Uh-oh! Hotel resort fees are on the rise

Don’t look now, but those reviled mandatory resort fees are on the rise — and in places you might not expect.

Orlando is the surprise No. 1 destination for the surcharges, which can cover everything from the hotel gym to a Wi-Fi connection, according to ResortFeeChecker.com, a site that specializes in resort fee data.

A record 107 hotels in the world’s theme park capital charged an average of $11.57 a night in fees, over and above their room rates. Orlando is followed by Miami, where 100 hotels charged an average $20.04 per night in fees, and Las Vegas, where 93 hotels charged an average $20.06 per night.

“More hotels are charging resort fees this year,” says Randy Greencorn, ResortFeeChecker.com’s co-founder. A late 2014 survey by the American Hotel & Lodging Association echoes his findings. It noted that the number of hotels charging resort fees had more than doubled since 2012, rising from 3% of hotels to 7% last year.

Last time we checked on America’s resort fee pandemic, customers were complaining loudly, major hotel chains claimed they wanted to eliminate the fees, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was nipping at the heels of the hotels with strongly worded warning letters.

Resort fees aren’t always clearly disclosed at the time a hotel rate is quoted. That makes room rates look cheaper than they really are. After tacking on a mandatory fee, the price can balloon by anywhere from $15 to more than $100 a night.

So what happened? Many guests stopped griping, accepting the fees as inevitable. Hotels interpreted their silence as a license to not only continue charging the fees, but to raise them. Properties openly disclosed the unwanted extras on their websites. And the FTC waved a “mission accomplished” banner on the issue, saying it just wanted people to know about these surcharges.

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Travelers seem less inclined than ever to dispute a resort fee on their bill. The latest guest surveys don’t even mention the mandatory surcharges, apparently because it’s such a non-issue.

Clint Arthur remembers how he recently discovered a $60-a-night resort fee at the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico. While fees aren’t as common on the island, the hotels that have them take no prisoners. Puerto Rico’s resort fees are the most expensive in the country. An average guest pays an extra $34.10 per night, according to ResortFeeChecker.com.

Arthur, who offers TV training seminars around the country, says the fee came as a shock, adding a total of $600 to his final bill. “And that’s on top of their already-high room rates,” he says. The St. Regis’ resort fee, which covers the use of its tennis courts, driving range, paddle boards and gym, is disclosed on its website one screen after you’ve selected a room during the booking process, driving the final quoted price up by $60 per night. But there’s hardly a mention of it anywhere else.

“Of course I paid the fee,” says Arthur.

When it comes to resort fees, the hotel industry rhetoric seems to have shifted. Instead of acting embarrassed by these surcharges, they are emboldened. Resort fees allow hotels to keep their room rates low, they offset expenses like in-room Wi-Fi and shuttle services, and they can “use resort fees as revenue drivers,” explains Katelyn Stuart, a spokeswoman for Paramount Hospitality Management, which operates three Orlando hotels. She says while some guests complain, it’s usually because they booked through a travel agent who failed to tell them about the “mere” $9 a day fee which, to be fair, is $2.57 below the Orlando average.

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Greencorn warns that it’s becoming a free-for-all. Many hotels without resort-like amenities are adding surcharges to their rooms and then broadsiding guests with them when they check in. Part of the reason is that airlines have had so much success with separating a ticket from items like carry-on luggage or confirmed seat assignments, an act referred to as “unbundling.” Hotels feel it’s their right to do so, too, and they believe the government will let them.

Here’s why: In late 2012, the FTC warned 22 hotel operators that their online reservation sites might violate the law by offering a deceptively low estimate of their hotel room cost. But instead of eliminating resort fees, as some predicted, hotels simply improved their disclosure, with the government’s blessing. Hotels saw that as a green light to add more fees, as long as they told their customers.

