Nobody Likes Resort Fees. Here’s Why They Need to Be Higher

Jason Steele
By Jason Steele 
Edited by Mary M. Flory

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Nearly every traveler has found what they think is a good deal on a hotel, only to realize upon check-out that the true cost is much higher than initially advertised. Scrutinizing the bill reveals that the hotel is imposing a “resort fee,” “destination fee,” or “service charge” that was poorly disclosed — or downright hidden.

Often, these mandatory fees are justified by a list of hotel services that are purportedly included as part of the fee … whether you used them or not.

Consumer advocates often decry these fees, but they’re not going away anytime soon. Here’s why they exist — and why they need to go even higher.

Why hotels charge resort fees

On the surface, a hotel that charges a hidden, mandatory fee appears to be just making a money grab. And there’s plenty of evidence to support this; hotels were expected to earn nearly $3 billion in fees alone last year, and that number has been steadily rising.

But looking at broad figures misses the point of exactly why so many hotels feel it’s necessary to charge these fees, instead of just raising their rates. Think about it this way: Once properties start charging hidden, mandatory fees that obscure their true prices, they’re not likely to stop, because doing so would make them appear less competitive to travelers searching for a room.

For example, the manager of a $120-per-night hotel may realize they can gain more sales by lowering their advertised price, say to $90, and then adding a $30 mandatory fee. They still receive the same $120, but to travelers the advertised prices will now appear lower than a $100 room that doesn’t have a resort fee.

And of course, hotels are likely to obscure such fees as much as possible, maybe using very small print or lumping the charge into a vaguely worded line item called “taxes and fees.”

Why resort fees need to go higher

Plenty of consumer advocates think hotels should reduce these fees or eliminate them altogether. For example, attorney Lauren Wolfe, founder of the website, has argued that these fees aren’t an issue of money but “an issue of principle.”

And that’s the problem. Resort fees will never go away so long as they’re just an issue of principle — they have to become an issue of money to the average consumer. That’s why I’m eager for resort fees to go much, much higher … until lawmakers reach the logical conclusion that they have to be scrapped.

Resort fees persist only because they usually aren’t too high. They’ll only be legislated out of existence if they become so outrageous that consumers demand action.

Fees in the $20 to $30 range per night, which are common, might not seem too onerous. But what happens when you start adding fees that are closer to $100 per night, such as this roughly $104 fee I found via ResortFeeChecker at the Ritz-Carlton Dorado Beach in Puerto Rico?

And how about when fees are a percentage of the room rate, like the 10% fee that Mark Ostermann at Miles to Memories reported at the Inn at Bay Harbor in Michigan, or the 15% fee that The Gate’s Brian Cohen found at the Ritz-Carlton Aruba?

If resort fees of this scale become more commonplace, then perhaps there will be a greater outrage that leads to legislation banning them for good. But this goal seems far away. In fact, the American Hotel & Lodging Association claims that only about 7% of hotels charge a mandatory resort fee.

With such a small percentage of properties charging resort fees, we may not see enough consumer outrage to support the Hotel Advertising Transparency Act of 2019, which is a piece of bipartisan legislation recently introduced in Congress. Though I would love to see this legislation pass, I doubt it will unless resort fees become higher and more common — and a bigger nuisance.

How I avoid resort fees

Normally, I prefer to redeem my World of Hyatt points for free night stays, because Hyatt’s program usually waives those fees on awards. (The exception is the M Life hotels and resorts that can be booked with Hyatt points).

The Wyndham Rewards program also has a policy of waiving resort fees on award stays, but many other loyalty programs, like Marriott Bonvoy, still impose these fees on award nights booked with points. I also benefit from having Hyatt Globalist status, which waives resort fees on paid stays.

Even when I’m not staying at a Hyatt or a Wyndham, I still manage to avoid these useless fees. The trick is to quickly move through the online booking process until you reach the last page before confirming. When you get to the grand total, scan for a line labeled “taxes and fees.” Clicking on that is where you’ll find most mandatory hotel fees buried. Personally, if I find them, I move on to book at one of the approximately 93% of hotels that don’t charge these fees.

The bottom line

Sure, it’s counterintuitive to root for more resort fees, but that may be the only way they’ll ever be banned. Until that day comes, I and many other travelers will be doing our best to avoid them.

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