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Hotel extras? Oh, yes, there's a fee

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By The Associated Press
Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
 

NEW YORK — Forget bad weather, traffic jams and kids asking, “Are we there yet?” The real headache for many travelers is a quickly growing list of hotel surcharges, even for items they never use.

Guaranteeing two queen beds or one king bed will cost you, as will checking in early or checking out late. Don't need the in-room safe? You're likely still paying. And the overpriced can of soda may be the least of your issues with the hotel minibar.

Vacationers are finding it harder to anticipate the true cost of their stay, especially because many of these charges vary from hotel to hotel, even within the same chain.

Coming out of the recession, the travel industry grew fee-happy. Car rental companies charged extra for services such as electronic toll collection devices and navigation systems. And airlines gained notoriety for adding fees for checking luggage, picking seats in advance, skipping lines at security and boarding early. Hotel surcharges predate the recession, but recently, properties have been catching up to the rest of the industry.

“The airlines have done a really nice job of making hotel fees and surcharges seem reasonable,” said Bjorn Hanson, a professor at New York University's hospitality school.

This year, hotels will take in a record $2.25 billion in revenue from such add-ons, 6 percent more than in 2013 and nearly double that of a decade ago, according to a new study released Monday by Hanson. Nearly half of the increase can be attributed to new surcharges and hotels increasing the amounts of existing fees.

Hanson says guests need to be “extra attentive” to the fine print. Fewer and fewer services come for free.

Need to check out by noon but don't have a flight until after dinner? Hotels once stored luggage as a courtesy. Now, a growing number charge $1 or $2 per bag.

Shipping something to the hotel in advance of your trip? There could be a fee for that, too. The Hyatt Regency San Antonio, which subcontracts its business center to FedEx Office, charges $10 to $25 to receive a package, depending on weight.

Some budget hotels charge $1.50 a night for in-room safes.

Convincing a front desk employee to waive a fee at check-out is getting harder. Fees are more established and better disclosed, and hotel employees are now trained to politely say no.

“It's the most difficult it's ever been to get a charge removed,” Hanson says.

U.S. hotels last year took in $122.2 billion in room revenue, according to travel research company STR.

Fees only add 2 percent in revenue, but Hanson notes the majority of that money is pure profit.

Even the in-room minibar — a decades-old splurge — isn't safe from the new wave of add-ons.

At the Liberty Hotel in Boston a cold can of Coke from the minibar costs $5. That's just the base price. The fine print on the menu reveals an 18 percent “administrative fee” to restock the bar.

The in-room offerings are more conspicuous. Jimmy R. Howell was shocked by the W San Diego's efforts to sell him snacks and drinks.

“Usually these extras are kept under lock and key,” Howell says. At the W, they were “strewn about” the room, above the bar, on the desk, nightstands and in the bathroom. “It seems like an effort to tempt you.”

Even moving an item in the minibar can generate a fee.

The Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, like many other hotels, bills items to guests' rooms if sensors in the minibar note they have been removed for more than 60 seconds — enough time, hotels say, to read the nutritional information and make a decision.

The Aria goes one step further. It also charges a $25 a day “personal use fee” if a guest puts their own soda or bottled water in the minibar. A guest in need of a mini refrigerator can have one delivered to their room — for an extra $35 a night.

Perhaps nowhere are hotels pushing fees further than in Las Vegas.

Forget resort fees. Those are taken for granted there. Resorts such as The Bellagio are learning from airlines and selling enhancements.

Want to skip the notoriously long Las Vegas check-in lines? That will be $30 extra. Want to check in early? That's another $30. Check out late? Also $30.

And if you want two queen beds or one king bed, it will cost extra to guarantee your preference. For an extra — you guessed it — $30, the Bellagio will lock in three room preferences such as bed type, requests to be near or far away from the elevators, rooms on a high or low floor or the option to have quieter non-connecting rooms.

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