Like budget airlines, beware hotels' extra fees

OVER THE TOP: Hotels are following budget airlines and finding ways to charge guests extra fees.
OVER THE TOP: Hotels are following budget airlines and finding ways to charge guests extra fees.

Would you like fries with that? Hotels are selling us more extras than ever before.

When it comes to flying, we've been well conditioned to expect extra fees, from a price per piece of luggage to buying a drink on the plane.

But how much are you willing to pay for in a hotel when you've outlaid good money for a room and you expect hospitality?

Hotels are starting to rack up "ancillary revenue", which is a polite way of saying fees, like never before, suggesting we may need to adjust our expectations as we have done with flying.

Hospitality journals are full of articles about how hoteliers can maximise their ancillary revenue and charge for things we have traditionally received free.

Your laundry - yes you'd expect to pay for that. Having a massage, sure. But what about use of the hotel gym or pool? Or a fee for having connecting rooms?

Ancillary revenue is typically achieved by charging you for extras during your stay but hotels are also starting to hit guests with offers before they arrive.

We've been relatively protected at home, where tacking on fees and charges is frowned upon, but watch out overseas.

Counting the costs

Research by the Preston Robert Tisch Centre for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University found US hotels alone were expected to collect a record US$2.1billion (NZ$2.55 billion) in fees and surcharges in 2012, more than double the figure of a decade ago.

The centre says the increase is partly due to more hotel rooms being occupied but also reflects more fees and higher amounts.

One of the biggest hits for unsuspecting travellers is the "resort fee" which appears, sometimes without warning, on your bill at the end of your stay.

This is a charge for using resort facilities such as swimming pools and tennis courts, or even to cover some housekeeping and ground-keeping services, and is often about US$25 (NZ$30) a day.

Resort fees are charged whether you use the facilities or not, so it pays to do a bit of research when choosing a hotel.

Bjorn Hanson from the centre says the introduction of resort fees in the late 1990s marked the start of hotel fees and surcharges.

Energy surcharges were widely introduced in the US in 2000 and now we have everything from early departure fees to charges for having a safe in your room.

Parking has become a huge money spinner, with some hotels charging more than US$50 (NZ$60.6) a day to accommodate your car - I'd want it washed for that- along with fees for holding luggage.

Those travelling with young children are among the worst hit, with fees for everything from a cot in the room to have a bottle warmed.

One area where hotels appear to be losing the battle is Wi-Fi access, which is increasingly offered free to guests, or at least to loyalty program members.

Many surveys have found free Wi-Fi is a big factor for travellers when choosing a hotel and properties with hefty charges are often criticised on traveller review websites.

Another area of frustration for Australian travellers, who are not used to large-scale tipping, is having compulsory gratuities added to the bill, regardless of what you thought of the service.

Other unexpected additions can include bed taxes or levies to fund the local tourist board or promotional activities.

By the time some or all of these are added, you can easily find your hotel "rate" has risen 30 per cent or more.

Do I have to pay?

Some fees, including resort fees and bed taxes, are almost impossible to avoid, even if you managed to talk your way out of them in the past.

Other fees, particularly those charged by the hotel, can be wiped from your bill if you speak to a senior staff member, especially if it is for a service you didn't use.

If you're a repeat guest or loyalty program member you will have more bargaining power but you still have to go through the hassle of debating the issue.

It's a good idea to get a copy of your bill before check-out time so you can look through the charges.

Another option is to negotiate extras such as breakfast or free internet access when you book - you'll be amazed at what some hotels will agree to if you pick up the phone - to help offset other costs that sneak up on you.

Have you been hit by unexpected fees when staying at a hotel? Post your comments below.