“You are clearly missing the big picture”

My recent critique of the phrase “for your convenience” in the hospitality industry brought out angry hotel managers, who insisted they were providing a convenience to their guests and that I was all wrong.

One them is Patrick Mansfield, who sent me a lengthy rebuttal. “Although you may be mostly right on several points,” he noted, “you are clearly missing the big picture.”

A closer look at Mansfield’s points reveals more about the misunderstanding between guests and their hotels than it does about my flawless argument. I am right, of course, but Mansfield’s comments show we have a long way to go before the hotel industry knows this irrefutable fact.

For those of you just tuning in, here’s what you missed. A few weeks ago, I penned a USA Today column in which I cautioned hotel guests that if they heard the words “for your convenience,” it’s really a warning. The story also posted on this site, where we also had an interesting discussion.

Historically, the lodging schemes range from a benign half-truth, like signs that promise your hotel isn’t changing your towels “for your convenience,” to outright howlers, like the convenience of a hefty parking fee added to your bill.

There’s plenty of evidence to show these practices are on the rise. A recent NYU study concluded that hotel fees and surcharges in the U.S. increased $100 million last year to a record $2.55 billion. And there are stories — too many stories — about the properties cloaking their fees in convenient language.

Mansfield, who described himself as a 33-year industry veteran, took issue with that premise.

“Have you ever bought a car?” he demanded. “Have you ever visited the theater? Have you ever taken a plane ride? Have you ever bought a bottled beverage with a deposit required? Welcome to the good old USA! Fees, taxes and other convenience charges are everywhere. First, and foremost, we live in the USA and we are a capitalistic society. The almighty dollar sings.”

Related story:   Lost in translation? Airline cancels reservation but charges passenger anyway

Ah, so everyone else has “convenience” surcharges — so why not the hotel industry? Besides, it’s the patriotic thing to do.

Wrong and wrong. Just because car dealerships, theaters, and your regional Coca-Cola bottler have fees doesn’t make them right. And it’s not American. It’s actually anti-American.

Americans have a reputation for what-you-see-is-what-you-get plain-spokenness and honestly. They don’t nickel and dime. To even suggest that this is capitalistic is patently offensive.

Mansfield argued that guests need to pay for what they use.

Exercise was important enough by the public, so a gym is added to a hotel. Cold winters are sometimes boring, so an indoor pool is added to a hotel.

People have the need to stay in touch with the world, so Wi-Fi is added.

All “for your convenience.”

Can you name any of your examples that are “free”? Neither can I.

So, who is to pay for these extra steps the business is needing to do to stay competitive? Their guests and patrons bear the burden. It’s never the guests’ fault, but the cost passed on is what the market will bear. If the cost is too much, the business may fail and close. I have seen this first hand.

Um, no.

Sure, a new pool or exercise facility costs money, but you don’t pay for it with a fee that’s added at the last minute. That’s deceptive. Instead, you bake the cost into the price of the room. That’s the honest way to do it, and that’s what guests expect.

If you can’t turn a profit by charging an honest price, you probably shouldn’t be managing a hotel.

Mansfield also bristled at the example I cited, in which I complained about the signs urging guests to leave their towels on the rack for their “convenience.” I wondered if they didn’t actually mean “for our convenience.”

“May I ask what percentage of your reading public uses one set of towels per day?” he asked. “The laundry expense for a family of four must be enormous. And how often do you change your own personal linens on the bed? If you answered every day, I commend you on the paycheck you earn each week. I am clearly in the wrong profession. ”

How does this change anything? The fact remains that the hotel benefits more than the guest when people reuse their towels. So, asking, “Whose convenience is it really?” is fair, and his answer about consuming resources isn’t really relevant.

But let’s go there for a minute. I happen to be from a family of four, and on some days we reuse towels, and on some days we don’t. Running the laundry is the cost of doing business. If hoteliers can’t factor the expense of this into their operations, maybe they shouldn’t be in the hospitality business.

“I must stop here,” says Mansfield. “Hotels, theatres, airlines, phone companies, car dealerships, barbers, grocery stores all have fees and taxes that are needing to be passed on to their patrons. Please mention if you write an article in the future that the best way to not be ripped off is to do your research before traveling or purchasing a vehicle or any purchase at all. You completely missed that an informed patron is rarely going to be ripped off.”

