Resort Fees: an Abomination or Necessary Evil?
Dear Tripped Up,
I love The New York Edition — I’ve stayed there three times in the past year. What I hate is the destination fee — $35 per room per night — that includes credit toward the bar, spa and laundry. We traveled with our 16 and 18 year olds in April; their room was charged the fee even though they couldn’t possibly use the bar. I have got the fee refunded twice, but hate having to fight with them every time we check out.
Resort fees — sometimes called destination or facilities fees — are per-diem fees, on top of the room rate, that hotels and resorts levy on guests for things like Wi-Fi, on-site activities, parking and dining credits. At Edition, like any hotel, resort fees apply whether or not you use the services and amenities.
Hotel executives regularly downplay the issue of resort fees, which allow hotels and resorts to keep nightly rates (relatively) low while simultaneously driving revenue. But it’s one of the complaints I hear about most — both in my email inbox and on social media, where experienced travelers regularly shame some of the most egregious offenders. Frommer’s has openly called them a scam.
One woman sent me an email about a Virginia hotel where she paid a $39-a-night resort fee for Wi-Fi, nightly films and use of the pools. One of the pools was closed.
“How do we get rid of resort fees, which are an abomination!” implored another reader, lamenting, “I’ve NEVER gotten out of paying resort fees.”
As your experience suggests, it’s tricky to argue your way out of resort fees at checkout — and, let’s face it, that’s never a fun way to end a trip.
A more surefire way to avoid resort fees altogether is by booking hotel rooms with points. Although Marriott (which operates Edition) doesn’t waive resort fees for points rooms, Hyatt and Hilton both do — a perk I’ve certainly enjoyed in the past. Elite status also helps; Hyatt Globalists get waived resort fees even when they’re paying cash.
Lauren Wolfe, an attorney and founder of the website Kill Resort Fees, also encourages consumers to take two minutes and file online complaints with their state attorney general. She said this tactic has helped recoup previously paid resort fees on several occasions — not least because all 50 state attorneys general have been investigating resort fees for a few years now. Last summer, the attorneys general of Washington D.C. and Nebraska filed separate lawsuits against Marriott and Hilton, accusing them of violating consumer protections by not making resort fees obvious enough upfront when would-be hotel guests search for rooms online.
In separate, yet similar, emailed statements, Marriott and Hilton reiterated that resort fees are charged at an overall small percentage of their properties and that they are, in fact, disclosed during the booking process.
A bill pending in Congress (which Ms. Wolfe is advocating for as counsel for Travelers United, an industry nonprofit) could also help things.
“Consumers should not be financially burdened at the last second when planning a business trip or family vacation,” said Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Texas Democrat and one of the co-sponsors of the Hotel Advertising Transparency Act of 2019. “This bill does not direct hotels and short-term rentals to eliminate mandatory fees; instead, it requires that they be transparent and advertise the full pretax price.”
That would surely be an improvement. But I have other, more philosophical, issues with resort fees on their face. They often favor able-bodied young people — or anyone who can use gear like stand-up paddleboards. They tend to disadvantage parents with children too young for the kids’ club — as a mother of a toddler, I don’t have many extra vacation hours to devote to the ukulele lessons or mixology classes I’m supposedly paying for. I also bristle at dining credits like Edition’s — especially in New York, where there are a million other places to eat.
And c’mon, it’s 2020: Hotel Wi-Fi should be free.
The Dec. 29 edition of Tripped Up, about four ways to travel better in 2020, drew several reader stories about booking directly — or not. Kristin B. wrote, “My friend and I booked a hotel in Belize through an online travel agency. When we arrived, the hotel was nothing like the pictures. Not only was it shabby, but it didn’t feel safe. Bad service is one thing; safety is another. From now on, I’m going directly to the hotel or airline to book.”
Sarah Firshein formerly held staff positions at Travel + Leisure and Vox Media, and has also contributed to Condé Nast Traveler, Bloomberg, Eater and other publications. If you need advice about a best-laid travel plan that went awry, send an email to email@example.com.
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