Airline rules, coming to a hotel near you

Andrew Zarivny /

No, your high-rise hotel isn’t about to sprout wings and fly off into the sunset. But you might forgive Edward Goodman for thinking the Bellagio wants to.

When he phoned the Las Vegas resort to make a reservation recently, a recorded message informed him there would be a $10 booking charge. To avoid it, he could reserve his room online — just like an airline.

“It’s disturbing to hear that hotels are taking another page from the airlines’ playbook,” says Goodman, a Washington lobbyist.

A few weeks ago, I suggested hotels should consider emulating some airline policies, including the 24-hour cancellation rule and offering a room credit. Unfortunately, the lodging industry prefers some of the more customer-unfriendly policies, including booking fees and “gotcha” add-ons.

The Bellagio doesn’t see it that way, of course. Its new booking fee, part of an effort to “modernize” policies at all MGM Resorts International, is presented as a guest benefit.

“The fee allows us to preserve the one-on-one service preferred by an important but diminishing segment of customers,” says Bellagio spokeswoman Mary Hynes.

The Bellagio and most other Sin City resorts also have another long-standing guest “benefit” — the so-called resort fee.

Bellagio adds a mandatory daily resort fee of $25 to all room reservations upon check-in. The fee includes in-room high-speed and wireless Internet, in-room local and toll-free calls, access to its fitness center and airline boarding pass printing.

Although the airline trend is to go the other way, which is to unbundle services and charge for them separately, they share one important trait: A hotel with a resort fee can quote a low “base” price, then add the resort fee later, giving you the impression that you’re getting a less expensive room than you actually are.

“This hidden resort fee is just a convenient way for the hotel to offer slightly cheaper rooms while still making their ideal target revenue per room,” says Kelly Ella Maz, a personal-travel planner from Toronto. “Where else in the world do you have to pay for local phone calls and access to the gym at a hotel?”

This ability to pull a fast one is becoming a business model for some profit-hungry travel companies, and they’ll fight for their right to misrepresent their prices.

Consider the U.S. airline industry, which is now required by the government to tell you an “all-in” fare, including taxes and mandatory fees, up front. Airlines are pushing hard to undo that requirement with a proposed Transparent Airfares Act of 2014, which would allow their ads to state the base airfare, then separately disclose any government-imposed taxes and fees and the total cost of travel.

By the way, the bill doesn’t have a prayer of passing a Democratic-controlled Senate. But with midterm elections a few months away and the Senate possibly flipping to the Republicans, this deceptively named bill could go all the way.

At least one entrepreneur believes that an airline and a hotel are not so dissimilar, according to Tom Meyers, editor of the budget travel website

EasyHotel, owned by Stelios Haji-Ioannou, applies the same pricing model as its sister company, budget airline EasyJet, Meyers says. If you want a remote control for your TV, you’ll pay an extra $7 a day. Wi-Fi is $7 a day. Room cleaning? $14.

“The result can mean astonishingly cheap rates,” says Meyers, who just found a double room in London for $68 a night.

That may be true, but it’s also true that a $68 rate will lure more unsophisticated guests, who will spring for room cleaning when their quarters become untidy or who will fork over the Wi-Fi fee when they need Internet access. EasyHotel will get your money.

Bargain hunters and industry apologists believe à la carte pricing has a bright future in the travel industry, arguing that it allows people to only pay for what they use. That’s utter nonsense.

Simply put, these price games entice all but a few informed customers to shell out more than expected. Hotels shouldn’t be aping airlines — instead, they should be leading the industry by setting a positive example.

Which industry has the most customer-friendly policies?

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Help keep your wallet closed

Here’s how to avoid airline-like extras at hotels:

• Mind where you book. Read the fine print when you’re booking online, where fees are often poorly disclosed.

• Ignore your subtotals. Some hotels will offer a low “subtotal,” then add a mandatory fee to your bill when you check in. Always get an estimated total.

• Assume nothing. As hotels get more creative about their fees, assume nothing about what’s covered — not even room cleaning or basics such as air conditioning.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Alan Gore

    I’m sure a lot of hotel managements are slavering at the prospect of being able to enforce airline-style policies. Fortunately the market space of hotels by city, location and class is much larger than the choice of city and class we have on airlines, so competition will keep things sane.

  • Steven Reynolds Tewes

    “Bargain hunters and industry apologists believe à la carte pricing has a bright future in the travel industry, arguing that it allows people to only pay for what they use.”
    Only true if you can actually pay for only select items. When confronted with a resort fee, you can’t unbundle it (no, I won’t be using the pool, please take $8 off the price). But if I’m going to Vegas in January, and the hotel has an outdoor pool, and the resort fee is partly for the use of the pool, that pool darned well better be open.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I liked the article when it was posted on Facebook earlier this week and sure wish that more of your readers would take the advice on “Help keep your wallet closed”.

    I was at a hotel in February for three days, two nights, where there was a $14/day charge for housekeeping. I declined. I’m waiting to see the A/C charge here in the US – have seen it in Europe.

  • Wayne Dayton

    $14/day for cleaning? Leave the room as dirty and unkempt as possible at time of check-out..