On this we can agree: Informed consumers are far less likely to get ripped off. But even Mansfield admits it’s “rarely” but not “never.” And that bothers me. In my former home state of Florida, every car dealership has a mandatory “dealership fee” that adds more than $700 to the cost of a new car. It’s a junk fee, of course. My former home town of Orlando is the mandatory resort fee capital of the world. You may not have a choice about paying one of these outrageous fees.

Hotels and other businesses are lying with these extra fees. They’re making their product look cheaper than it actually is, but then forcing you to pay more. Sure, there may be a way of avoiding the surcharges, but not always. (Think airline luggage fees. Who travels without baggage?)

I found rebuttals from hoteliers like Mansfield and others who took the time to write to be incredibly disingenuous. They know the truth. They’re not facing the facts when they say they’re doing this for guests. They’re actually doing it for themselves. And they’re lying when they claim it’s being done for your convenience.

They aren’t getting the big picture.

And when I hear that phrase — “for your convenience” — I run for the hills. You should, too.

Fees and surcharges are

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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.

  • deemery

    There are really 2 separate issues here:
    1. Fees as add-ons to the cost of the room
    2. When and how those fees are disclosed

    The problem with the poll associated with this post is my answer for #1 would be “Glorious expression of the free market” and for #2 is “a lie that should be eliminated with careful government regulation.” I think ‘lie’ here is too strong, but certainly not publishing those fees as part of the advertised price is deceptive.

    Furthermore, in many cases in other industries, those fees are either optional or negotiable. Yeah, the “dealer prep fee’ is junk, but that can often be negotiated away. Fees for additional services on the airlines can be declined if you don’t need that service. But mandatory fees are pure “bovine effluent” when they are not clearly stated up front. (And that’s true for airlines and car dealers, as well as hotels.)

  • Bill___A

    “Mansfield argued that guests need to pay for what they use.” – and so why do we have “resort fees” again? For a concocted list of things we either wouldn’t pay for voluntarily or would get included in the room rate (such as wi fi) in similar properties?
    I remember some years ago, one mobile company in Canada that had roaming fees as such in the United States: $.95 per minute when you made an outgoing “local” call. $1.45 per minute when you received a call or made an outgoing long distance call. They then said, one month, and this is exactly how they said it, “For your convenience” all calls will be billed at $1.45 per minute. This was undoubtedly for the convenience of the consumer so that those who didn’t know which calls we long distance now didn’t have to worry about it. I come out firmly on the side of Chris on this one, and as long as there are hotels with resort fees, I will consider the entire industry an immoral bunch of hooligans who are tolerated rather than admired. Mansfield should talk to his own industry compatriots and tell them that they as a group should stop dishonestly charging “resort fees”. If they think people want these “resort fee” things, make the fees optional for non essential items….

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    It sounds like the guy believes what he wrote, but it’s plain to me at least that these fees and charges are a way to reduce the top line room rate and appear at the top of comparison websites.

  • Alan Gore

    A fee should be for something optional; if not, it should be mandatorily included in the base price.

  • LDVinVA

    To repeat, if you want me to reuse my towels, GIVE ME A TOWEL RACK!

  • SirWIred

    Not including actual taxes in the quoted price, I can understand. (Though including them is the norm for many heavily taxed products such as alcohol, tobacco, fuel, and airline travel. I see no reason why hotels and rental cars can’t be added to that list.)

    But I’m curious as to what fees my grocery store, barber, and theater MUST pass on to their customers? Because I can’t say that I’ve ever noticed anything other than sales tax where I shop.

    And I have no idea how anybody can argue that not including, say, the pool, in the quoted price (and having it as a mandatory fee instead) makes sense. Why stop there? Why not simply quote out the room as costing one cent, and then levying “fees” for housekeeping, front desk staff, “profit recovery”, security, “capital expense deferment”, “fire code compliance”, etc.?

  • John Baker

    I have no problem with added fees if you can avoid them. “Mandatory fees” are nothing but post-transaction additions to the rate and should be banned.

  • Steve Rabin

    I really dislike when hoteliers bundle fees, combining things that are completely unrelated: phone, pool, newspaper, exercise room. What if I only use one of these things–will they reduce the fee by 75%? No way.

    I think what Mr. Mansfield is missing is what is ‘un-American’: what is American is free competition; if your competitor is willing to put in a pool, exercise room, etc. and not charge a fee for their use, you have to do this or risk losing business. It’s your choice (and the consumers’). Now that is really “American”

  • Dutchess

    Hey Mansfield, your analogy is way off. When was the last time you went to the barber, got your hair cut and when presented with the bill they tacked on a “hair sweeping fee” and “convenience charge” for the drape? Yeah, NEVER. When was the last time you walked into a grocery store, paid for all your groceries and Safeway added a “Checker fee” or a “Cart usage fee” to your bill? Oh yeah, NEVER.

