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When searching online for hotel rooms, especially through deal sites, travelers can easily be taken in by the deceptively low advertised rates without realizing that there’s more to the cost than meets the eye.
"Hidden" charges or incidentals aren't typically rolled into the cost of a hotel room when booking through online aggregators, and if you're not paying attention, you could be blindsided when you're handed the bill at checkout.
Here's what to watch out for, plus some tips on sidestepping sneaky fees.
Hotel fees you may not expect
Before booking online or by phone, call the hotel and ask what fees it charges in addition to the room rate to make sure you have an accurate representation of what your stay will really cost. It's also a good idea to read your agreement thoroughly at check-in before you sign. Look for these fees in particular:
Parking. Parking is often a standard separate charge in large cities, where space is at a premium. But be aware that you may also have to pony up for parking or valet service in smaller or more suburban properties, too.
Resort fee. Some hotels charge a daily fee for having amenities such as pools, gyms and Wi-Fi on their properties. As of last summer, the average hotel resort fee was around $21 for each night booked, according to The Washington Post, citing figures from Resortfeechecker.com.
Additional person fee. To prevent being overrun by large groups of people trying to share the same room, hotels often charge an additional fee for each person who occupies the room per night, especially for all-inclusive resorts.
Early check-in fee. If you arrive at your destination early, ask your hotel whether you’ll be charged for accessing your room before the regular check-in time.
Cancellation fees. Hotels often charge these fees to encourage customers to follow through on filling the rooms that they’ve booked; otherwise, hotels have to eat the cost of an unexpected vacancy.
Wi-Fi/internet access. Internet access may seem like a basic feature when staying at a hotel, but plenty of properties still charge customers for it.
Daily newspaper. Some hotels still offer daily newspaper delivery to your room, so check to see whether it’s complimentary.
Phone calls made from your room. Many hotels charge pricey per-minute rates for both local and long-distance calls, so make sure you know what you’re liable for when you pick up the receiver to dial out.
Breakfast. Though many hotel chains offer complimentary continental breakfasts, some provide them only to guests who book "breakfast included" room packages.
Tips. It’s generally expected that baggage carriers, valets, doormen and other hotel employees will be tipped by hotel guests for their labor, but some hotels charge a housekeeping fee or service charge that functions as a mandatory gratuity for these services. Ask at check-in about your hotel's policy so you'll know whether to keep cash handy for tipping.
Room service and/or minibar drinks and snacks. Hotel food, whether from room service or as an in-room amenity, can be surprisingly expensive.
Credit card "holds." This security deposit of sorts protects the hotel in the event that you or your travel partners cause any serious damage to your room. As long as your room is in good shape after your departure, the hold should be lifted from your card.
Ways to avoid or reduce fees
Several of these fees and costs — such as the additional person fee or credit card holds — are unavoidable. Others can be waived or worked around, though. Here are our tips for those negotiable fees:
Self-park if possible. If you must bring your car to the hotel, scope out the area around the hotel to see whether there’s any free or cheaper parking within walking distance. It may be somewhat inconvenient, but the savings could be significant.
Join the hotel's rewards program. Some hotel loyalty programs, like the IHG Rewards Club or Marriott Rewards, waive incidental charges for services like Wi-Fi. Combining these programs with a branded hotel credit card can also help you earn perks and benefits (like a free night’s stay) even faster.
Pack snacks and drinks. If you bring chips, candy bars or drinks with you, you won't be tempted by the hotel’s exorbitantly priced minibar or room service. You may even want to consider getting a hotel room with a kitchenette so that you can save more money on food by preparing it yourself. Many food delivery services, such as UberEats, Grubhub and Postmates, also bring food to hotels.
Ask if you can leave your luggage behind the desk instead of checking in early. If you’ve arrived early at the hotel and want to explore but your room isn’t ready yet, ask the front desk staff if they can stow your luggage for free until check-in time. (Some hotels may charge a luggage hold fee, so be sure to ask.)
Know the hotel’s cancellation policy. Some hotels allow customers to cancel up to a day in advance of their booking, while others require 48 or even 72 hours’ notice. Make sure if you have to cancel that you let the hotel know as early as possible. If you’ve had a last-minute family emergency, death or other major event that precludes you from taking your trip, call the front desk to see whether the staff can help you waive the cancellation fee.
Use your cell phone for calls and internet. If the hotel room phone and/or Wi-Fi costs money, use your cell phone to make calls or use the internet. If it’s covered in your phone’s data plan, you can also turn on a mobile hotspot and tether your laptop to your phone to access the web at no additional charge.
Ask if you can avoid the resort fee by declining use of the amenities at check-in. This tactic may be tricky to pull off, but if you are polite — and lucky — you might find that the staff will work with you on this fee.
Consider other accommodations
If the prospect of getting stung by unforeseen hotel fees has you reconsidering your trip, perhaps you'd be better served by skipping hotels entirely and opting for an Airbnb, a hostel, or even a friend's guest room or couch.
Of course, these options might come with their own drawbacks. You may miss out on amenities, have to deal with noisy roommates, or be based farther from the center of a city, for example.
But these alternative accommodations may also be cheaper, meaning you can put more money toward other parts of your trip. Plus, they may help you explore and enjoy new surroundings as a local might — no resort fee required.