Avoid early and late check-out fees – here’s how

Have hotel chains turned to airline tactics by charging ridiculous fees, such as early departure and late check-out fees? And when they do, should you stand by and let them get away with it?

It’s not hard to recall the days when purchasing an airline ticket meant that you would be able to reserve a specific seat, check a bag or two, and maybe even have a meal on a long flight (OK, that last one was a long time ago).

But the airlines soon discovered that they could charge fees for checking baggage, reserving certain seats, selling so-so food. Some are even charging a fee to carry a bag onto the plane.

Well, folks, what you used to get for free when you checked into a hotel will soon cost you more money, too.

You want extra pillows? No problem, but they’re $5 each per night. You want a room away from the elevator? No problem, but that’s $10 per night. You want a room near the elevator? No problem, but that’s $10 per night. You want a room on a high floor? We can do that, but that’s $20 per night. And all those free breakfast deals you got before? You guessed it; those are now $5 to $10 per person, per day. Ouch!

Once the hotel industry saw that the airlines were getting away with these new surcharges, many of the chains started adding “ancillary fees” to their revenue repertoire. And these new fees are adding up, according to NYU Professor Bjorn Hanson. He added up these fees and came up with $2.25 billion that the hotels have taken from you, the consumer, in 2014.

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What are ancillary fees? They’re fees that are not associated with the bed or why you’re at the hotel in the first place. Don Hood, currently the Director of Revenue Management for the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar in Orlando, boasts on his LinkedIn profile that he has “increased Other Rooms Revenue by +19.7% since 2010 through effective strategic management of other ancillary revenue streams including No Show Revenues, Front Desk Upsells, Group Room Upsells, Early Departure Fees, and Late Cancellation Fees.”

So this is clearly something that’s not going away.

What can you do about early departure (meaning leaving at least a day earlier than scheduled) and late departure (after the posted check-out time, normally noon) fees?

Most lodging chains have a loyalty program that exempts its elite members from these fees. Even if they don’t explicitly exempt you, all you have to do is flash your elite card and those fees will vanish.

  • But what if you’re not an elite member or you’re staying at a different chain? Call before you arrive and explain your situation. Ask if they’re going to charge you an early departure fee if you have to check out early. Don’t give up until you finally get the answer you want (remembering, of course, to write down the person’s name and thank him or her for “doing you a favor”). If you can’t get the right answer, let them know that you’ll just have to take your business elsewhere.
  • If the hotel is hosting a convention during your stay, don’t plan to get any extra considerations; they’re probably sold out and their attitude is that you’re lucky to have a room.
  • The same thing goes for late departure fees. If you know ahead of time that you’ll need to stay in your room past the check-out time, talk to the front desk the day before. Explain the situation, and ask if they could help you out “this one time.”
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One of those nasty fees was added to your bill; now what do you do? Let’s say that you didn’t do any of the above but discover after you’ve checked out that they’ve added one of these fees to your bill. What can you do now?

  • Take a look at the reservation confirmation that you printed out ahead of time. Does it mention an early arrival or a late departure fee? If not, call the hotel directly and ask for the accounting manager. Be polite, but firm, in stating that there was no mention of the fee on your reservation, and that you want the charge reversed.
  • If the accounting manager says the fee will be reversed, tell that person “Thank You,” and write down his or her name. Then make a note to check your credit card bill to make sure the credit gets applied.
  • If, however, the answer is “Sorry, that’s our policy,” remind the manager that it wasn’t included on the confirmation of your reservation and that you’ll be contesting the charge with your credit card company. If that doesn’t elicit an “I’ll process the credit” response, hang up. Call back and ask to speak with the General Manager and explain the situation one more time. If that still doesn’t work, contact your credit card company and contest the charge.

The hotels are silent on their actual policies.

  • An email to Hyatt Hotels corporate office asking for clarification on their early and late departure fees has gone unanswered.
  • A search of the major hotel websites for their policies on these fees turned up nothing, zilch, nada.
  • Even the SEC filings of the hotels that are public corporations don’t break out these fees.
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Just because the airline industry is getting away with ridiculous fees to pad their bottom line doesn’t make it right. And it’s also not right that hotels are doing the same thing.

