Summer Hotel Deals Abound, But Watch For Hidden Fees

Last Updated May 6, 2010 11:29 AM EDT

This will be a good summer for finding deals on hotels, which are still clawing their way back from the deep recession in business and leisure travel and cutting room deals to attract net-surfing shoppers. But buyer beware: Hotel owners have big plans to make up those discounts with a slew of new nuisance fees.

Expect everything from "amenity fees" for using the pool to penalty fees for checking out early, says a new report by NYU's Bjorn Hanson, a top industry analyst. He says hotels will increase their top line by about $150 million in 2010, mostly by piling on and aggressively enforcing those fees.

But there are ways to avoid them. Do you really need me to tell you to stay away from the minibar? Here's how to get your best deal on accommodations this summer.

  • Haggle. Folks who call the hotel and ask for a better deal get one 80 percent of the time, says Consumer Reports in its new hotel survey. But only 35 percent of people even try. So muscle up and give it a try. Look online first at Hotwire and then call the hotel directly and ask if they can do better. If you're booking at a chain, don't call the 800 number -- instead, call the front desk of the individual hotel where you'd like to stay.
  • Play the Priceline game. If you want a top hotel, you can use the bidding website's rules to get a great price. Start at Biddingfortravel, where you can see what others have successfully bid before for hotels in different cities. Enter a lowball bid only in the neighborhood you want. If it's accepted, you are obviously good to go. If it's rejected, you can't re-bid on the same exact package, but you can add another neighborhood (find one without any 4 star hotels, wink wink) and resubmit a slightly higher bid.
  • Fight the fees. Call ahead and find out what other fees they tack on. Many chains will exempt you from some of their more annoying fees if you are a member of their loyalty program, so you might as well sign up. Then come prepared to avoid the rest of them. (Seriously? Phone call fees? Isn't that why you have a cell phone?)
  • Get Out of the Room. It's typical for hotels to charge $10 to $20 a day for internet access and another $5 service charge plus an 18 percent gratuity to bring coffee to your room, and that doesn't even count the coffee. That's crazy! Especially when there's usually a free-wifi Starbucks or other trendy coffee shop within steps of that revolving front door. Putting on shoes and a shirt can't be that hard.
Photo by Wolfgang Staudt on Flickr.
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