Ironically, the resolution may come courtesy of the airline industry. The Department of Transportation (DOT) Advisory Committee on Aviation Consumer Protections, a four-person panel that advises the Secretary of Transportation primarily on airline issues, plans to review hotel resort fees at an upcoming meeting. That could set the wheels in motion for the DOT to require online travel agencies to quote a full price for a hotel up front. And that could finally kill resort fees for good.

Thanks, airlines.

Should hotels be allowed to charge mandatory resort fees?

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How to avoid resort fees

Stay away from “resort” areas. You’re likely to find these unwanted extras in popular resort areas in Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Hawaii (see list). Stay away from them if you want to avoid resort fees.

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Book direct. A vast majority of hotels that charge resort fees will disclose the resort fee by the second or third booking screen when you buy directly online. Online travel agencies, and especially opaque sites like Priceline.com, may or may not tell you about the fee until later — if they do at all.

Read your confirmation. A reputable resort will reveal the fee on your final confirmation. If you’re not happy with it, you can always cancel.

Top 10 U.S. cities for resort fees

Orlando: 107 properties with fees; average fee $11.57

Miami: 100; $20.04

Las Vegas: 93; $20.06

Myrtle Beach, S.C.: 57; $8

Oahu, Hawaii: 37; $19.65

Steamboat Springs, Colo.: 32; $3.99

Puerto Rico: 30; $34.14

Phoenix: 27; $21.31

San Diego: 27; $16.91

Florida Keys: 26; $18.98

Source: Resortfeechecker.com

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 chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • Jim

    This is basically no different then the fee driven airlines. The only difference is that the hotels do not have the oligopoly that the airlines enjoy. Here is it easier to vote with your dollar. You can pick a hotel that does not charge the fee or travel to another destination (except for those that must travel there for whatever reason).

    But as long as the sheep continue to agree to pay, the fees will keep coming.

    It’s sad but there was an article in the local paper about Atlantic City casinos in the area here and how they are charging resort fees at all but one casino (sometimes up to $100/night) for comp rooms. And unless your a top tier player you have to pay the fee. It has to be the “grab every dollar” mindset, because the last thing these casinos need to do is drive away business to competitors in the area.

  • Kairho

    No problem here with charging resort fees but, like airlines fees/taxes, they must be disclosed up front, before purchase, not at checkout. This doesn’t have to be mandated by any form of regulation, a simple congressional law or amendment could do it.

    Then the almighty Consumer has the choice.

  • Lzy

    Should they be allowed to charge resort fees? Is this a free country? Do they own their own businesses? You’re free to stay, elsewhere.

    The extra fees should be plainly disclosed, however.

  • Sometime_flier

    I don’t see why it couldn’t be charged on a use basis. Want to use the pool/gym? Swipe your room card, pay a daily add-on. Don’t use those amenities? No charge.

    Actually I do see. There’s not enough money in it because probably more people don’t use them than do.

  • Globetrotter6969 .

    The travel industry have learned well from the airlines that the way to raise prices is to not raise the price of the actual product. The real profits are from the ancillary services. The airlines have wrote the playbook on this practice and the hotels are just starting. I’m only surprised that they have took this long to figure it out because consumers are conditioned to look at only the price of a one way ticket or a weekend hotel rate. The majority of consumers have no clue about these mandatory fees until after the fact. I guess it is job security for Chris :)

  • Extramail

    I just got back from Las Vegas and the $12.00 a day resort fee covered Internet (for only 2 devices) and gym use, two of the things I wanted to use. If I had not paid the resort fee, the Internet would have cost me $13.95 a day and the gym $10.00. That is why, I believe, people don’t complain about the resort fees. It’s the era of unbundling and nobody wants to pay for something that they don’t think they will use. Now, if the hotel will reduce my bill because I don’t use housekeeping, as rumored, I will be thrilled because I rarely use housekeeping – I’m never in the room long enough to make a mess, I can make my own bed and I don’t have to worry quite as much about something being taken.

