Vote of the week: 'Hidden' hotel fees
Published: April 15, 2010 at 10:55 PM
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!