    Nobody is disputing that wifi, linens, and amenities all have a cost associated with them, we’re disputing how you bill for them. If these are unavoidable or mandatory fees, they should be baked into your daily rate and not tacked on at the end as a means of hiding the true cost of the room. It’s BS and you know it.

  • MF

    If we go a little deeper, if all (hotels) had to disclose their prices in the same manner, then it would be easier to compare properties. That they don’t allows confusion to flourish. A modest proposal: mandate disclosure both ways – ‘all in’ AND ‘drip pricing’?

  • BubbaJoe123

    The towels claim is the most absurd. How, in any way, is it MORE convenient for me to NOT have fresh towels every day in my hotel room?

  • Bill___A

    At home, there are not several hundred people using my towels and sheets. The more those things get washed, the better.

  • Chris Johnson

    One of these days, there will be a hotel chain or large resort that will take out a full-page ad proclaiming “NO MORE FEES!” (with its room rates raised accordingly of course), competitors will follow suit, and this nonsense will end. It’s just a matter of who has the guts to do it first and believes it would be a good advertising gimmick.

    If I recall correctly, the EasyHotel chain, which only has locations in Europe, has completely un-bundled all the various services from the room charge and none of its fees are mandatory. Paying the room rate gets you the key to the room. If you want your towels or sheets changed, room cleaned, breakfast, parking, store your luggage behind the desk the day you check out for a few hours, you pay extra. None of these fees are mandatory if you can get by without these things (and if you’re only staying one night, most of it wouldn’t matter anyway), the room charge and tax is all you pay. I don’t these hotels have pools or exercise rooms either, so that’s a moot point. This is the only hotel chain where the “fees” are legitimate, in my opinion.

  • Edacious

    When I am paying 300 a night to sleep in your hotel plus taxes plus fees plus wifi, plus parking, I except the sheets and towels changes daily.

  • greg watson

    Elliott is correct…………….I don’t want to know the ‘extra’ cost of a pool (which I may not use), parking (which I may not need) Wi-Fi , (which I won’t die without……….besides Starbucks’s is free). I like clean towels / facecloths daily, but I don’t need the sheets done for a 2 or 3 night stay……………Just give me the room rate & the included amenities & let me decide what I may need for ‘my convenience’……………and don’t get me started about resort fees………….include them in your room rate if you must……………but I will never pay for them as an add-on !!……….I
    hope you hotel owners & managers are paying attention to this site !!

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    I also find that the more reasonable priced hotel chains are usually better about these fees than the higher star chains. So a Best Western includes breakfast, a pool, and a weight room, but has no added fees, while we booked a Hilton for a family event which has a wi-fi fee, a “convenience fee” and charges an extra $20 for each person in the room (but provides no extra services for that person, like food service).

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    Exactly, as options these fees are fine, but as mandatory, these fees are hidden rate increases.

  • Noah Kimmel

    I get the hotelier’s point that those things are not necessary to be changed every day. But I disagree that it is for my convenience. I don’t need new sheets every day, but dont tell me it is because I asked for it that way or I want to be green. Just be honest about what your policy is “We change sheets every 3 days. Additional changes are available upon request” or something. It doesn’t have to be “sold” to me as a benefit.

    Likewise on fees – if it ain’t optional, it shouldn’t be broken out separately. I get taxes as those aren’t under the properties control, but anytime you want to compare yourself to a car salesman, you are in the wrong business. Hopsitality is about comfort not about a one-and-done sale!

  • Noah Kimmel

    sadly a lot of that is beause the higher end chains have 2 things at play –
    1) more business travellers who can expense line items, but base room rate is constrained in tools like concur which most of the corporate world uses
    2) Many of those are franchised and the breakout affects how they get reimbursed for award redemptions – some can still charge resort fees on top of the points that the corporation gets from the traveller

  • Annie M

    I have no problem paying fees for things I use but resort fees are the biggest rip off in the travel industry.

    Extra costs to change the sheets and towels?
    Since when?

    I agree with you- add $10 a day into the cost of the room and stop with these ridiculous fees.