  • jim6555

    A government agency issuing a regulation is much simpler and easier than getting a law or amendment passed.

  • BillCCC

    I do not mind resort fees that cover amenities that I might use. What cheeses me off is when the fee is mandatory. When a ‘fee’ is mandatory it is, as far as I am concerned, part of the room rate and should be disclosed as such.

  • Optional resort fees can actually be a good thing. It’s the mandatory fees people are unhappy with, and rightfully so. They’re being charged for an “amenity” whether they use it or not — and an amenity that, by the way, ought to be included in the rate and disclosed right up front.

  • jim6555

    This past December, I spent a few days in Las Vegas. I found that all of the major properties on the Las Vegas Strip were charging resort fees that varied between $22 and $28 per night. There were other, smaller properties, a few blocks from The Strip that were fee free. The choice was mine and I decided to stay in a larger, more convenient hotel and pay the fee. As long as the consumer knows up front that they are going to be charged the additional sum, I have no problem with this practice.

  • Kairho

    Quite true. But are there any such agencies which already have authority over hotels? If not, huge effort to start one up. (Talking federal here … I would think getting 50 states to all do the same would be quite a task, too)

  • AJPeabody

    The hotels learned how to have deceptively low room rates from the airlines. And the airlines? Who did they learn from? Remember “no new taxes?” The government kept deceptively low tax rates by calling for added “user fees.” So don’t ask the same government to save us from what they started.

  • Nancy Nally

    By the “do they own their own businesses” logic, there would be no business regulation whatsoever. Meaning no child labor laws (kids are free to say no to work!), no environmental protections (consumers can just shop elsewhere if they don’t like what the company does), etc. It doesn’t work that way. Business owners – and I am one myself – are not the emperors of their own small kingdoms, free to do what they wish regardless of its impact on others.

  • Sometime_flier

    Exactly. I never use a pool/gym/hot tub and I don’t see why I should pay for them.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    If it’s mandatory, it belongs in the room rate. Resort fees are just gouging their guests. Don’t pay the resort fee. Find out what the fee covers; if you use any of those services, figure out what you’re willing to pay. Be polite, be fair, be firm and allow an extra 30 minutes when you check out to talk with the Manager.

  • pauletteb

    My hotel room is basically the place I go to sleep after a long day of activity. I don’t use the tennis courts, workout room, pool (ew!), or any such amenities, so why should I have to pay for them?

  • Regina Litman

    I’d rather pay a resort fee than pay for parking and in-room wi-fi. (Prices shown below are per night.)

    Hotel 1 – Room is $150, parking is $20, in-room wi-fi is $13, no resort fee, for a total of $183 a night.

    Hotel 2 – Room is $150, resort fee is $33, “free” parking and in-room wi-fi.

    Hotel 3 – Room is $183, no resort fee, “free” parking and in room wi-fi.

    I like the pricing model of Hotel 3 the most. I’m very much a bundled, all-inclusive type of person.

    I dislike the pricing model of Hotel 1 the most. I’m going to be paying $183 no matter what. I want to think I’m getting the parking and in-room wi-fi for free.

  • Nigel Appleby

    That’s one of the reasons that Best Western is my hotel chain of choice. Wifi included, breakfast included (maybe continental, maybe hot breakfast). Some have extra amenities such as a pool but the use, or non-use, is included in the room price, The only thing that’s been added, so far anyway, is taxes. Long may it last.

  • Brooklyn

    Could you please come back and say that here every day? It’s astonishing how many people are misinformed.

  • Brooklyn

    But what if that doesn’t work? By then they have your credit card information. I don’t stay in hotels with resort fees, period, but then I’m fine with any place that looks reasonably clean and doesn’t smell bad.

