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In this Friday, Aug. 15, 2014 photo, people walk by the Bellagio, in Las Vegas. This year, hotels will take in a record $2.25 billion in revenue from fees and surcharges, 6 percent more than in 2013 and nearly double that of a decade ago, according to a new study. Nearly half of the increase can be attributed to new surcharges and hotels increasing the amounts of existing fees. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Mimicking the airlines, hotels get fee-happy
Charges » Vacationers are finding it harder to anticipate the true cost of their stay at hotels.
First Published Aug 25 2014 09:25 am • Last Updated Aug 29 2014 04:41 pm

Forget bad weather, traffic jams and kids asking, "Are we there yet?" The real headache for many travelers is a quickly-growing list of hotel surcharges, even for items they never use.

Guaranteeing two queen beds or one king bed will cost you, as will checking in early or checking out late. Don’t need the in-room safe? You’re likely still paying. And the overpriced can of soda may be the least of your issues with the hotel minibar.

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Vacationers are finding it harder to anticipate the true cost of their stay, especially because many of these charges vary from hotel to hotel, even within the same chain.

Coming out of the recession, the travel industry grew fee-happy. Car rental companies charged extra for services such as electronic toll collection devices and navigation systems. And airlines gained notoriety for adding fees for checking luggage, picking seats in advance, skipping lines at security and boarding early. Hotel surcharges predate the recession, but recently properties have been catching up to the rest of the industry.

"The airlines have done a really nice job of making hotel fees and surcharges seem reasonable," says Bjorn Hanson, a professor at New York University’s hospitality school.

This year, hotels will take in a record $2.25 billion in revenue from such add-ons, 6 percent more than in 2013 and nearly double that of a decade ago, according to a new study released Monday by Hanson. Nearly half of the increase can be attributed to new surcharges and hotels increasing the amounts of existing fees.

Hanson says guests need to be "extra-attentive" to the fine print. Fewer and fewer services come for free.

Need to check out by noon but don’t have a flight until after dinner? Hotels once stored luggage as a courtesy. Now, a growing number charge $1 or $2 per bag.

Shipping something to the hotel in advance of your trip? There could be a fee for that too. The Hyatt Regency San Antonio, which subcontracts its business center to FedEx Office, charges $10 to $25 to receive a package, depending on weight.

Some budget hotels charge $1.50 a night for in-room safes.


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Convincing a front desk employee to waive a fee at check-out is getting harder. Fees are more established, better disclosed and hotel employees are now trained to politely say no.

"It’s the most difficult it’s ever been to get a charge removed," Hanson says.

U.S. hotels last year took in $122.2 billion in room revenue, according to travel research company STR. Fees only add an extra 2 percent in revenue, but Hanson notes the majority of that money is pure profit.

Some guests are revolting.

Royce Breckon travels frequently for his job marketing outdoor sporting equipment but refuses to spend the night at any hotel charging for Internet. Charges typically range from $10 to $25 a night.

"You can walk into just about any coffee shop and have it for free," Breckon says.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association says fees are common in the travel business and that its members disclose them at the time of booking.

Hotels first started adding surcharges in 1997, mostly at resorts with expansive pools, tennis courts and fancy gyms. The so-called resort fees paid for staff to set up beach umbrellas and lounge chairs. Three years later, hotels added energy surcharges to cover rising utility bills.

Hotels then refrained from adding any major surcharge for several years. But as airlines and car rental agencies made fees commonplace, hotels started to think up new ones, collecting record amounts in each of the past four years, according to Hanson’s research.

Even the in-room minibar — a decades-old splurge — isn’t safe from the new wave of add-ons.

At the Liberty Hotel in Boston a cold can of Coke from the minibar costs $5. That’s just the base price. The fine print on the menu reveals an 18-percent "administrative fee" to restock the bar.

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