The newest travel “gotcha”: annoying hotel fees

Travelers who gripe about the plethora of extra airline fees have something else to add to their grievances: hotels are now aping the airline industry by adding charges for everything from in-room coffee to room safes.

The hotel industry will book a record $2.55 billion in fees and surcharges this year, an increase of 4 percent from 2015 and a surge of almost 60 percent from a decade ago, thanks to the rise of a dizzying array of extra fees that have been introduced by hotels and resorts during the past several years, according to a new study from Bjorn Hanson, a professor at New York University’s School of Professional Studies Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism. 

Take the standard in-room coffee maker, a long-time amenity that had been included in the price of the room. Some hotels are now charging their guests for using the room coffee pots, such as at New York City’s Empire Hotel, a boutique hotel near Lincoln Center. One theme among its reviews on Trip Advisor are “fees for everything,” according to one guest, including a $3 charge for using in-room Keurig machines. Marriott (MAR) has come under fire from some guests who complain about parking fees for hotels outside of urban settings, where parking isn’t at a premium.

While hotel fees and surcharges aren’t new, they have been introduced at a dizzying rate in recent years. According to Hanson’s research, the types of fees and surcharges that travelers may now face include:

  • fees to “guarantee” a type of room, such as a King bed
  • early check-in fees
  • charges for unattended parking in suburban locations
  • baggage holding fees
  • “resort” fees
  • early departure fees
  • reservation cancellation fees related to timing of cancellation
  • internet fees 
  • telephone call surcharges
  • some business center fees, such as receiving overnight packages
  • room service delivery surcharges
  • mini-bar restocking fees
  • charges for in-room safes
  • automatic gratuities and surcharges for other than all-inclusive resorts

Travelers are often surprised by these types of fees, but Hanson said in a statement that they are often disclosed on hotel websites, in confirmation emails, or in the room via service binders. Guests are often tripped up because the charges can vary from hotel property even within a chain. One Marriott may not charge for unattended parking, while another may charge $10 or more per day, such as the chain’s suburban Quincy, Massachusetts, location.

“They nickel and dime you on everything here -- parking is $10 a night, breakfast is not included, and wifi is not free except in the lobby,” one recent guest at the Marriott Quincy location wrote on TripAdvisor. “What hotel does not offer free wifi in this day and age?!?”

Marriott didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

Before booking a hotel, travelers may want to search the property’s site for information on extra charges to avoid an unpleasant surprise. Checking reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor can also provide a realistic accounting of what charges might end up on your bill.

Wifi has been a sore spot for hotel guests for years, with Hotels.com finding that expensive hotels are becoming less likely to offer free wifi. With the proliferation of devices and laptops, travelers increasingly feel it should be complimentary. Marriott ended up in hot water over the issue, with the FCC charging it with blocking customers from using their personal wifi hotspots. Marriott settled the charge. 

In some cases, joining a hotel’s loyalty program will allow a guest to access free wifi. Before heading off on vacation or a work trip, it’s best to check into fees and ask if a loyalty program will erase some of the extra charges.