Are hotel resort fees on their way out the door?

Even though the Doubletree San Juan isn’t really a resort, it still charged Cheryl Nygaard an 18% per night resort fee on her recent visit to Puerto Rico.

Worse, the $15-a-night “service” charge, which covered her Internet connection, beach chairs and towels, an in-room DVD player, and water and pool amenities, was added to her bill at the end of her stay.

“I didn’t know about the fees until I checked out,” she says. Nygaard, a corporate trainer from Dallas, who had booked the room through her travel agent, asked if the charge could be waived. She was in San Juan on business and didn’t use the pool, beach chairs or DVD player.

“I was told ‘no,'” she says.

No wonder. U.S. hotels collected an estimated $2.1 billion in resort fees in 2013, about double the amount from a decade ago. Customers hate these travel surcharges. They wish companies would just quote an honest rate that includes all required fees.

Hilton apologized for Nygaard’s confusion, saying the company makes every effort to ensure that all mandatory fees for hotels in its system are disclosed.

But the truth is, the travel industry doesn’t care for these bait-and-switch practices, either.

Although individual hotels mount a spirited defense — last year, for example, Caesars slapped its guests with a resort fee, brazenly claiming they had asked for it — the rest of the industry is plotting to kill resort fees.

That may seem counterintuitive, but if you follow the money, it makes perfect sense. Neither travel agents nor hotel companies benefit from resort fees in a meaningful way.

Related story:   Need an airline ticket? Surprisingly, “meta” search is where most travelers start

Instead, most of the $2.1 billion flows directly to hotel owners, while the intermediaries and management companies are bypassed, then blamed — often falsely — for the charges.

It’s a classic win-lose.

Plus, a little more than a year ago, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent warning letters to hotels and online travel agencies, saying resort fees “might” be deceptive, a move that was seen as a first step toward a stronger enforcement action.

Resort fees could die quickly at the hands of the FTC. A single consent decree, which concludes resort fees are unfair and deceptive, would give large hotel companies the excuse to permanently end the practice, even over the objections of owners. The FTC would not comment on future actions, but in a recent interview, Jessica Rich, director of the its Bureau of Consumer Protection, told me the agency would continue to work with the industry “to improve upfront disclosures” about such fees.

Guests want more than disclosure, though. They want resort fees to check out permanently.

“The fees are ridiculous,” says Nygaard. “They’re a cash grab. The cost of the room should include using the hotel amenities.”

As guests such as Nygaard see it, they’re entitled to an upfront price for their room — the same “all-in” rate airlines now must show.

At the time of Nygaard’s complaint, booking a room at the Doubletree in San Juan through meant waiting until the second booking screen to find out about its fees.

But the exact amount wasn’t revealed until you clicked on a “details” link, which appeared as a pop-up on the third reservations page. Until then, guests might have believed they were getting a lower rate.

Related story:   This summer, airlines takes "ridiculous" to the next level

“It’s totally wrong,” says Molly Forman, who works for a technology company in Dallas and recently booked a room at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort. She didn’t know about that property’s resort fee until after she arrived, although in fairness, this Hilton is a real resort and its $30-a-day fee is more clearly disclosed online.

“If I had been aware of the rate earlier, or that it was not optional, I could have chosen a different property,” says Forman.

As a matter of policy, Hilton discloses its fees on the first page of its website. All required surcharges are included in the total price quoted at the time of booking and in the e-mail confirmation, the company says.

“We will follow up with the Doubletree in San Juan to ensure that their disclosures are consistent with our standards,” says Hilton spokeswoman Dasha Ross.

The demise of resort fees could be the first of several fee-dominoes to fall, leading to the eventual collapse of other deceptive surcharges in the travel industry.

Imagine booking an airline ticket that includes a confirmed seat, a boarding pass and the ability to check a bag, as all airline tickets should? Or a rental car that includes, well, everything?

Will the FTC — or a court or Congress — finally say what travelers have been thinking for more than a decade? Will it declare that mandatory surcharges that aren’t revealed until the end of your stay are deceptive?

What a win-win.

Should hotels be allowed to charge mandatory resort fees?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • tomjuno

    My at-one-time favourite hotel in Las Vegas, the South Coast, used to proudly insist on its website that, unlike many other Las Vegas hotels, it would never charge a resort fee. Until, about a year or so ago, it instituted its own ($14) resort fee. I haven’t been back since.

