Vote of the week: 'Hidden' hotel fees
Even though I live in the Los Angeles area, when my family and I visited the Disneyland Resort
earlier this week, we decided to stay two nights in Anaheim, to make the trip feel more like a vacation.
Since I'm a member of the Starwood Preferred Guest program, I selected the Sheraton Park Hotel in Anaheim.
I could have found less expensive hotels (we ended up paying $150 a night, once all taxes and fees were included), but I'm as addicted to SPG points as George Clooney's character was to American Airlines miles in "Up in the Air." Still, though I ended up paying $150 a night, the rate the SPG website quoted me when I booked was just $115 a night.
Why the difference? The local hotel tax was not included in the rate I was quoted, though the amount was noted later when I clicked through to the booking page. But nowhere on the Starwood website did I find that I would be charged $9.99 for Internet access while staying at the hotel, nor $14 a night for self-parking. (I double-checked as I was writing this, too - Nope. Nowhere.)
Now, I stay at hotels somewhat frequently, and expected to be charged both for Internet access and for parking, so I wasn't to steamed by these charges. But I easily could see how less experienced travelers would be. And, frankly, I think both charges are ridiculous. The Internet access charges was actually a bit on the low side, compared to what I've been charged recently. But many hotels now offer this service for free.
And $14 a night for parking in Anaheim is steep, especially given the Sheraton's spacious (and those nights, half-empty) parking lot. I suspect that the Sheraton simply matched Disneyland's parking fee for its guests. But at least Disneyland provides a free continuous shuttle from its parking lots to the theme parks.
Now, I love Sheraton. And I think that the Anaheim hotel delivers a nice experience. But a free market can't work efficiently if consumers don't have complete information about the true cost of their choices.
With all this in mind, if I were in Congress, here's the bill I would propose to require better hotel fee disclosure:
1. All applicable room taxes must be included in the initial rate quoted on booking websites
The hotel knows what these charges are going to be, and there's no way to avoid them, so why shouldn't they be included in the rate you quote us up-front?
2. Fees incurred on more than 50 percent of room bills in the past 30 days must be included in the initial rate quoted on booking websites
This likely would include the parking fee at places such as the Sheraton in Anaheim, where almost everyone drives to the hotel, instead of arriving via taxis, airport shuttles or local mass transit. I suspect that it might also include Internet access, as well. It'd definitely include the "Resort Fee" that's become common at popular tourist hotels. (Most of the hotels I checked in Hawaii are charging them these days.)
Again, if the majority of people paying at a hotel are paying these fees, why shouldn't they be included in the prices we see first on a website - so that we can make an "apples-to-apples" comparison when looking at the list of prices for area hotels?
If this puts hotels that charge "resort fees" and for Internet access at a competitive disadvantage against hotels that don't... well, that's the point. We shouldn't have to wait until check-in to discover the true cost of staying at a particular hotel.
(*Update: To clarify, if you happen to be among the minority who didn't use something for which the majority is charged a fee at a particular hotel, such as parking or Internet access, you wouldn't be charged those fees when you checked out. In those cases, your check-out cost would be less than the price you were quoted up front.)
3. A list of all fees incurred on more than 10 percent of room bills in the past 30 days - and their average amounts - must be displayed to prospective customers before they book.
Do more than 10 percent of rooms at a hotel use a roll-away bed? Then that hotel has to show me the roll-away fee before I book. (This was the one fee that the Sheraton displayed on its site.) Same goes for business center or fitness room fees, the bottled water that many hotels place by the bed or the charge for bringing a pool towel back to the room.
Now, if fewer than 10 percent of rooms get charged for something, then it doesn't have to be on the website. (I'm sure that there's probably a fee to have the tailor at the Ritz fix the cuffs on Mr. Gates' tuxedo pants, but we don't need to see that clogging up the webpage.) But if there's a reasonable chance that I might have to pay extra for something, I want to know in advance of booking. Consider this the "menu" of potential fees that some visitors, but not a majority, pay. But let's list it along with other details about the room when I'm selecting a hotel to book.
Ultimately, by having to disclose fees up front, hotels could no longer pretend that they offer better deals than they actually do. And hotels that don't bait-and-switch their guests would no longer be put at a disadvantage when potential visitors shop for the best deal.
