May 8, 2011 in Travel

Watch out for hotel fees, which may not be in base price online

Karen Schwartz I Associated Press
 

Caesars Entertainment Corp. recently stopped charging resort fees at most of its properties. Since then, the occupancy rate has gone from around 90 percent to better than 95 percent, said spokesman Gary Thompson.
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If you’re budgeting for summer travel, be on the lookout for fees on your hotel bill for everything from newspapers to luggage storage.

Some of them can be avoided. Be careful with the mini-bar, because even jostling items may incur a charge if they are electronically tracked. And ask about charges for things you used to take for granted, like early check-in.

Other charges you may encounter include fees for mandatory valet parking, porters, fitness centers, late checkout, housekeeping services, Internet connection, package or fax delivery, mini-bar restocking, in-room safes and even in-room coffee.

“In places other than Las Vegas, I run into mandatory parking fees all the time,” said Timothy Genter, 44, of Olathe, Kan., who travels several times a year, both for leisure and for his job as the finance manager at a Fortune 50 company.

“Those are a scam as well, but you know about those and it could be argued that they are actually providing a service for the fees.”

On the other hand, he said, “there is no justification for resort fees.”

Mandatory resort fees – which can range from a few bucks a night to $20 or $30 – often show up on a bill for amenities you might have assumed were part of the base cost of your accommodation, covering items like a newspaper, Internet connection or access to the fitness center and pool.

The fees are typically imposed whether you use the amenities covered or not, but if you’re booking online, they don’t appear in the price quote, making it much harder for consumers to comparison shop.

“What’s driving this is the Internet,” said Ed Perkins, contributing editor to SmarterTravel.com. “It has so magnified the importance of price comparisons that a lot of hotels feel it’s very important for them to show up as low as they can in the base rates.

“The temptation is very high to take something that should be part of the room rate and carve it out separately and add it on later. “

While online travel agencies often post a disclaimer saying that the prices shown “may not include taxes, services fees or other hotel charges,” it is impossible on some websites, like Priceline.com, to know what those fees will be without calling the hotel directly.

For instance, a Priceline search of a reservation at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas includes a room charge and the price for “taxes and fees” and offers a “Best Price Guarantee on this hotel” on the “Total Charge.”

The fine print says there is a $12 per day fee for Internet service, a charge of $30 per night for each person above double occupancy, and that breakfast is not included.

It also states that there may be mandatory charges like resort fees that will be collected upon checkout. It doesn’t indicate what the resort fee is.

I only learned by calling Mandalay Bay directly that the mandatory resort fee is $20.16 per night. It covers high-speed Internet access in the room, a newspaper, unlimited local calls and boarding pass printout.

Asked about the use of phrases like “Total Charge” and “Best Price Guarantee,” Priceline spokesman Brian Ek said that refers to the “total amount that Priceline will charge you for that reservation.”

“We would very much like to see all mandatory fees included in the rates that are provided to us, and we have communicated that to the hotels,” he said.

One hotel chain, Caesars Entertainment Corp., recently stopped charging resort fees at most of its properties. Since then, the occupancy rate has gone from around 90 percent to better than 95 percent, said spokesman Gary Thompson.

Whether others will follow that lead “remains to be seen,” said SmarterTravel.com’s Perkins.

In the meantime, travelers can better budget for summer hotel costs by reading the disclaimers before booking and by asking lots of questions in advance.

Wally Jones, an agent with Travel Leaders in Phoenix, said some hotels, like Starwood Hawaii, will waive the resort fee for a group booking at least five rooms. Others, he said, offer a dining credit or coupon book that helps to offset the charges.

In addition, some hotels are offering discounts for guests forgoing daily maid service.

“We do know of some hotels charging mandatory fees for housekeeping. A bit more common, however, are hotels that offer an option for rooms without housekeeping so they can offer a lower-priced option to customers,” said Devon Nagle, a spokesman for Expedia, which includes the resort fee in its online comparison.

With so many variables, it’s mostly a matter of staying vigilant.

“I will be watching all of these new, creative fees very carefully,” frequent traveler Genter said.

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