Which Extra Hotel Fees Are Worth the Price?
A primer on when to pay for added perks and services.
Consider this before racking up extra fees.(Getty Images)
Early check-in fees, resort fees, internet fees, minibar restocking fees, baggage-holding fees. Nowadays, hotels and resorts are tacking on steep surcharges, making it difficult to determine which extras are worthwhile. These fees and surcharges vary from "late checkout to spa services to pool and recreational activities, to fitness facilities and classes, along with a number of other ways to make guests more comfortable," says Rosanna Maietta, senior vice president of Communications and Public Relations at the American Hotel & Lodging Association. In fact, U.S. hotels will rake in an estimated $2.55 billion in such charges this year, according to an analysis by Bjorn Hanson, a clinical professor at the NYU School of Professional Studies Jonathon M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism, prompting many travelers to wonder if they're getting nickel-and-dimed by such fees.
To help you decide when to spring for extra add-ons, U.S. News enlisted guidance from top hotel experts. Here are the fees you should – and shouldn't – splurge on to optimize value on your next trip.
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An easy way to dodge this unnecessary fee, typically $10-$20 depending on the hotel, is staying loyal, says industry expert Mahesh Chaddah, co-founder of Reservations.com, a deal-focused hotel booking site. "Most hotels and chains offer free perks including Wi-Fi when you sign up for loyalty programs, which are free and quick to join," he says. And if you're not a frequent traveler, make sure to seek out nearby hot spots. "Many hotels provide free Wi-Fi in common areas like the lounge and coffee shop," he adds, highlighting that if you can't find free access in the hotel, check out alternative areas nearby rather than wasting your money.
Anthony Melchiorri, host and creator of the Travel Channel's "Hotel Impossible" and "Hotel Impossible: Five Star Secrets," also suggests heading to the lobby "where it's often free, or [you can] use tethering with your cell phone to ride your phone's service."
Always read the fine print before booking your stay. "Even if you are not at a Sandals or ClubMed, some hotels attempt to cover the costs of internet, water, even pool towels under this fee," Melchiorri says. He recommends turning to sites such as Stayful.com and Getaroom.com to familiarize yourself with such fees. Another handy resource is ResortFeeChecker.com, which showcases traveler reviews and charges associated with thousands of properties listed in its database.
You may already consider the minibar to be stocked with expensive items, but believe it or not, you don't have to take a snack to be slapped with an extra fee. "Even lifting a bottle off the shelf to look at it may result in a charge, as some units are set to bill your room if the weight of the item changes from the shelf - meaning you took it," Melchiorri says. Instead, pack your own snacks and don't pick up to-go items at the hotel's lobby snack bar, which will be heavily marked up, he says. "A $5 candy bar is never a deal," he adds.
Rather than paying a lofty $25-$35 fee, do some research to find nearby alternatives. "Convenience has its cost," Melchiorri says. Plus, keep in mind if the hotel has valet, you'll also need to factor in gratuity into your parking costs. Relying on handy navigation tools like BestParking.com to help you scope out the most economical and convenient garages can go a long way.
Don't leave a tip before ensuring it's not already included in your bill. "For housekeeping at a 2- to 3-star hotel, tip $2 to $3. At a 4-star, tip $5, and at a 5-star hotel, tip a lot," Melchiorri says. For spa treatments, expect to tip a percentage of the bill, he says, and tread carefully when you order room service, where gratuity is often already included, he adds. Also keep in mind reservations for large groups of more than five guests typically factor in gratuity, so read the fine print before adding another tip, he says.
[See: The Best Hotels by Brand 2016.]
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Required checkout times can vary widely by property, but if you're planning to stay past 11 a.m. or noon (common required checkout times), this is one convenience not to overlook, Chaddah says. "[Some] hotels offer two to four additional hours beyond their usual late checkout times for a nominal fee," he adds, noting that "for travelers with late flights or plans, this can help add another convenient day and value." If you belong to a travel rewards program, these fees are often waived as a membership perk. Gold and Platinum Elite Marriott Rewards loyalists, for example, are offered guaranteed late checkout privileges as late as 4 p.m. Conversely, if you don't want to pay the $20-$50 fee to check in early, ask the hotel if you can stow your luggage at no additional cost.
Sometimes, springing for the upgrade to a club-level suite or a daily club-level fee (around $50 to $200 depending on the property) affords a high value with extra benefits, such as free Wi-Fi access, snacks, alcoholic beverages and even exclusive cabana access at select resorts. "These are usually good value, as they offer rooms with better views, concierge access and reception rooms with free hors d'oeuvres and drinks," Chaddah says. For instance, the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa's Regency Club Ocean View rooms offer perks such as exclusive access to the 24-hour club lounge, evening appetizers and complimentary breakfasts. If you're planning a family vacation, springing for a room on a club-level floor can also be a smart option to trim dining costs and take advantage of resort amenities.
Package Deals and Discounts
Before you book, keep your eyes peeled for all-inclusive packages to maximize savings, Melchiorri says. While the overall cost will be pricier, "the hotel wraps in meals, a beverage, perhaps roses or chocolates, tickets, etc., and there can be discounts in these bundles," he explains. And if you're traveling with kids, look out for reduced-price theme park tickets if you're visiting areas near Six Flags, Hershey Park or Disney, Melchiorri says. Chaddah also recommends comparing all-inclusive meal and drink plans, particularly at resorts, highlighting that "pre-paid plans are often more economical for families."
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