes cost $50 for that early access. Additionally, late checkout can cost you dollars too. Be sure to check the hotel's cancellation policy when you book. Many hotels that used to let you cancel on the same day are now requiring a 48 hour notice or you will be billed for one night's stay.
So what do you do to avoid being surprised by hidden fees? Always check for fees before booking your hotel. By law, fees should never be a surprise. They must be clearly stated in the reservation conditions. Make sure you read the fine print or ask about fees when booking by phone. If you are being billed for a service that you are not using, ask to have it removed from your bill and they should grant your request. Finally, check your bill carefully before you check out and contact the staff immediately if you see any unfair charges. If you have a problem with the resolution of your bill, put your complaint in writing so you will have a record of what happened should you need to get your credit card company involved. The best option of all is to simply avoid the hotels that consistently charge fees. Stay only at hotels that charge a fair price, rather than one that advertises low rates, but then pads the rate with an assortment of fees.
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Ann Jones, CTC, MCC