  • Chris_In_NC

    and the day when a chain advertises “NO MORE FEES” will be the day that hotel chain starts losing customers. The sad reality is that many consumers shop based on the “lowest” possible rate, without considering total value. Its no different than the airline industry. How did “more room in coach” work out for American Airlines? or the commitment to “no baggage fees” Hotels are fighting a losing battle against “price sensitive” consumers who are suckered in by the “lowest” rate on a search engine. My biggest pet peeve is the so called “resort fee” but sometimes there is just no way around it.

  • Annie M

    Very true! Hanging a user towel on a hook on the back of the door doesn’t allow the towel to dry. I reuse towels at home and would gladly do it in a hotel IF I could guarantee it would be dry.

    And yes, I do only use one set of towels a day. And sometimes two or three days at home

  • Annie M

    Very true! Hanging a used towel on a hook on the back of the door doesn’t allow the towel to dry. I reuse towels at home and would gladly do it in a hotel IF I could guarantee it would be dry.

    And yes, I do only use one set of towels a day. And sometimes two or three days at home

  • Chris_In_NC

    Actually, it seems to be location dependent. Certain destinations (ie Vegas) are notorious for “resort” fees and they spare no price point. It is true that high end hotels tend to charge extremely high prices for services such as breakfast, in-room dining, or “conveniences” such as bottled water in the room or the minibar, but I can easily pass on those services. Hilton waives the wi-fi fee if you are a rewards member, and free breakfast is always included at Homewood Suites and Hampton Inns.

  • Chris_In_NC

    Oh @sirwir@SirWIred:disqus the days of a $1 room rate with a $199 resort fee may not be far behind.

  • DChamp56

    Lets say your hotel WiFi costs $500/month.
    So, if you have a hotel with 100 rooms, with an 80% fill rate, making 80 rooms booked in any month, times 30 day month, that’s 2400 room/days booked per month. Your WiFi charge should be around .21 cents a day.
    Is my math right? If so, would it really stop someone from staying at a hotel if the charge is even .25 cents more a day? Not however, as a fee… just add it to the room cost.
    Note, WiFi takes up no square footage like a gym does, yet some hotels still gouge you for WiFi service/fees.

  • SirWIred

    Part of my job is pricing out business-class Internet service. A 100-room hotel is going to need a lot more than $500 a month unless the bandwidth is truly pathetic (by modern standards.) In addition to the bandwidth itself, you need the central router (that’ll be a few $k up-front), and all the commercial-grade access points throughout the hotel. (An AP covers a lot less area in a commercial building than in a wood-frame house, and commercial versions are much more expensive than home routers.) You’ll also need a server and software to handle authentication, all tied into the front-desk systems. And some more costs for tech support. (You’d think most people would know how to

    That said, it wouldn’t cost more than a couple bucks a day per room. That’s enough to affect the room rate, but I agree that it’s not so much that it should be a separate fee.

  • SirWIred

    Yeah, I’ve always found that hilarious too. I can book a room in anything nicer than a Motel 6, and it’ll have free Internet, a pool, a fitness center, a hot buffet breakfast, free local calls, etc. But you book a top-of-the-line chain hotel, they’ll charge for Internet, add on a amenities fee (even in places where it’s not universal), charge a fortune for an a la carte breakfast, and pile on charges for even local calls.

  • Chris Johnson

    Not so sure about that… hotels are a very competitive industry, and it thrives on gimmicks. We’re going back 20+ years but I remember when they offered “free” video games at Howard Johnsons.

  • e santhin

    As far as auto dealer fees go and any other charges when purchasing a new or used vehicle including taxes I avoid them all. I simply negotiate an all inclusive off the lot sale price. I find I can always arrive at a better cost to myself negotiating in that manner.

  • Chris_In_NC

    Clientele who can afford the rates at luxury properties (I’m talking about Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, etc), generally don’t care about the ancillary expenses. Give me the Hampton Inn or Fairfield Inn any day.

  • Chris_In_NC

    Agree that hotels are more “competitive” than airlines, but I think you are giving the average consumer too much credit. The whole point about lower base rates with unavoidable ancillary fees (ie resort fees) is better positioning in search engines. Sadly, it works…

  • Mel65

    Exactly. Most of the time when I travel it’s for business; but whether I’m there on business or pleasure, when I’m staying in a hotel I want to feel a little indulged and having fresh fluffy towels everyday feels that way for me. The idea of reusing the towels –I do that at home and that’s not how I want to feel when I’m in a hotel– like I’m at home.

  • The Original Joe S

    Mansfield is a part of the chicken which went over the fence last.

