Deciding on a hotel for your upcoming vacation? Comparing actual hotel prices can prove to be tricky thanks to hidden hotel fees. Hotel fees and surcharges emerged as an industry practice in 1997, and they can eat up a large portion of your vacation budget if you're not careful. In fact, you might not even have been aware of the fees hotels charged until after you've booked a room or received your bill at checkout, says Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel.com.
However, this could soon change. A new bill, the Hotel Fees Transparency Act, has been introduced by U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), requiring anyone advertising a hotel room or short-term rental to clearly show up front the final price a customer will pay.
“Too often, Americans making reservations online are being met with hidden fees that make it difficult to compare prices and understand the true cost of an overnight stay,” said Sen. Klobuchar. “This bipartisan legislation would help improve transparency so that travelers can make informed decisions.”
Here are 10 common hotel fees — and advice from Banas on how to keep them off your bill.
Hotel Fees and How to Avoid Them
You often can avoid extra charges if you know which amenities hotels typically add a fee for using.
1. Resort fees. Resorts often charge extra for the plethora of activities and services they offer, even if you never use them.
Banas says that you need to ask what sort of fees are charged when you book your room, and that you should find out whether you'll have to pay them if you don't use the services. If the answer is no, make sure charges don't show up on your bill for services you didn't use. If they do, ask to have the fees removed.
2. Early check-in fee. Banas says that some hotels will charge you extra if you check in before a certain time. If you arrive early, ask whether there is an early check-in fee. If so, ask if the hotel will store your bags for free (most will) until you check in later. That way you can start seeing the sites without lugging around your bags.
3. Additional person fee. Hotel room rates are based on double occupancy. You usually don't have to pay extra for kids in the room. But hotels often charge $20 to $50 per additional adult per night, Banas says. To avoid this fee, you need to be aware of it before you book so that you can search for another hotel that doesn't charge it.
4. Wi-Fi fee. A lot of hotels charge $10 to $20 per night for Wi-Fi. Banas says that one way to get around the charge is to sign up for the hotel's loyalty program, which should be free. Generally, you'll get privileges, such as free Wi-Fi, immediately. You're also more likely to find free Wi-Fi at budget hotels, Banas says.
5. Mini-bar and snack fee. Most travelers know that the beverages in mini-bars are pricey — and many avoid them for that reason. You don't have to consume them to see a charge on your bill, though. Simply moving an item in the mini-bar can result in a charge because everything in that refrigerator is on a sensor.
If you see a charge for something you didn't consume, show the hotel clerk that it's still there and contest the charge. Also watch out for those complimentary-looking bottles of water or baskets of snacks — they probably aren't free. Even if you don't see a price attached to them, ask whether there is a charge.
6. Parking fee. Hotels in major cities charge $25 to $35 a day for parking, Banas says. And some hotels have mandatory valet parking, so you'll have to pay a tip, too. Before arriving at your hotel, use Google Maps to get a street view of the area where you'll be staying and look for nearby parking garages. Then call to get a price.
One way to avoid parking costs altogether is to look for hotels with free parking promotions. You often can find such offers listed on a city's visitors bureau or tourism website. Also, you usually can find free street parking Saturday evening until Monday morning in most large cities.
7. Gym fee. Some hotels tack on a gym fee, so make sure you ask for it to be removed if you didn't use the gym.
8. Housekeeping gratuity. If you usually leave a tip for the housekeeper, check your bill first next time. Banas says that some hotels already add a 10% housekeeping gratuity.
9. Spa gratuity. When you make a reservation at a spa, ask whether a gratuity for massage services will be added to your bill, Banas says. Don't fall victim to over-tipping by leaving a little cash for the therapist if you're already being charged a gratuity.
10. Telephone surcharge. Don't pick up the phone in your hotel room for any reason other than to call the front desk, Banas says. Not only do hotels charge for long-distance calls, but also they often make you pay for local calls. So use your own phone for all calls.
Avoiding these fees means more work for the consumer, Banas says, but it can be worth it. However, she says that you shouldn't let a fee that you can't get removed from your bill worry you too much if you've gotten a great rate at a good hotel.
Award-winning journalist, speaker, family finance expert, and author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk.
Cameron Huddleston wrote the daily "Kip Tips" column for Kiplinger.com. She joined Kiplinger in 2001 after graduating from American University with an MA in economic journalism.
- Erin BendigPersonal Finance Writer