Should elite loyalty membership be the price of avoiding early and late checkout fees?

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Stuart Gustafson

Stuart Gustafson is a writer, world traveler and professional speaker. He’s channeled his love of travel into writing travel-based mystery novels.

  • DavidYoung2

    Or don’t patronize those hotels. I’ve gone from a loyal Delta flyer to avoiding them when possible. Southwest gets as much of my business as possible. In fact, just yesterday I found a lower price on an existing flight reservation to CES in Las Vegas in January, and they issued a credit for the difference. No problem.

    And that’s why Southwest gets my business (I currently have six reservations with them stretching out to May.) Same with hotels — there’s plenty of them around. Stay at the one that treats you like you deserve to be treated.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    The huge difference though is that unlike airlines, there are usually a plethora of hotel options to choose from in any given price range. If hotel #1 has policies you don’t like, don’t stay there.

  • sunshipballoons

    Let’s look at the hypothetical fees identified in this article:

    Breakfast, $5-$10/day – I fully support the unbundling of the cost of meals. In the long run, this makes staying in a hotel cheaper for people who don’t want the meals.

    Near/far from elevator, $10/night; high floor, $20/night – I just don’t see the problem with this. It’s just like charging more for first class: you have to pay more for a premium room. If there were a separate “room assignment fee,” that would be like charging separately for seat assignments, and would not be reasonable. But this?
    Fine. Otherwise, you might as well tell hotels that they can’t charge more for bigger rooms, or rooms with more amenities, or suites.

    Extra pillows, $5/night – In theory, this falls into the category of charging only the people who use a particular item or service, like breakfast. However, the nightly
    wear-and-tear on a pillow is small and a hotel needs to have extra pillows anyway, in case already-assigned pillows. So, on the whole, I don’t think having people use an extra pillow has any costs, so it shouldn’t be a charge.

  • Darth Chocolate

    Wah, Wah, Wah!

    If you cannot afford those fees, perhaps you should not be staying at a hotel.

    Some people just like to complain about everything.

  • MarkKelling

    “A search of the major hotel websites for their policies on these fees turned up nothing, zilch, nada.”

    I easily found the policy on the Hilton website. It is for each individual hotel listed on the “Hotel Policy page.

    For example the Hilton Hawaiian Village:

    http://www3.hilton. com/en/hotels/hawaii/hilton-hawaiian-village-waikiki-beach-resort-HNLHVHH/about/policies.html

  • Jeff W.

    Aside from the pillow charge (and there usually is an extra pillow in the closet or bottom dresser drawer in most hotels I frequent), none of the charges seem outrageous.

    At least these are not mandatory resort fees. That is something to complain about.

  • VoR61

    If hotels would do a better job of noise control, the preference for distance from the elevator and choice of floor would be a non-factor (for us). But since they don’t, I will continue to expect it at no additional charge.

  • Miami510

    Travel certainly “ain’t what it used to be” From photographing all sides of the rental
    car (including the top… remember the post about scratches on the roof?), to having eyes in the back of your head for sneaky fees, extra fees for special seats, carry-on bags, confirming every reservation with the re-seller as well as the vendor… and attempting to be recognized as a gold, platinum, diamond, frequent ____, elite, status,. Dealing with TSA, long lines, removing shoes, getting x-rayed,and going over your credit card bills with a microscope… it makes one think twice about whether a trip is worth it.

  • Cybrsk8r

    What’s with this whole new crops of trolls?

  • polexia_rogue

    i have yet to have any kind of issue with check in fees. with they can check me in early or they tell me to go away until the normal check in hour.

    and in the instances where i was told to go away, i was never offered the chance to pay in order to check in early (i would have gladly taken it,)

  • Grant Ritchie


  • jet2x2

    What does it cost a hotel to give me a room in a certain part of the hotel if they have available room of the same type that I reserved? Nothing. So the desk person has to check on the computer, so what. It’s a money grab, pure and simple, and they do it because they can and some people will pay. Perhaps there are some incremental costs for the rest of the items – but really, if you’re in the hotel business, shouldn’t those things be factored into your overall costs? Extra pillows? Early departure? Ridiculous – I should be penalized because I might have to check out early for personal reasons? The only one mentioned that might be reasonable is early check in, because it disrupts their cleaning and room staging schedules.

