You've overslept and your plane leaves in an hour. You're scrambling to find your passport, pack your bags, and call a cab…all at the same time. As you fly by the hotel's front desk, you grab your bill, sign the credit card receipt, and dash out the door. If you glance at your bill, it isn't until you're cruising 30,000 feet in the air. A more likely scenario? You never look at it again.
And that's exactly what your hotel is banking on.
Gone are the days when you could check into a hotel, spend the evening, and leave the next morning knowing exactly what your final bill would cost. Today, hotels have become increasingly clever at finding ways to charge customers for a myriad of seemingly innocuous services and amenities.
According to tourism researcher Bjorn Hanson of the NYC School of Continuing and Professional Studies, American hotels and resorts collected an estimated $1.95 billion in surcharges last year. That's an increase of roughly 5.4% over 2011 and nearly quadruple what was recorded a decade ago.
From Internet fees to server gratuities and towel rentals (yup, you heard that right), hotels are cashing in on the very conveniences travelers take for granted. Before you make yourself at home in your hotel room, remember: there's a price tag attached to your comfort.
Here are a handful of the most common (and outrageous) hidden hotel fees and what you can do to avoid them… if that's even a possibility.
Those beautifully landscaped flower gardens can't take care of themselves. Make sure you stop and smell the roses, or at least take a photo for the road. You're likely being billed roughly $3 a night for the effort involved in keeping the grounds of your resort green and leafy.
Need a towel at the pool or for your beach chair? That will cost you a dollar. And don't forget to return it to the cabana boy before you head back to your room or you could find yourself with a hefty $5 charge on your hotel bill.
Even in today's hyper-connected world, many high-class hotels still refuse to offer free Wi-Fi access. Save yourself the extra $10 charge by simply hopping across the street and plugging in at a local coffee shop.
Early check in or out
Normally, when your flight lands ahead of schedule, it's a good thing – more time to spend lounging by the hotel pool, right? Hold onto your sunhat missy, you're going to have to stomach an early check-in fee first. Some hotels will bill up to $50 if you ask to check in before the stated access time. The same goes for checking out later than the hotel's noted time.
Housekeeping and bellman gratuities
Good hotel staff earn their keep and absolutely deserve to be compensated for their hard work. But before you leave a sizable tip on your pillow, ask your concierge about included gratuities. Some hotels are building $10-$30 gratuity fees into guest bills in order to cover these costs.
Bartenders and room service
Don't be so quick to offer up your change to your bartender. Several hotel review websites are reporting that some resorts are now automatically adding upwards of a 20% gratuity for each drink charged to your tab. It's not uncommon for hotels to include a gratuity on any room service charge as well. Check your in-room menu for clarification.
Every savvy traveler knows to avoid the overpriced bridge mix and bottled water in the hotel minibar. But did you know that some hotels have now installed sensors in their fridges that record whenever you move something? That's right. Some resorts will charge you simply for reorganizing your bar's contents to make room for your own bottle of water. And don't think you can avoid that fee by asking for your minibar to be emptied before you arrive – you'll likely enjoy a $50 "unstocking" fee for your troubles.
How to avoid unexpected fees
In most countries, hotels legally need to make their customers aware of any additional fees or surcharges. According to federal laws in the U.S., for example, additional fees must be advertised "clearly and conspicuously." Of course, "clearly and conspicuously" to hotel management often means small print at the bottom of a brochure.
With that said, if extra fees aren't clearly stated in the reservation conditions when you book online or over the phone, don't be afraid to speak up. Politely, but firmly inform hotel management that they are violating the law and request that the charges be removed.
Travelers should also familiarize themselves with the practice of "negative option billing." This is the legal name for the practice of billing a customer without their express permission. It's based on the assumption that hotel guests are using all of the services made available to them (in-room safes, fitness centres, newspapers, etc.). If you don't plan to use any of these options, inform hotel management at the time of booking. While there's no guarantee, the hotel may be willing to remove these charges from your bill when you check out.
If it feels like home, consider the price
Sure, a great hotel should strive to have everything you need to feel at home, but that's part of the problem. Those homey perks come at a price. In some cases, it's more than you might expect…