So let's get to the vote, shall we? I'd like to hear from you which "optional" fees you've paid during a hotel stay during the past 12 months. (If you've not paid any of these fees, or if you've not stayed in a hotel during that time, we've got options for you in this list, as well.) Some of these fees, such as the energy surcharge and resort fee, get slipped onto bills without much notice, so do watch for them whenever you check out.
What do you think about hotels' disclosure of extra fees? What's been your experience? Do you like my proposal, or would you rather see something else? Let's hear what you have to say, in the comments.
And thanks again for reading Theme Park Insider!
I agree about the fees, I hate them and hotels should be upfront about them. However, there doesn't need to be law about it. Hotels would just find another way around it, plus, who would regulate it and what punishments would there be?
I have a different opinion on parking. It is rude. While fees are present in the resorts and beach towns(Daytona, etc here in FL) they arent everywhere. I checked many non-resort properties in Orlando and there were no parking fees, or they were hidden in the price of the room.
When I was down for the Food and Wine Festival, the Boardwalk changed their valet parking from free to charging for DVC members two days before we went down there. Suprise! We were charged for four days!
i stayed at the Hilton in Canada (the one with a view of the falls) and we were charged a parking fee. The thing that bugs me is that we were asked if we had a car and said no we will be walking. The fee was eventually taken off :)
I've been on the road a whole lot in the past 10 years for work and play. from the Travelodge to the Four Seasons, you name the chain, and chances are I've stayed in one of their hotels at least once. Here are some observations from a road warrior. I'll stay with the three biggies.
I strongly disagree with the thought of hiding taxes in any product or service, especially hotel room charges. These taxes, and all taxes, need to be out in the open. Dark taxes are already hidden within many consumer products and services, gasoline, tobacco, alcohol and a myriad of industries that lacked the clout to fight congressional hidden fees. I can see some value in your other points, but I always prefer to let the free market decide.
I guess I just expect to pay when going on vacation. I never really look at what they are charging extra for. They are in the business in making money, and it seems that they know what they can get away with. The only way to stop these extra fees is to complain to the management and then stop using that hotel. When we have had a horrible experience with a place not only do we let them know when we are leaving (not in a screaming hateful way), but we also send the management a letter or email once home that we will not recommend their place to any family or friends. I don't mind paying the "extras" as long as the resort is clean, staff pleasant and helpful, and our needs are met. From what I have seen though, is that usually you pay for what you want. I have stayed at the dirt cheap hotels all the way to some of the most expensive. The more you pay, the more pleasant the experience (usually).
I've paid pet fees in the past, and I actually expected to have to pay them, so that's no big deal. I have also paid parking fees in Chicago, which ended up being pretty expensive. I'm pretty sure it was $45, now that I think about it. That's the only fee I've had to really pay in the last year.
Hotel fees really aggravate me. If it is a fee for services at a hotel then it should be rolled into the room charge. If I am staying at a room that is $80 a night and I get charged $20 for hotel fees then the charge should just be $100. At least with parking and internet they are fees that you may or may not use. You have no choice with the hotel fees.
One fee I was charged while staying off-site near Walt Disney World that you didn't list was for shuttle bus service to the parks. I drove and didn't use their service but was charged anyway. Also charged for and not used were room safe and resort fee (never used pool, etc.).
I have never heard of having to pay for parking while staying at a hotel. It sounds crazy to me. It would make sense though to have any fees that there might be upfront so that people know about them when making reservations.
I travel a lot on business, Robert, and suggest that you try Hilton and its HHonors program with the 10 hotel chains that make up the program. Why?
Just what we need more laws and expansion of our already massive government.
$14 for self parking? That's wonderful, especially for those of us who fly into Anaheim, then take the Disneyland bus to our hotel! No car, but $14 a night anyway! Rip. Off.
I remain amused by anti-government zealots who proclaim that all the world's ills can be solved by informed, empowered consumers... then oppose efforts to inform and empower them.
I'm very much on the side of the free market, and what Robert is suggesting doesn't necessarily violate the sanctity of the free market. It doesn't dictate price or terms...only that the price and terms are made more easily available to the consumer. If a hotel is going to charge for or offer for an extra fee internet, parking, resort fees, etc...on top of the rate, then it should all be right there for the customer to see before they press "book now" or authorize a charge. This does nothing more than empower the consumer more by giving them quick easy access to charges before they pay for them. Some hotels do a great job of providing the info during the booking process, although they don't advertise the rate as such. The problem, as Robert said, is that there isn't a level playing field for hotels to do that sort of thing. While one tries to be upfront with their prices and include, others can come darn near close to the line of false advertising by giving you a room with a bed for cheap, and then upcharging for everything else by lumping it into a fee. It's a good reason why I highly recommend a quick search on one of the customer review sites such as Trip Advisor to read about your choice before you book, or in some cases even our own Theme Park Insider. Customers who've been hosed will not hesitate to tell you about it, and in many cases the managers of those hotels are active on the boards with addressing concerns and complaints.