  • VoR61

    Unbundling: The Law of Unintended Consequences …

    You detail certain charges instead of rolling them into the cost of the product and then make them “mandatory”? When this is done, the you may come across as cheap and will receive some backlash.

    Many examples have been given here before. What seems to me to be a better solution is to list the price with these options included and then show that in the list of amenities. Customers can then decide for themselves about paying for the extras (beach chairs/towels, DVD player, min-bar, etc.). Only exceptions that make sense to me to list separately are additional fees that are truly “optional”.

    Why companies do this is a mystery to me …

  • Justin

    Visit Vegas: Resort Fee Central.

    Chris is VERY OPTIMISTIC about our elected shills going to bat for consumers. Talk is so cheap that even when legislation reaches the floor for a vote, the bill has become watered down and meaningless. Lobbyists have a strong arm in Washington and unless politicians are affected, not a single damn is given. Period.

    Hotels aren’t the only industry adding pseudo taxes. Check your cell phone and internet bill. You’ll find plenty of non mandatory fees listed, too.

  • $16635417

    Resort fees aren’t optional and, in my experience, rarely disclosed prominently when shopping and usually just a notation in the confirmation.

    I’ve never gotten the issue with fees for rental cars. When shopping, the estimated total is shown, usually to the nearest dollar and the confirmation shows the actual total to the penny. Yes, there are fees but they are fully disclosed and I’ve never been hit with hidden fees at the time of rental.

    (For cars I use a third party such as Kayak or Orbitz to shop…and then go to the car company’s website to book.)

  • VoR61

    And for the purposes of this discussion, if they had simply raised their prices by $14 (i.e., NO separate resort fee) would you have continued to stay there?

  • Justin


    You find an item you like at two stores. Same price ($14.00). Something generally makes you pick one retailer over another. Service, return policy, past experiences, etc.

    My point? Raise the price $14.00 and just be honest that the cost of business has increased. Hiding the increase as a “mandatory fee” just pisses people off more.

    Intentions matter.

  • frostysnowman

    If I stay at a resort (particularly one like the Hilton Hawaiian Village) and the rate is, say, $250 per night, but the daily mandatory resort fee is $30 per night, then just charge me $280 a night. Don’t make me feel like I’m being nickled-and-dimed. That goes for any hotel, really, if the resort fee is mandatory.

  • James Gerber

    The worst aspect for these mandatory fees shows up when you book at an opaque travel site like Hotwire. You don’t get the name of the hotel until after you pay so you can’t research the fees. Imagine going for a $69/night “deal” only to be hit for $40/night or more in fees.

  • Extramail

    But, then when you check-in at the hotel, do you get issued an arm band if you’ve paid for, say, the beach chair, so that the now need-to-be-hired beach chair attendant, knows you get a beach chair but the guy who doesn’t have said arm band has to sit on the ground? Law of unintended consequences maybe?

    I say just tell me up-front what it is going to cost me but then the guy who isn’t going to use the beach chair says he shouldn’t have to pay for that amenity. This re-thinking of ways to make money by unbundling started with the airlines and it changed how we view the travel experience because the travel industry decided to change how we pay for that experience. Again, the law of unintended consequences.

  • Carchar

    You give give or show a slip of paper to the pool attendant, which you received upon check-in, that says you get a beach chair that day.

    When I check into certain Hilton hotels that don’t include breakfast, I am issued a “breakfast coupon,” because I am at gold level and I have chosen breakfast as my perk.

  • VoR61

    At that point, an arm band is not required as the items are included in EVERYONE’s price.

    Think of it like a buffet. We have two that serve oriental-style cuisine within a mile of one another, but one INCLUDES desert in the price. Either way, I don’t care that Joe goes back 4 times and I only went back once, or that he got desert and I didn’t. We all pay the same price, and we all choose how much of it we will partake of. Not gonna complain if I “paid for something I didn’t use” because I understand it’s my choice.

    Now, what if the one who charges extra for desert MADE me pay for it as a separate line item. If I don’t want desert, I WILL be unhappy and may want it deducted from my ticket. More than likely, though, I will simply patronize the other.

