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.

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.”

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.

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