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The Hidden Costs of Resort Fees: What You Need to Know

On a recent trip to the Caribbean island of Antigua, Melissa Middlestadt, a writer from the Toronto area, was charged a $12-a-night resort fee by the all-inclusive Jolly Beach. She was told it covered the use of nonmotorized water-sports equipment and Wi-Fi.

“We challenged them to remove it, but they wouldn’t, which was a bummer because the Wi-Fi was so spotty that it didn’t even reach our room, and the kayak hut had such limited hours that we didn’t get to use those either,” said Ms. Middlestadt, 30, who was traveling with her husband on their honeymoon. “It was spending money to get nothing, which was upsetting and ruined the all-inclusive experience.”

Resort fees are among the most loathed in the travel realm. These are usually mandatory fees that hotels apply to cover amenities such as access to a gym and the internet and less useful things like free local phone calls.

The Biden Administration lumps them in with other “junk fees,” including service charges on concert tickets, late credit card payment penalties and costs to check baggage on an airline.

“They add up to hundreds of dollars a month,” said President Biden, according to prepared remarks for his State of the Union address in February. “They make it harder for you to pay the bills or afford that family trip.”

A pair of new proposals before Congress aims to ban resort fees as a long-fought battle gains new fire. Here’s what you need to know about hotel fees, how to find them and strategies to avoid paying them.

Whether known as “resort fees,” “destination fees” or “urban fees,” these additional charges commonly don’t show up in the room price on an initial online search for accommodations until a consumer clicks through to a payment page to find the nightly rate inflated.

A 2017 Federal Trade Commission report concluded that separating resort fees from room rates made it harder for consumers to compare prices and complicated their searches.

Hotels charge fees “to keep their published base rates lower to compete with other hotels in online or mobile tools,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and the founder of Atmosphere Research Group based in San Francisco. “It’s annoying to the traveler because hotels are not being transparent and resort fees are unavoidable.”

The industry group American Hotel & Lodging Association said only 6 percent of hotels charge them, averaging $26 a night. Still, they are lucrative; a 2018 report from the tourism analyst Bjorn Hanson, found that hotels rake in nearly $3 billion a year in resort fees.

Nightly fees can range from $10 at the otherwise affordable Freehand Chicago to $50 at the high-end Hotel Casa del Mar in Santa Monica, Calif., which discloses an itemized list of amenities covered by the fee, including a welcome drink (a $20 value, according to the hotel website), daily yoga on the beach ($85), one hour’s bicycle use ($14 a person) and internet access ($15).

In a 2023 Consumer Reports survey, 37 percent of American adults reported experiencing a hidden fee associated with a hotel stay. More than half said the fees pushed the cost of the stay over their budget.

The practice is firmly in the cross hairs of Congress. In the spring, Senators Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, and Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, introduced the Junk Fee Prevention Act, which targets a range of fees, including resort fees.

Over the summer, Senators Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, and Jerry Moran, Republican of Kansas, introduced the Hotel Fees Transparency Act, which would require hotels and short-term rentals to show the full price a consumer would pay, including fees, up front.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association said it supports the Hotel Fees Transparency Act. A statement from its president and chief executive Chip Rogers called it “the best congressional solution for creating a single standard for mandatory fee display across the entire lodging ecosystem — from hotels to online travel agencies, metasearch sites and short-term rental platforms.”

“It’s a good pocketbook issue that impacts everyday Americans,” said Lauren Wolfe, the chief legal officer for Travelers United, a consumer advocacy group, and the founder of the website Kill Resort Fees.

In August, Travelers United sued Hyatt and Sonesta hotels for “falsely advertising” their rates by not including fees that are part of the nightly rate, according to the complaints.

Over the past several years, attorneys general from states, including Pennsylvania, Texas and Nebraska, have sued hotel companies over the practice with some success; Marriott, for example, has settled cases in Pennsylvania and Texas, agreeing to include resort fees in prices displayed on websites.

“It’s truth in advertising,” said Charles Leocha, the founder of Travelers United. “When you see a price, that’s what you should pay.”

Even as resort fees are under fire, the nickel-and-diming of travelers that airlines have adopted is seeping into hotel operations. Things that used to be complimentary, such as early check-in or late check-out, now often carry associated fees.

Operating in Chicago, Miami and New York, Arlo Hotels offers early check-in between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. for $40 extra and check-out as late as 3 p.m. for $75, though management said it honors such requests for free if space allows.

“Hotels are saying, ‘Look, if you want more time in the room and we can’t service it then you need to pay us something,’” said Mr. Harteveldt, noting that hotels have been monetizing such extras for the past five years.

Increasingly, he added, they are using the perks to reward higher-tier members of their loyalty clubs. Hyatt Place, for example, offers early check-in and late check-out starting at $10 to entry-level members of its loyalty program.

When she went to Key West, Fla., in 2016, Ms. Wolfe of Travelers United paid $400 for a hotel room. When she checked in, the clerk withheld her room key until she forked over an additional $20 for the resort fee. The incident inspired her website, Kill Resort Fees.

“It’s not just deceptive, it’s illegal to collect and get more money for a room than advertised,” Ms. Wolfe said, citing consumer protection laws and the actions of many state attorneys general against them.

She suggests travelers request that resort fees be removed from their bills.

“I say, ‘Ask nicely twice,’ but people answering the phone at the front desk aren’t those who set the policy,” said Ms. Wolfe who managed to have a $40-a-night charge reversed at a New York hotel after she pointed out that the fee was never disclosed.

Finding a hotel without a resort fee can take time, but the website can help with its searchable database of hotels.

If you are forced to pay a resort fee, Ms. Wolfe suggests appealing to your credit card company for a refund or filing a complaint with your state’s attorney general. The latter strategy is more likely to succeed in states that have taken action against such fees already, she added.

Others suggest requesting a waiver, before handing over a credit card. Craig McLean, 66, a retired government worker in Olney, Md., often traveled for work and said he made it a point at check-in to declare that he was a federal employee and had no intention of using any amenities associated with a fee.

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