What Are Hotel Resort Fees?
By Peter Greenberg
More and more hotels seem to be following the airlines’ lead of creating, and then charging, fees for everything short of breathing. Some hotels now charge an early check out fee (if you decide to leave early); one hotel charges a mandatory $10 tip to your bellman. Hundreds of others charge a resort fee. And more often than not, people only discover these fees when they get their bills.
At least one traveler has gone to court over a resort fee on his bill. Southern California resident Benjamin Brin has filed a class-action lawsuit against Las Vegas Sands Corporation, which owns The Palazzo and The Venetian resort hotels. Brin booked a three-night stay at The Palazzo Hotel in June of 2014. When he made the reservation online, he was notified that he would pay a total rate of $209, excluding taxes and fees. But upon checkout, Brin discovered his bill included a resort fee of $28 per night. Brin alleges the nightly rate on the business’ online reservation system isn’t an accurate quote, and that the Las Vegas Sands Corporation uses a drip pricing technique.
What are Resort Fees?
Resort fees are often added to the cost of hotel rooms. Most hotels justify the additional charge because it can include basic amenities; including towels, newspapers, gym access, free Wi-Fi, and even a welcome drink.
One key argument against resort fees is that they are disingenuous, and the very nature of these fees annoys or angers most guests. So why do these added fees exist in the first place?
Other than acting as a great source of revenue, these hidden fees are a way for hotels to appear to be competitive on rates with other hotels.
But the bottom line is no hotel that charges a resort fee is competitive on value.
Action Taken by the Federal Trade Commission
In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent a letter to 22 unnamed hotels, warning them about drip pricing. In the letter, drip pricing was defined broadly as “a pricing technique in which firms advertise only part of a product’s price and reveal other charges later as the customer goes through the buying process” (from FTC 2012 Warning Letter).
Here’s a closer look at a segment from the FTC Warning Letter to Hotels, dated 11/28/12:
We believe that online hotel reservation sites should include in the quoted total price any unavoidable and mandatory fees, such as resort fees, that consumers will be charged to stay at the hotel. While a hotel reservation site may break down the components of the reservation estimate (e.g., room rate, estimated taxes, and any mandatory, unavoidable fees), the most prominent figure for consumers should be the total inclusive estimate.
Unlike with airlines, many believe there may be too many hotels in the U.S. for the FTC to enforce the disclosure law on all hotels.
Which Hotels Have Resort Fees?
Despite the legal backlash the resort fee has caused, The Palazzo Hotel and The Venetian in Las Vegas both increased their resort fees in 2015. In the lawsuit, Benjamin Brin stated he was charged $28 per night, or $25 before tax. Since May of last year, the fee was raised to $32.48 per night, or $29 before tax.
According to VegasChatter.com, Las Vegas has a total of 91 hotel properties, and of those, 75 charge resort fees. They also discovered that 20 hotels–including The Palazzo and Venetian–charge $32.48 per night, the highest resort fee in the city.
But Las Vegas isn’t alone. Take a look at the average resort fees in cities with more than 25 properties that tack on these charges.
1. Puerto Rico: $34.14
2. Phoenix: $21.31
3. Miami: $20.04
4. Las Vegas: $20.06
5. Oahu, Hawaii: $19.65
6. Florida Keys: $18.98
7. San Diego: $16.91
8. Orlando: $11.57
9. Myrtle Beach: $8
10. Steamboat Springs: $3.99
At the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort in Puerto Rico, the resort fee is $60 each night. What does that include? Internet access, a welcome drink upon arrival, toll-free and local phone calls, beach and pool services, an iced tea ritual, bicycles, access to a tennis center and golf course driving range, and unlimited use of all non-motorized watersports and snorkeling equipment.
Some hotels charge even more. Fisher Island Hotel & Resort in Miami adds a resort fee for $107 per night. With that pricing, you’d likely expect for it to include more. Here’s what it includes: pool and beach access, beach loungers, beach towels, health club and fitness center access, fitness and yoga classes, access to the business center and computers, internet access, a newspaper, an in-room safe, in-room coffee, concierge and valet service, and parking.
So How Can You Avoid Resort Fees?
Keep in mind that everything is negotiable. Ask the hotel if they charge a resort fee up front. Find out what it includes, and see if the hotel can break down the services and only charge you for the ones you use. After all, you may want access to the gym, Wi-Fi, or parking.
If you won’t be using the services and don’t want to pay the fee altogether, ask for it to be waived. Just be sure to get the first and last name of the person you speak with who waived the fee.
You may be within your rights to have these fees waived. In their letter from 11/28/12, the FTC stated:
Knowing about extra fees lets you compare rates for different hotels fairly. If you’re not sure whether a website is showing you the whole price, call the hotel and ask if they’ll add a resort fee or any other mandatory fee. Ask them to tell you the total price. Listing the resort fee near the quoted price or in the fine print — or referring to other fees “that may apply” — doesn’t cut it. If you find out a hotel hasn’t told you the whole story about mandatory fees, in addition to complaining to the company, file a complaint with the FTC.
What if you check your bill and there is a hidden fee?
It’s actually advantageous for hotels to notify you about extra fees up front. Whether they’re called hospitality or resort fees, it doesn’t matter. If the hotel staff does not notify you about the extra fees up front and then add them to your hotel bill, you have the right to dispute the charge.
But what about the fees that were in the fine print and you didn’t see it? Can you dispute the charge?
If the hotel staff did disclose the added charges and you didn’t see it, your right to dispute the charge is somewhat diminished. If they disclose the resort fee, you’re financially obligated to pay–whether you used it or not.
Are Hotels Likely to Remove Resort Fees?
Unfortunately, resort fees are very common, and it’s difficult to find hotels that have actually removed their resort fees altogether. Of the two hotels we discovered who did remove these fees, one was The Whiteface Lodge in Lake Placid, New York, which removed its resort fees in 2012.
Guess what? The hotel claims it has seen a fivefold increase in positive online reviews each quarter since eliminating resort fees.