Sorensen runs a Shorewood, Wis., consulting firm focused on helping travel companies generate money through surcharges and is a self-described “fee advocate.” But on a recent hotel stay in the Azores, he needed his shirts and pants pressed. A hotel clerk assured him that it could be done the same day.
The bill for ironing three shirts and two pants: $50. “I didn’t know that I had just agreed to rush service – and a big fee,” he says.
“I know,” he adds. “It’s ironic.”
It sure is. Hotels are eagerly following the lead of the major U.S. airlines, which collected an estimated $11.6 billion in fees in 2011, according to Sorensen. By comparison, the record $1.85 billion that the hotel industry earned through fees, according to a recent NYU study, seems laughably small. But the annoyances can be high, especially when a hotel doesn’t disclose the extras. And the hotel business is trying to catch up to airlines.
As the spring break travel season gets under way, consider yourself warned. Your hotel may have a surprise fee waiting for you when you check out.
Among the most common surprise surcharges: Hotel “resort” fees, or mandatory charges for use of the exercise equipment, wireless Internet access, printing your boarding passes and using the pool – whether you use these facilities or not. These are most common in resort areas such as Las Vegas and Hawaii, but you can find them almost anywhere.
Natalie Haslage, a state government employee in Gahanna, Ohio, says that she’s irritated by the surcharges, not only because they’re mandatory and add to the cost of her stay, but also because they’re not always presented honestly. “Okay, I might use the Internet and I might print my boarding passes,” she says. “But those certainly aren’t worth $25 a day. Also, I love how they say the services covered by the fee are complimentary. Um, it’s not complimentary if I have to pay $25 a day.”
Late last year, after receiving numerous consumer complaints about hotel resort fees, the Federal Trade Commission warned 22 hotel operators that their online reservation sites may violate the law by displaying a “deceptively low” estimate of what consumers can expect to pay for their hotel rooms. But many in the hotel industry were dismissive of the warning, and observers doubt that the federal government will act to stop this form of dishonest pricing.
Bruce Kane, a consultant based in Charlotte, N.C., doesn’t like parking fees, particularly when there’s no way to back out of them. He recently paid $22 for parking at the Hilton Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif., which charged him a $22 per day parking fee. “But drive two miles away to the Del Mar Doubletree, and the rates are half – and the parking is free,” he says.
Hotels are serious about these extras. One reader, Ronda Davis, had to pay $34 to park at the Omni Royal Orleans in New Orleans’ French Quarter recently. “My car was there 20 minutes,” she remembers. After she questioned the charge, the hotel dropped the matter.