Ridiculous or not? A $20-a-night fee to “guarantee” a non-smoking room

Editor’s note: I’ve changed my Wednesday feature, “That’s ridiculous!” to make it more interactive. Now you can vote on whether a new fee or practice is — or isn’t — ridiculous. By the way, if you’ve seen something outrageous that you’d like to nominate, please send me an email.

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When Teri Salmons clicked on the MGM Grand’s website to reserve a room recently, she found an “unbelievable” new fee.

Next to options for early check-in ($20) and late check-out ($20) she saw a $20 per day fee for “guaranteeing” a non-smoking room.

That’s right. You have to pay extra if you want to stay away from the smoke.

“Most hotels are either all non-smoking these days, or at least the majority of their rooms are non-smoking,” says Salmons, a Baltimore-based consultant. “What will they think of next — pay toilets?”

I asked MGM about the fee, and a representative promised to “check” into it. I never heard back from her. The website is equally forthcoming, indicating only that its “Non Smoking Room Guarantee” promises, “For $20 per night guarantee a non smoking room.”

Las Vegas resorts have always been a little fee-crazy, particularly when it comes to those amorphous mandatory “resort fees” tacked to your daily room rate. But has the MGM Grand gone too far this time?

Without getting sidetracked with a debate about smoking in hotels –- a practice I believe should be illegal — here’s the problem: In typical Sin City logic, the MGM fee punishes good behavior and rewards your vices. Instead of paying extra to smoke in your room, you’re being asked to shell out more to be shielded from cancer-causing fumes.

By the way, knowing Vegas hotels like I do, I can’t say the “guarantee” means much. I’m willing to bet you’ll still catch an occasional whiff of cigarette smoke in your non-smoking room.

Vegas hotels are a lot like super-discount airlines, such as Spirit and Allegiant. They try to lure you in with a low price, but then sock it to you with extras like resort fees, energy surcharges and now, non-smoking room guarantees.

But before railing against these resorts for their customer-hostile practices, let’s take a little time-out to think about how we got here. Hotel guests – people like you and me – indicated through our purchasing behavior that we cared about a low price, first and foremost. So hotels gave us artificially low “base” rates of $69 a night, minus the mandatory resort fee and the “I’d-rather-not-asphyxiate-tonight” guarantee of a smoke-free room.

Vegas hotels might argue that we did this to ourselves.

I’m not sure if I buy it, though. I think just because we want the lowest rate doesn’t also mean we want to get hammered by fees.

Hotels should offer their guests non-smoking rooms by default, and they should reward them for not puffing away in their rooms, if not punish them for lighting up. That’s how the rest of the world does it.

Better yet, smoking should be banned in hotels. Wisconsin and Michigan already have taken that path, despite loud protests from smokers’ advocates. More will inevitably follow.

Should the MGM Grand extinguish this fee, or is it well within its rights to charge non-smokers for the right to breathe clean air?

A survey of more than 1,000 readers suggest an overwhelming majority of you think it’s ridiculous.

Wow, that’s some response. I’d love to know who those 33 people were who voted for “not ridiculous.” Care to come forward in the comments?

“Ridiculous or not?” is a new weekly column that highlights the most absurd, customer-unfriendly and downright illogical practices of the travel industry. Got a story to share? Please email me and don’t forget to include your full name, city and contact information.