    If you really look at the argument for unbundling – that it is saving people money – the argument falls apart quickly. The hotel is essentially saying “if we don’t charge these fees we will have to add them to everyone’s bill and you will all pay more.” But they cannot tell you how much it actually costs them for these “extras” and how many people ask for them. They don’t have the data because that wasn’t in the equation to start with. This wasn’t a cost/benefit decision, it was a profit-driven one.

    I don’t believe in government regulation when there is sufficient competition in the marketplace to let consumers vote with their wallets. It still exists in the hotel industry in most locations. I also think the market segment that can have the most impact on these fees is business travel. Perhaps someone should do an article about how much these fees cost businesses. Wall Street loves these fees because they make airlines and hotels more profitable – but surely they are cutting into the profitability of businesses that rely on travel (?) Or perhaps a lot of businesses have figured this out and are cutting deals to avoid the fees. I know my corporate travel agency did that for conferences and long-term training hotel stays.

  • Tripper1

    I find the “new” hotel fees ridiculous, including the so called “resort fee”. I think that it is difficult to compare the add-ons airlines now charge with the hotel fees. While the cost to fly has not increased over the past 20 years when adjusted for inflation, hotel rooms have gone up. The hotel where I used to stay in Amsterdam 20 years ago has gone from $200 a night to over $700. It is ridiculous considering current prices to start charging additional fees for things like extra pillows and rooms away from the elevator.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    Still using the cheesy photos to illustrate the column … I’d prefer nothing to these awful things. But to the topic: comp breakfast has always annoyed me, I rarely eat breakfast so why should the rate I pay for my room subsidize people who do? Comparing one single business traveller to a family of four … you see what I mean. I do not pay mandatory service fees to a hotel; if the fee is mandatory it should be included in the rate. Early checkout penalty I understand – the hotel could have rented that room and not lost the revenue. If you give them 48 hours notice, however, you should not have to pay the penalty. This does not include prepaid rooms; if you prepay your room to save $7 a night, you don’t get your money back if you leave early. A fee for late checkout is also understandable, you’re using the room so why would you expect it to be without charge?

  • cowboyinbrla

    I’m not sure how both rooms near an elevator and far from an elevator can both be “premium” rooms. Obviously, to some people, close access to the elevator is important (particularly mobility-impaired people). To others, the noise factor of being next to the elevator makes a distant room preferable. And so that makes these EXACTLY like seat assignment fees – some people want window seats, some want aisle seats, some want front of the plane for easy boarding, some want back of the plane for access to the lavatories and more likelihood of overhead bin space.

    Both are simply charging people for the right to know what kind of room or seat you’re getting, or letting you leave it up to fate in exchange for not paying extra.

    Now, personally, I don’t have a problem with any sort of ancillary fee as long as the entire laundry list, so to speak, is divulged at the time of the reservation before you’re locked in.

  • sunshipballoons

    you’re right, that makes sense. That convinces me that it’s okay for airlines to charge for seat selection.

  • Maria

    We all seem to forget that both hotel rates and airline fares have may have been stripped of many of the ‘good old days’ services – they have also become considerably cheaper.
    More people are now able to take the hotel of their choice or buy a ticket – and buy the services they want.
    Why should hotel guests pay for shoe-shine, breakfast, 24-hrs rooms service, and other ‘options’ when they never use them?

    So let’s be reasonable!


    P.S. Oh, just in case any of you come up with the Fuel Charges – you’d have to pay them also in the ‘good old days’.

  • Maria

    Which hotel is that? And WHEN were you staying there for USD 200 a night? Was it the same time of the year, and were the same services included?
    If you don’t like the pillows, bring your own. I see plent of people carry their own pillow on the flight, and that certain makes sense. You can’t please all.

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