    There are many examples that can be sited. Ultimately, we all care about the price we pay vs. what we want. We stay at many hotels that have a jacuzzi, pool, min-bar, etc. I personally don’t care if they include those in my price if it’s the same cost as one down the road without those options. But the minute they break them out and MAKE me pay, I’m going to object.

    Bottom line: if you need to recover the cost of the beach chairs, then a) include in the price for all of us (and let me decide to use/not use) or b) charge extra (optional) for those who want to use one.

  • AJPeabody

    My comment from the future:

    Our supermarket has unbundled. They started with a mandatory check-out fee to cover the cost of the automatic clerk-less checkout equipment, and a higher personal service fee if you used the one remaining human clerk. Then they added a restocking fee to cover the cost of restocking what you bought so the shelves could stay full. I really don’t like the refrigeration energy fee they add to all the chilled items, but at least they haven’t added a higher frozen food maintenance fee that the other supermarket in our area has started.

    I have been avoiding the bagging fees by bringing my own bags. And I bring a few pennies to feed the price-checking machine for when there is no price posted for an item. I hope the government will require all-inclusive supermarket pricing, but I doubt it will happen.

  • Cheri Head

    If hotels don’t have to pay the OTAs a commission on the resort fees like they do on the price of the room, I can understand why they would do it. The OTAs (Expedia,, etc.) charge an arm an a leg to the hotel–this might be a way for the hotel to up their profit margin a bit to make up for that. However there must be a better way, because it’s not fair to people to not see the full cost when they’re deciding where to stay. Our hotel NEVER adds extra charges…we just think it’s unfair. Maybe people should start booking direct with hotels, so they can stop losing money to the OTAs, and be able to cut out some of these extra fees.

  • Justin


    Issue a pool key card. No attendant required. Keycard is required to open the gate. Assumed if you used the pool, you’re using a lawn chairs, towels, etc.

    Minibar fees are easy. Items are counted or there are sensors. Don’t eat from the minibar, shouldn’t be charged.

    You can lock the in room dvd player and only issue the code to people paying. Similar to wifi. I believe modern dvd players do have a parental lock software within the menu.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    That’s a great point. For some folks it’s a purely dollars and cents decision, others not so much.

    I tend to be more of a dollars and cents guy. When I comparison shop for hotels, I’m pretty much an accountant. I compare the total costs including resort fees and amenities. How the numbers are broken down is fairly irrelevant to me. E.G. $214 a night is the same as $200 + $14 resort fee.

    But some folks would rather pay $220 instead of $200 + $14 resort fee.

  • VoR61

    And here’s my example from your world …

    If you charged your clients a $40 per day “transportation fee”, they’d be upset when they came to your office. But if you raised your fees $5 an hour (same result for an 8 hour day), they’d be none the wiser and wouldn’t say anything.

    The point being that it’s all about how costs are presented/recovered.

  • Joe Evaristo

    But in those situations, you’ve paid up front–so if they tried to add another fee at the end, wouldn’t you just walk out without paying it and dispute the charges if they tried to put it on your card? Companies can’t charge for something you’ve already paid for.

  • Stephen0118

    The one thing that confuses me is how smaller resorts like the Hampton Inn can provide free parking and free Internet while the big boys (like Hilton and Marriott) can’t. It could be that the first group is a smaller property so they don’t have to pay the city as much or their ISPs as much, but still they have to pay something. I guess, like everyone else has said, it all comes down to guests not wanting to pay for something they don’t use.

  • James Gerber

    Joe, Read their terms of service. They say that resort and other fees will be added and are due at check-out. You can’t expect your credit card company to stand up for you because you agreed to the terms when you placed your order. If I were king of the world, this would be illegal but sadly, the businesses have all the rights and we consumers have very few.

  • Steve T,

    There is something to be said for simplicity. I believe they break up to charges to fool the customers, and I for one don’t like being fooled. I hate mail in rebates for the same reason. I’d pay $500 for a computer, before I’d pay $550.00 plus a $100.00 mail in rebate, even though the price would be cheaper. Also since so many hotels have these “miscellaneous” charges, I can’t use the opaque sites for a 4 star or higher room, since you don’t know about the extras til after the sales.

  • Miami510

    Everyone would be outraged if a hotel charged $300 for the room and a mandatory fee of $50 for the bathroom. When booking that reservation one would
    expect that the room came with a bathroom.

