My own distaste for hotel surcharges began years ago on my first business trip, when I ate an entire jar of what appeared to be complimentary macadamia nuts. At checkout I discovered the snack had cost me $12 (not to mention an upset stomach). If anything, the add-ons since then have gotten worse for guests, but much more profitable for the hotels. The lodging industry stands to earn more than $1.75 billion this year in surcharges alone, which means extra fees are likely to be with us for years to come.
In the meantime, here are some tips on sidestepping surcharge surprises:
•Be proactive. Ask when you book if there are any mandatory fees (and taxes) that will be added to your bill. Seasoned travelers know to look for these charges before they book and to complain about them in advance.
•Check your bill carefully before you sign it. It's easier to dispute a charge at checkout than afterward.
•Calmly object if you think a fee is unfair or was not disclosed in advance. Desk clerks often have the authority to remove them.
•If not, ask for the manager.
•Forget it—until the next time you book a hotel. Then go somewhere that charges guests fairly.
It's unfair of hotels to require a credit card for booking but then to surcharge you for using it at checkout. It can happen anywhere (I've found examples in Switzerland, Vanuatu, Thailand, and elsewhere), but the practice is epidemic in Australia.
Your Cost: Up to 5 percent of your total bill.
Hotels used to go out of their way to accommodate early-arriving guests. Now you just might have to pay for the privilege, including at some properties under the banners of Hyatt Regency, Hilton, and Kempinski.
Your Cost: Fees average $20–$50.
A good hotel should have a fitness center. And use of the fitness center should be included in the rate you pay. But at some hotels under banners like Hard Rock, Hilton, Crowne Plaza, and Intercontinental, along with many others, you'll have to cough up some extra cash if you want to work out.
Your Cost: $10–$40.
Increasingly, hotels are adding charitable donations to your bill. There's even a company that helps hotels do that. The intention may be noble, and the hotels pass along the donation directly to the charity, yet something still feels wrong about this. They'll remove the donation from your bill on request, Mr. Scrooge—but should you really have to ask?
Your Cost: $1–$2.
In-Room Coffee and Tea
The hotel kindly placed an electric coffeepot on your dresser along with an assortment of tea bags and instant coffee. Watch out. That amenity, which used to be gratis, is becoming a new source of revenue for hotels. So next time you get that wake-up call and instinctively brew up a nice cup of Colombian, you just may find an extra item on your bill.
Your Cost: $2–$5 for a tea bag or a packet of coffee.
Some hotels now charge guests for that most basic of expectations—cleanliness. It may show up in the form of a mandatory gratuity or simply be listed as a housekeeping fee. But whatever they call it, you're paying a separate fee for maid service.
Your Cost: $2–$10 per room per day.
Why is it that so many budget hotel chains (including Best Western, Comfort Inn, Hampton Inn, and Holiday Inn) routinely offer free Internet connection while so many luxury brands don't? Don't expect that to change. According to iBAHN, which claims to be the world's largest Internet service provider for the lodging industry, "The 'free to guest' model of providing free access in all locations of the hotel at all times to all guests is economically unrealistic given guests' differing bandwidth needs."
Your Cost: $10–$20 (or more) a day.
It's bad enough that you have to pay 10 times or more the normal price for mini-bar items. But what's worse is the growing practice among hotels to add an extra charge to replace items you took. And it gets worse: hotels are increasingly using mini-bars armed with sensors that detect—and charge your room bill—if you so much as move an item.
Your Cost: $3–$5.
Surcharges for packages or faxes delivered to your room are frequently added to guest bills, but you probably won't find that out until after you've tipped the bellhop who brought it to you in the first place. Some hotels also charge for accepting an express delivery package at their business center—even if you come down to the lobby to collect it yourself.
Your Cost: $3–$5.
Additional fees added onto your bill for stays during holidays are cropping up, especially in Asia. At the Vinpearl Resort & Spa on Hon Tre Island in Vietnam, you'll pay extra if your booking extends over the Hung Kings' Death Anniversary and other major holidays. In Japan, the Kyoto Hotel Okura adds a surcharge on Saturdays and on the night before a public holiday.
Your Cost: $18–$45 a night.