  • The Original Joe S

    3 days max – GERMS! My Comment to those folks who balk at using clean towels: ainchoo got a washing machine? Towels are cheap – buy a bunch and USE them?
    On the 3rd day, into the hamper they go in this house.

  • The Original Joe S

    “Not including actual taxes in the quoted price, I can understand.” I don’t. I ask ’em: “What is the bottom line price gonna be with all the fees, taxes, etc?” Don’t tell me the room is $50 and a $35 additional.

  • The Original Joe S

    That is because most people are short-sighted and cheap! Just lookit all the morons bleating on this blog because they used an online travel agent to save a nickle, and then get a procotological exam for their cheapitude? [ new word ]

  • The Original Joe S

    What if you ain’t got a wifi device? They charge you anyway?

  • The Original Joe S

    Convenience for using their robot to buy tix, instead of a paid person in the window? Buy from the person; they are idiots……

  • MrBadExample2

    Great article! As a former Very Frequent Flyer/traveler I have grown quite cynical. When I see “For your convenience” on a web page or signage my immediate reaction is BOHICA (Bend Over, Here It Comes Again). II aberaged 165 room/nites per year for 10 years and if a “convenience fee” I’ve seen and most times there is a work around The travel/hospitality industry is a non stop game of cat and mouse, somedays you the cat, other days the mouse

  • jerrymandel

    Norm-How do you search for hotels without fees? Valuable for all of us.

  • jerrymandel

    Watch out for “documentation” fees, which I always refuse.

  • Attention All Passengers

    Good for you C.E., stick with the truth as always — I appreciate that you don’t water down your articles (after the fact) with apologies and groveling.

  • Norm Armstrong

    I Google or Bing, “list all the hotels in Reno (or Palm Springs, or where ever) that don’t charge a resort fee.
    Then I look at anything acceptable on the list and go to there Web site and try booking a room to see if they add any fees. I don’t use Yahoo as the first 10 or 15 hotels they show you are all add sponsored and have fees.
    If I am still not sure then as an example I will Bing “are there Resort Fees at the Las Vegas Marriott Grand Chateau ” and then you will get lots of Yelp and Trip Advisor reports. I also sometimes book a hotel just outside the city limits and save the cities Hotel/Tourist tax.

  • whateverak

    Several years ago I worked for an organization that held a conference at the Alyeska Prince Hotel in Girdwood, Alaska (Chris, I know you were just there). Lovely hotel. When I checked out, I discovered a “resort fee”. When I asked about it, I was told it covered the wifi, the pool and the bellman who helped with my luggage when I went to my room. I replied that for the last example, I carried my own luggage to my room and if a bellman had helped me, I would have tipped him since I didn’t even know that was supposed to be covered by a resort fee. The problem for Alyeska was that I was the person who signed the lodging contract for all of the rooms used for our conference and the resort fee was not disclosed on the contract. In the end, they refunded all of the resort fees to our group and, I imagine, fixed their contract so that it was buried in there someplace.

  • Ward Chartier

    When I visit a restaurant, I’m not compelled “for my convenience” by policy to purchase side dishes I may not eat. When I purchase a car, I’m not compelled “for my convenience” by policy to purchase dealer packs I may not use or want. When I visit the carwash, I can select the package I want with as many extras as I want, and the employees adjust their delivery as appropriate.

    If hotels want to redeem themselves, they might offer menus or packages of added amenities that we consumers can pick and choose at our discretion.

    I can hear the howls of objection by hoteliers, but with good management it’s possible to overcome these, and by good leadership to ensure consumers get what they want. If any want my help to implement, I’m available.

  • joycexyz

    And it should be a clearly spelled-out choice! “For your convenience” is one of the most galling phrases ever.

  • joycexyz

    How much for sheets on the bed? Or, for that matter, a bed itself? After all, the quoted price is only for a room!

  • joycexyz

    Not to mention sneaky and dishonest.

  • joycexyz

    Well said!

  • joycexyz

    Penny wise, pound foolish, and then complain.

  • DChamp56

    The router, any switches and AP’s should be a normal cost of a hotel doing business and competing in today’s economy, kinda like having toasters, refrigerators and coffee makers. They’re a one time cost that can be recouped in less than a year.
    I’m talking about after that’s installed, the on-going costs of bandwidth from a provider.
    One last thing, when was the last time you had gigabit WiFi in a hotel? *LOL* Every one I’ve been in has been dismal at best.

  • justanotherguy

    dying laughing at this one!

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