    The car salesman said “it’s possible to drive this beauty home for only $5,000.” The buyer agreed, and the salesman said, “Let’s talk about extras…. You did want a motor didn’t you?… and wheels… you see, they are mandatory extras.”

    One fellow, when looking at his bill, saw a mandatory fee for the gym, and another for the spa, neither of which they used. When questioned, the manager said, “It’s
    unfortunate, but they were available… you just didn’t use them.” The traveler wrote on the bill, “Pleasurable services from my wife = $400. The manager said, “I haven’t even set eyes on your wife.” The traveler replied, “That’s unfortunate,
    but she was available.”

  • tomjuno

    Yes, I’d have continued to stay at the South Coast if it had been upfront and straightforward about its final price. I won’t stay at any joint that throws curve balls at me in the form of “resort fees”. It makes me wonder what other curve balls it’s throwing.

  • omgstfualready

    Hampton Inn is part of the Hilton family of hotels. The higher the grade of the hotel, the less amenities will come with it. The lower end like Hampton Inn or Doubletree (also Hilton family) have to compete hard for their traveler and the higher end (Hilton, Conrad) generally have a more loyal base. So economics is what is driving that outcome.

  • Guest

    We recently booed a $13,000 vacation in Hawaii for a client and every single one of the hotel charges a resort fee which is going to add an additional $600 to this clients vacation. Just raise the rates instead, the fee is frowned upon by everyone- they’d rather have it all added to the booking so they can prepay it instead of seeing it on their bill at the end.

  • Annie M

    We just booked a $13000 Hawaiian vacation for a client and every hotel charges a resort fee, which is going to add nearly $600 to the vacation price. Customer is not happy, he would rather have that added to the daily price of the hotels so he can pre-pay it. It is infuriating to see another $20-$35 a day added on your bill when you check out.

  • Bill___A

    The simple solution is to make it illegal It is deceptive for the reason that it is often charged for amenities that are optional and in many cases not even used. it is a cash grab and since some idiot (likely a finance person – not sorry finance people) has created it, now the only way that it can go away for everyone is to legislate it away.
    Rather than specifically banning resort fees, they should mandate that all fees except taxes and truly optional (meaning don’t have to buy unless wanted needed) fees be quoted in the room rate.
    There is absolutely no reason why this should not be done.
    As for fuel surcharges, that is just a way to get around rules of refunding or compensating for fares by taking a major component away. They should be illegal too. If a component of the service increases, the overall price should increase too. We don’t see food surcharges at restaurants.

    In the meantime, all websites that are used for booking should be required to offer a tick box which allows one to exclude all properties that charge a resort fee. As a workaround, at the MARRIOTT website, I make sure not to even look at any of the “Gaylord” hotels. Who would imagine there is a “resort” in the middle of Washington DC???

  • Annie M

    Mike, have you ever rented a car in Mexico? I do what you do and rental a car from Dollar for $49. I also have an American Express car rental policy that gives me collision coverage for rentals in Mexico for $29. But there is no liability! So unless I added liability to the insurance, they were going to put a $4000 hold on my card in case of an accident or ticket. For the price they wanted for just the liability, they added the collision for another $2 a day instead of me using the amex insurance. The $49 car rental cost $400 after the insurance. If it were any other country than Mexico where corruption is rampant I wouldn’t have done it. But because I don’t trust the police on Mexico, I felt I had no choice.

  • Alan Gore

    That’s why I love Hampton Inns. Breakfast and Internet are included, and the Phoenix locations will let us park the car there all week while we travel. That way we can drive to the city, stay a night and be fresh for an early morning flight.

  • Kasiar001

    Recently stayed at a hotel which was part of a big chain, it was 21/2* property. There was another from the same chain right next door, a 4* property. The two shared a slope side ski check room only guests of the 4* property could leave their boots overnight & have them dried. At check out we were charged a $25 daily resort fee, same fee charged by the 4* property. I asked what this fee covered and was told that one of the things was the ski room. Had a major hissy fit at that point (internal), requested the fee to be removed & explained why. Amazingly enough it worked but how many others did not ask? Will never stay there again even though we visit that same resort every winter.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    No. Its just a different pricing model. Its not free, merely included in the base rate.

