Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Resorting to Resort Fees

A few weeks back, ABC's 20/20 had an interesting segment on resort fees. These are the extra-added tack-ons that some hotels add to your bill, that you may not be aware of when they're quoting the rack rate.

20/20 checked into the de luxe Arizona Biltmore, where the measly $450/night room rate didn't cover the USA Today tossed outside the door. Or the use of the putting green. (Hey, it is an 18 hole putting green.) Not to mention use of the gym, and the shuttle to a nearby shopping mall.

This reminds me of the list of cruise amenities I once saw, which had on it "free calisthenics". I'm sure they meant "free exercise class", but "free calisthenics" sounds like "free breathing"  - it's definitely something you can do on your own.

While the Biltmore's sneaky mandatory charges may seem niggling, ABC reports that:

Resort fees at other hotels are even more incredible including items like pool towels and the in-room safe. Some places even charge for opening the mini bar whether or not you take something out.

Opening the mini bar?

Kids, get away from that mini bar. No, you can't even look. I know it's more fun if you take it out of the  mini bar, but, trust me, that bottle of mini-Snickers bars is probably stale. And you're paying a big premium for that jar, which we're just going to leave here anyway.

Get me the desk. No, I'm not paying for the privilege of having a mini bar in my room. You should be paying me to have it in here.

(As it turns out, it's actually a good thing I had a warning about this. During February school vacation, I always take my young nieces - now 10 and 11 - for a hotel-with-a-pool overnight.  Well, we were in our jammies and got into bed to eat pretzels and watch a movie when Caroline remembered that she'd seen a tray on the desk.  Figuring that having a snack tray was good idea, she went over to it and started removing the stuff that was on it, when I let out a shriek. The items on the tray - mini-cans of worth-their-weight-in-gold cashews, etc. - were all hooked to a computer, and merely removing them put a charge on your room.  Unfortunately, Caroline was swifter than my shriek, and I had to call the desk to unload the charges from my bill. The items, by the way, weren't that securely fixed to the tray, just resting in slots. So I can imagine that quite a few folks incur charges this way. Sure, you can fight it at checkout, but I'm sure plenty of people say to hell with it.)

And paying for the use of the safe? What's the message here? We offer these safes because the cleaning people, or other hotel employees or guests, may want to filch your pearls or your iPod, but we want to make sure you pay for this benefit.

And, as "20/20" discovered, some hotels don't even disclose their resort fees until it's too late.

At Colorado's Cordillera Inn, the resort fee was for the nightly turn-down service?

Is having someone plump your pillow, fold the quilt, and put a chocolate on your pillow really worth $11 a night?

The ABC report also chronicled hefty fees for sending a fax and holding a package for pick up by FedEx.

Interesting, isn't it, that it's the expensive hotels that gouge for these extras? When I've stayed in lower end hotels, I've had the front desk send fax for free, and take care of other little niceties. And the bare bones, retreat-house-like motel I stay at in Syracuse includes free Internet access and long distance, while the  more upscale one just up the street charges $10 a night for Internet. (This was the straw that broke my back in terms of staying at the "nicer" hotel.)

If you squawk about the fees - and promise not to use the putting green or the room safe - some hotels will make the "mandatory fee" go away.

We've found something similar in Ireland, where breakfast is often included in a hotel charge. Generally, when we've told them we don't eat breakfast, they remove the charge.

Many years ago, we stayed at Ashford Castle in County Mayo - a mistake all round, given that we're not the posh country resort types, and given that everyone else in the place was a cigar smoking American MBA on a golf junket. (Shudder.) And the entertainment in the in house "pub" was as stage-Irish as I've ever seen. (I must admit, the restaurant was excellent, albeit pricey. On night two, we ate at a small B&B in town, supping on  fresh-caught salmon that the proprietress' husband had just caught.)

But the thing I remember most was the tack-on charge for breakfast, which I remember as $40. The one day we ate breakfast there, we did so late, and they were no longer serving anything other than coffee, tea, and brown bread.

Now, my idea of heaven is Irish tea and brown bread, but it's not my idea of $40 worth of heaven.

They whittled the fee down a bit when we complained, but it really can cost you if you don't read the fine print.

(Fee for opening the mini bar, indeed!)

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