  • Kasiar001

    The fees are creeping in everywhere. Yesterday registered my child for a sports clinic at a club. Total price was already steep at $400 for 3 days, then on the check out page shows us a “convenience fee” of $10.95. Convenience for whom? They get their payment immediately, all forms are completed online so no admin work for them, and there is no option of sending in a check or even bringing cash in person. Nobody is going to change their mind at check out so why not roll it into the cost stated up front? All it did was make me mad, and it will be the first & last time my child attends clinic at that club.

  • Bill___A

    The reservation fee can be avoided by booking online. Although it isn’t great, at least there is a way around it. Resort fees, on the other hand, are compulsory and for things you don’t need.
    When the airlines add a fuel surcharge, everyone needs fuel. It is annoying but understandable.

    Where the resort fee stands out is that it is “for” things that people don’t necessarily need or want and yet forced upon you.
    That’s why I have such a big problem with resort fees.

  • Extramail

    I rarely have my room cleaned because I’m never in the room to make a mess. But, that’s my choice; I’ve never expected a reduction in my room rate.

    The main problem, as I see it, is that the consumer is being trained to expect ala carte pricing and, thus, will demand it in the future. I will continue to contend that if you would just treat each customer as equally as important as the next guy, then good, if not excellent, customer service would return because the good companies would get the business and the bad company would go out of business. But, the customer seems to be deciding on price alone, thus bad customer service is here to stay.

  • polexia_rogue

    one time i got super lucky at the Flamingo hotel in Las Vegas. This would be my one vacation of the year so i was going to stay for 20 days.

    when i checked in i was informed that on top of the $3,000 for the room there was usually a $50 a day resort fee that would make the gym and internet free.

    but that would mean my debit card would be charged an extra 1,000 right that moment.

    The woman was so nice; she said “I don’t want to ruin your vacation by over drafting your account- if you want to use the gym it will be $10 a day (you can pay at the gym) and internet is $25 per 24 period of use (you can pay on your computer as needed).”

    i cannot imagine an airline making an exception to the rules like that.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I don’t roll that way. On the other hand, I now have a better idea of the value of my services when I clean my own home!

  • AndTheHorseYouRodeUpOn

    I also believe there is an element of taking advantage of foreign tourists visiting this country…..everyone wants to come to the United States – the floodgates are open and they will pay any price to see New York, Las Vegas, California, etc., etc. It is laughable for Americans to pay these fees – but who cares about “domestic” residents when you can reap billions on foreign tourists? China is projected to be the largest travel destination in the future and conversely, the Chinese are visiting our shores equally in huge numbers – with a lot of money. My non-rev days are fewer and farther in between – I just don’t have any desire to stand in line and wait behind hundreds of people to see The Grand Canyon or pay these silly booking fees to get a room. I’ll do my research, homework on line and go where there are mid-priced hotels that “value” me……another worn out phrase if ever there was one !!

  • y_p_w

    Still – most hotel rates still allow for cancellation anywhere from 3 days in advance up to even 6 PM on the day of the reservation – without penalty. I suppose some people do advanced payment reservations, but that’s still the minority and the discounts typically aren’t that great. I’ve priced fully refundable airfare, and it’s been anywhere from 4 to 5 times higher than the nonrefundable fares.

    If that changes anytime soon, then we’ll know that hotels are approaching airline rules.

  • MarkKelling

    Well, if they give me enough towels for the stay I can make do with no maid visits. If I can be charged the $14 just at checkout and not for each day I stay, then I am OK with that.

    I don’t change my bed sheets every day at home or scrub the bathroom every day either, so why do I need that on vacation? (In case you are curious, I change bed sheets, scrub the bathroom and kitchen and mop/vacuum the floors at least once every week. I don’t like dirty.)

  • MarkKelling

    Did you pay with a credit card? Then that is what the “convenience” is even if they don’t provide alternate means of paying. Admittedly it is a convenience more for the merchant than you as the customer, but it sounds better than just “a fee because we can.”

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    You’ve always struck me as a tidy person. :)

    The place I stayed offered me a bunch of towels to get me through the horror of re-using my own towel over two nights. I declined.

  • MarkKelling

    That price differential multiplier is not always that high any more, especially on domestic tickets.

    Using UA as an example, I picked a random weekend in August to fly DEN IAH. The cheapest non-refundable, non-changeable fare currently available on their web site is $328 rt. A fully refundable fare is $749 and even 1st class can be got for $809 non-refundable or $905 refundable. These are still discounted fares and not full Y or F. And while fully refundable with no fees charged if not used, change fees still apply if you want to pick a different flight after booking (so just cancel it and buy a new ticket). A lot of people assume that the only refundable fare are the full Y or F walk up prices which is not true with sufficient advance purchase.