  • Tom_Blackwell

    “Resort fees” are a get-something-for-nothing windfall for services not actually used by the hotel guest. So far I have successfully avoided them, by asking questions in advance.

  • MAST48

    Call it what it is – price increase! A fee to me is something that you can chose to partake of the service or the offering but you chose not to; mandatory to me is an increase in price camouflage under a different name. Will not patronize deceiving institutions.

  • Name

    If it’s “mandatory” it should be added to the published room rate. This is one of the most ridiculous gouging ideas ever. Hotels should be ashamed. And guests should refuse to pay.

  • Extramail

    The point is that, because of the airlines, TOO many people have been conditioned to think that they shouldn’t pay for something they don’t use. It was much easier when there was one price and you either paid it or you didn’t. More than that, I liked it much better when we were ALL treated like humans when we flew instead of having “elites” and everyone else. And, I’m an elite more now than I’ve ever been because I fly too darn much.

  • VoR61

    There is no clear cut approach for me. If the airlines want to add $25 to every flight and allow 1 checked bag, then NO I’m NOT in favor of “one price, use it or don’t”. That’s money wasted for me. However, when Ryan Air wants to charge for the bathroom, that’s a whole different thing – cheesy!

    So it depends really on the item we talk about and how much. In the case of beach chairs/towesl, I say UNBUNDLE and make it optional. Some of us will use our own or do without. Typical charge for beach chairs and towels is $25-30. That’s too much for me to be okay paying for what I don’t use.

    But in the case of the MANDATORY resort fee, that’s being done to make the cost look lower, when really it’s higher. Deceptive …

  • shannonfla

    Are resort fees and other travel fees subject to state and local taxes? If not, it’s all gravy. If they are, then it’s probably not as high when you take out bed tax and such. So there is no incentive to simply raise the price of the room

  • Mark Cuban

    “If I had been aware of the rate earlier, or that it was not optional, I could have chosen a different property,” says Forman.

    That’s why they add it as a resort fee, to get the cheap people who book on price alone to rent their rooms.

  • sunshipballoons

    I’m not a fan of mandatory resort fees, but assuming they are disclosed before you book, I cannot fathom any reason why they shouldn’t be allowed to charge the fees.

  • jpp42

    The OTAs have some power here – they should demand from the hotels that the price paid through their service is the only mandatory fee – a “pay no more” guarantee should apply. This would benefit them (since they’d get the full commission) and they could advertise a guarantee that would appeal to buyers. Not sure why this isn’t done already.

  • jpp42

    Hampton Inns tend to be in suburban locations where included (not free) parking is affordable for the property. This is not universal – there is a Hampton Inn in downtown DC (Convention Center location) that definitely charges for parking, because it’s in the city where land/parking is very expensive. I don’t think parking charges are fair to discuss in this way since they’re so dependent on location.

  • Cheri Head

    I don’t really see how the OTAs could a demand a hotel not charge anything extra. I would think that would be an interference in business practices. And that, too, would just raise everyone’s rates even more, so I don’t think that’s a solution anyone would want either.

  • DJ

    Would like to know how to get out of a Wyndham Timeshare contract due to being told lies ,lies and more lies. Nothing we were told have been true even the location of our deed. Please give some insight on this matter. There are many people out there in the same situation. We need help. Thanks

  • Lostville

    This is one of many reasons I vote democrat. The GOP is all for big business , including deception , extortion and pollution. The democrats though not perfect are for protecting the little guy, which includes the middle class by the way. It is no coincidence that a right wing supreme court is giving everything to the big corporations. People that continue to vote for the right, this is what you are going to get. Open your eyes to the truth and stop with this cognitive dissonance.

  • Lostville

    What if a restaurant charged a fee to cover silverware?

  • sunshipballoons

    As with the mandatory resort fees, if they are disclosed before you order, I cannot fathom any reason why they shouldn’t be *allowed* to charge the fees. I don’t particularly think it’s a great idea, but a ban would be absurd.

    Here’s a really similar real world example: many restaurants in San Francisco have a surcharge purportedly to pay for SF’s mandatory health care ordinance (although, many have gotten in trouble for just pocketing the money). Assuming it’s disclosed, I don’t see why they shouldn’t be allowed to do that.

Get smart. Sign up for the newsletter.