Robert- Last time I checked it was consumers who in most cases put a business out of business, not the government. Therefore, consumers are in fact the ultimate deciding factor. That's empowerment. Many hotel properties have in fact changed hands or closed due to bad Internet reviews. Again, that's empowerment.
Actually, gasoline prices also include taxes, which I think makes for a better analogy.
I was somewhat aggrivated with the "resort fee" of $15 a day per room at our stay in Orlando last year. I did not know about in advance so it caught me off guard and suddenly made the room that seemed a bargain seem like less of a bargain. I think it should have been an optional charge.... meaning if I did not want to use the resort services such as the bus, then I did not have to pay the fee. Also I do not think that someone who has already paid for a room should also have to pay for parking seperately.... but if you have to, I think it should be made obvious to the customer before they arive so they are not caught by surprise by the extra charge waiting on them.
I don't think they should charge you for things such as internet automatically if your don't need them. I don't think that any hotel has done that to me, but if the hotel was going to charge you for it regardless, I would not like that.
These so called "deals" with hidden fees stink. Try staying at any Universal Orlando hotel and you will be hit with hefty parking/internet and more fees that were not quoted in the lower priced room I bargained for. To add insult to injury I had to park quite far from the Portofino Bay on a "service" road with trucks and cars totally WHIZZING. Had to PAY for this excess walk while keeping an eye on my young daughter. Also had to trek through a luncheon event to access the hotel from this road. It was embarassing to boot. Universal lost my loyalty. RIPOFF!!!!
I've been a Starwood/SPG member for several years. I live in Florida, within driving distance of Walt Disney World and I have an annual pass. It's been a few years since I've stayed in a Disney hotel - I usually go with the Swan and Dolphin when SPG points are plentiful, and when they are not I stay just outside Downtown Disney at the Sheraton Safari. I love not paying for my hotel room, and don't really mind TOO much about the taxes and the fees.
In defense of Universal Orlando they clearly disclose the parking fees on their web site and you should expect to pay for parking at that type of hotel. Also, there is no resort fee, you were charged both sales and local occupancy tax.
Free internet isn't an entitlement. What I'm saying is that if a $75/night highway roadside Comfort/Hampton/Best Western/Ramada..etc, can offer a free high speed wireless network to it's guests, then there's no reason that the higher end hotels can't do the same. The reason the higher end hotels charge ten bucks or more a night for internet is because they can get away with it. A lot of their customers are typically more affluent or on the company dime and see it as a nuisance charge rather than a bit of a gouge. That's a bit of a generalization, but I don't think I'm far off in that respect.
Derek you complete miss the point. Haven't you heard the saying "There's no such thing as a free lunch."
"In defense of Universal Orlando they clearly disclose the parking fees on their web site and you should expect to pay for parking at that type of hotel."
I would hope that the hotels would not make the assumption that you are going to use something and charge you for it regardless. Some people like myself may choose not to use that service if there is an additional charge for it (for example, if your charging for internet.... I can live without the internet while on vacation.... thanks).
I understand that Eric. The same could be said for several amenities though. Phone, cable, pool and spa, workout room, free breakfast...all would fall within the cost of staying in a hotel and would be factored into the room rate to some extent. The cost of maintaining their network is also factored into the rate, but when broken down, it's probably a rather small piece like anything else, depending on the size of the hotel.
My personnel favorite is the "engery surcharge" which hasn't been "optional" at any of the Las Vegas hotels we have been at in 3 years. It was imposed by the state or county (I forget which) to encourage engery savings at the resorts. At least that has been the canned answer when I ask "what is that fee for" at the desk when I get my itemized bill for the weekend. If I'm going to charged a flat fee for the energy I use while there I'm going to leave a light on all the time I'm not in the room.
You make some great points about what is technically included in the price of a room already! I myself could do without the internet for a weekend or longer if on vacation, but I do realize some people find it harder to do things they need it for without it.
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