  • Dutchess

    The difference here is, with an airline you don’t have to check a bag, you don’t have to pay a fee to choose a seat, you don’t have to pay for a drink, these are all add on elections. With the hotels these fees are mandatory and you must pay them. There’s zero reason these fees shouldn’t be included in the cost per night. Also, I get really tired of “vote with your dollars” argument. Try doing that in Las Vegas where almost every hotel on the strip has these fees. The whole “let the market sort it out” is a fallacy when the entire industry is hiding behind fine print.

  • shannonfla

    I like #1 the best. We look for alternative parking (fiance is willing to walk to get car while I get ready) and don’t need WiFi thanks to unlimited data plan and an app. Don’t use gym either.

  • Jim

    You don’t have to stay at that hotel or stay in that city. The vote with your dollar argument works extremely well. The only way it dosent apply is if you have to to go there.

    No one forces you to check a bag and no one forces you to stay on the strip in Vegas.

  • “Stay away from resort areas?” That’s like saying: don’t book anywhere you would actually want to stay?

  • A better approach might be making “mandatory resort fee?” a checkbox on social media rating sites.

  • Bill___A

    Airline fees are FOR bags, FOR seats, etc. There generally IS a way to opt out of them.
    Hotel resort fees are for things that many people do NOT want. And the hotels do NOT let you opt out of them.

    What the airlines are doing is charging separately for some thing you buy.
    Hotels are charging resort fees for things you may not wish to purchase.

    This is the big issue with them. Being forced to pay for things you do not necessarily want.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    I’m with you, Nigel … Best Westerns, particularly in Europe, are a wonderful value and often quite charming.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    Here’s one I hadn’t experienced before. A 4* hotel on Ft Lauderdale Beach with “takeout” food instead of room service, a new concept which I like. But down on the bottom of the menu are these words: “18% gratuity included”. Excuse me? They should pay ME 18% for coming down and picking up my goodies! I told them to remove it from my charge.

  • I don’t mind if fees are here to stay. My main issue is around awareness during the booking process. As a savvy consumer, I sometimes have to go digging to find the fee. Some sites do a better job of disclosing the fee than others during the booking checkout process (kudos to Hotwire). Unfortunately, NONE of the booking engines include the resort fee as part of the price in search results, making it difficult to compare apples to apples.

  • Bill___A

    Good for you. They need to know in no uncertain terms that it is not acceptable to do that. It is up to them to set the price. A “gratuity” if any should be determined by the purchaser.

  • Bill___A

    Would you like it if you were charged a checked bag fee when you didn’t check one? A premium seat fee when you didn’t get a premium seat? Charged for a meal when you brought one from the airport (akin to being charged a resort fee for wi fi when you have your own)?

    This is the issue. It isn’t the existence of the fee. If it the fact that they are for things you may or may not wish to buy and are mandatory.

  • Bill___A

    Having to change hotels is not the same. With the airlines, you can stay on the same airline and not take another carrier with three stops to avoid the charges.

  • Kairho

    Exactly. If it’s mandatory, disclose it and let the Consumer decide whether to buy or not. And it should be noted that it could also be included in the basic price of a room just as well. Then, similarly, if you no like the price, you no buy. Simple as that.

  • Kairho

    An excellent idea which I support but it only is helpful to those who use such rating sites for planning. And that’s nowhere near everyone.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    what’s acceptable for airlines has to be allowed for everyone else.
    It’s consumers who wanted unbundling in the 1st place, but difference here is whether these fees are optional or compulsory.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    what next ?
    Pay extra for actual sheets & the washing of them. Detergent “tax”, vacuuming tax, hot water fees. Wow could really let the imagination run wild. Oleary at Ryanair would be proud !!!

  • John Baker

    My take on the issue of resort fees… I’m a big fan of a la carte pricing but I have to be able to avoid the expense…. So baggage fees, love ’em. Change fees, bring them on. Parking fees, taxi anyone? Resort fees …. Get a grip. It’s a mandatory daily fee with no means to avoid it.