    Your pricing may vary. ;-)

  • bodega3

    If I go to a hotel, I want fresh towels every day, even twice a day, if possible, my bed made, my room vacuumed. I am not at home, I want someone else to do it for a change, part of ‘getting away’! We do rent a 3 bedroom villa once a year and only get maid service when we check out. I love where we stay, but it is a pain in the behind to wash the beach towels every evening, as we can’t leave them outside to dry (villa regulations) and they are usually full of sand anyway. We wash the bathroom towels everyday, just like we do at home, but at least we all take turns handling this so we each get a bit of a break. We also vacuum each day do to sand. I expect service to be a part of staying at a hotel. It come with the room rate and if someone doesn’t want to pay it, stay home!

  • Kasiar001

    A CC charges what 2%? So what is the rest for? Just cos we can I guess.

  • MarkKelling

    Yes, if it comes included with the room rate I will not refuse the service because it is nice to come in after a hard day of laying by the pool and have a clean room with a made up bed and fresh towels in the bath. But my comments were in response to the posting about being charged an extra fee per day for cleaning in addition to the room charge.

    I have only had one rental so far where a fee like this was charged. If was for a condo on Molokai where if you wanted daily maid service it cost extra (at the time the room was around $50 a day and maid service was an extra $25 per day). You could swap out towels at any time and as many times a day you wanted at no extra charge at the office. And you could get all of the coffee packets you wanted as well. I didn’t miss the maid service. It was more relaxing for that stay not to have to schedule my day around the housekeeping service. It felt more like home. If this makes me cheap, so be it. :-)

  • bodega3

    Note I said hotel, not condo. A lot of condos in Hawaii do what you mentioned you were offered. If you rent a condo that is managed by Aston or Outrigger you get the service, but if you rent that same condo through the owner, then you pay for maid service. If you rent a condo privately for 2 weeks, you usually get one maid service thrown in, so they can check and see how you are doing in keeping the condo in decent shape.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I’m with you in that I want someone else to do the cleaning for me when I’m traveling – it’s such a luxury! It does make my husband crazy that I pick up the hotel/motel room, though. I don’t want housekeeping to think I’m a slob! :) It also allows me to take inventory of my stuff, so that nothing gets mislaid or worse.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I agree. Comparisons with home are pointless. Its a fundamentally different experience in the same way going out to eat is different from eating at home, renting a car is different from driving your personal car, etc.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    The biggest problem, IMHO, with resort fees is that since they are an unavoidable private charge there is no legitimate ethical reason not to include them in the base price. Presenting the pricing this way serves only to deceptively lower the advertised price.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    So which is it?

    Treat all customers as equally important and we get good customer service, or customers are buying on price alone, thus no incentive or benefit to providing good customer service.

    Those are two diametrically opposed statements.

  • TonyA_says

    America is for sale. Someone has to buy our foreclosed homes, our bankrupt businesses, and buy our mountainous debt so we can continue our addiction to more wars. Please stop this insanity. It’s a bigger tragedy than a lousy hotel deal.

  • Extramail

    That was exactly my point. The customer is choosing on price alone; thus, no need for good customer service. If a company provides excellent customer service (maybe) price would only be a small consideration for the customer.

  • AndTheHorseYouRodeUpOn

    You’re right. Ironically, a few short thirty years ago the Chinese were still living in third world conditions in most of China save for a few wealthy in the minority. The customer base that checks in with me on a daily basis is about 90% foreign and 10% Americans. All of a sudden everyone else (but Americans) are traveling with beau coup bucks and non-discretionary spending. Welcome to America.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I wish that were true. Unfortunately, we find that customers choose on price alone. When airlines provide a better customer experience they are not rewarded financially. It’s the same reason why Walmart is the retail powerhouse.

  • MarkKelling

    Don’t get my earlier comment wrong – I am not saying I do any type of cleaning when on vacation at a hotel. The closest to cleaning I ever do on vacation is when I have a condo with kitchen I will put the dirty dishes into the washer when we cook and eat in the room. :-)

  • sirwired

    I have no problem with the Easy* model. My wife and I sailed on the now-defunct easyCruise, and it was the best vacation value we’ve ever had. It was made crystal clear during the reservation process that your fare included a place to sleep (in a very small, no-frills room), the initial set of linens, and nothing else. Not food, not housekeeping, nothing. It wasn’t so bad, as I don’t change my linens every day at home, and the ship spent more than enough time ashore so we could eat at restaurants there for lunch and dinner.

    We had a great time, and it was only $30nt/pp, for Greece! I got way more than I paid for, and there were no surprises.

  • Lindabator

    Funny, room stewards on cruise ships always seem to know which side of the room is mine and which is my sister’s (she believes in the leave it where it falls rule, I do not!). When they put back where they belong, they always get it right!

  • Lindabator

    closer to 3-4%, depending on card (AMEX runs higher)

  • PolishKnightUSA

    I’m old enough to remember similar things being said during the Reagan era. There was a huge real estate boom going on (prices ONLY go up! Never down!) and a panic that the Japanese would buy Rockefeller center. Then in the late 80’s, it all collapsed both in the USA and Japan. The Japanese are still getting over it. They bought bubble priced homes on 50 year mortgages with no way to default out of it. How would you like to still be paying half of your take home pay to live in a 400 square foot apartment on a 2 hour train ride away from Tokyo?

    I say it’s wonderful for foreigners to tour the states and wish them well just as American tourists are treated well overseas.