    Taken to the extreme, what keeps a resort from charging $1 a night for the room and $500 a night for the resort fee. Sorry nope… These take tax dollars out of local pockets and they’re bad for the customer. Talking about a practice that is deceiving on its face…

  • Bill

    They can change anything they like as long as they disclose it. The consumer will decide whether they want to pay it.,

  • bobbych

    It’s not “unbundling” if you do not have the option to pass on whatever “service” is being charged for. In this case, if you stay at that property, you are compelled to pay the ‘fee’. In this way, it is compulsory and should thus be disclosed as part of the base rate. Calling it an add-on is misleading at best and – in more extreme cases -fraudulent.

    Lastly, the truth is that this is nothing more than a pure cash grab on the part of hotels. I stayed in Las Vegas (at the Palms, nice place but not “on the strip”) and got whacked with a $20 per night ‘resort fee’. It was November, so too cold to swim. I guess I could have used the gym, if I was so inclined. And it also included the world’s slowest wi-fi. In other words, it was $20 per day ($100 overall) flushed down the toilet. If McDonald’s and Motel 6 can offer better wi-fi and NOT charge $20 per night for it, how do upscale hotels get off doing it with a straight face?

    I tend to be against government regulation of businesses. But this gets into the gray area between the market, unfair business practices and collusion (when – as in Vegas – everyone does it). Perhaps THIS is one area where Barack O. can put his pen and phone to work.

  • bobbych

    In many places, you do not have a choice. If you need to be in a given location and that’s a hotbed of resort fees, you are compelled to pay. And, if like me, you won’t be using the pool, gym or golf course, then allow me the option of “opting out”. Few, if any, even offer you the option of doing that and it is here that your argument falls flat. As much as I find airline fees to be distasteful, at least they are theoretically optional. You do not have to check a bag and you can suffer with a horrid seat to avoid whatever fee the airline may charge for better. But, there’s no way to avoid the resort fee. You go to certain markets and you are required to pay it – no matter what. You can’t swear to not use the pool and thus only be charged $8.00 per night for wifi and the gym (which is how “unbundling” actually works).

    So, no, the almighty Consumer doesn’t have a choice aside from choosing to visit Des Moines over Miami, which (no offense to Iowans), isn’t really a choice – is it?

  • bobbych

    Then it SHOULD be included in the price of the room and not broken out as a hidden fee.

  • bobbych

    Are loan sharks allowed to charge 1000% interest, compounded daily? Is this a free country? No to both, actually. And – if you need to be in Miami or Las Vegas, you are not really free to stay elsewhere unless you’re okay with bedbugs and meth dealers.

    BS on this argument. It’s not optional, thus it’s part of the price and should be represented as such. I’d be okay with it if – by paying it – you get a wristband that gives you access to the amenities in question. And no pay – no wristband. But as this is almost never the case, the “fee” is compulsory.

  • BobChi

    There’s a very big difference. You don’t need to pay the airline fees if you don’t want to. They are for an added service you can decline if you don’t want it, and consumers need to make that distinction. What is pernicious and should be outlawed are fees that are mandatory and come above a publicized price. That’s a scam, and we need to fight it at all times.

  • BobChi

    I was just in Las Vegas and stayed in a hotel off the strip precisely because of wanting to boycott those despicable “resort fees.” They should be banned.

  • BobChi

    So they should list their rate at $3.00 with a “resort fee” of $197? If the customer can’t avoid it, and it’s not imposed by the government or some other outside agency, it should be the law that it be included in the base price.

  • BobChi

    That’s part of the scam. They get to look artificially better than they are, and it penalizes any honest property that doesn’t play that game.

  • Lindabator

    I don’t care if they charge for amenities – but only charge for those used

  • Lindabator

    Should take that up BEFORE checking in, and not AFTER!

  • Agree. And, it makes the problem worse because those hotels that don’t charge a fee are disadvantaged so it creates this phenomenon where you have to charge a fee just to complete.

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