Anyone who travels frequently knows about hotel “resort” fees. The fees, unfortunately, expanded to the point that they’re hard to avoid in some markets. Largely leisure destinations such as Miami Beach and Hawai’i come to mind. Then again, who can blame hotels, who found easy profit by charging $20/day for pool towels. I detest the fees, and go out of my way to avoid any property that charges them. But not long ago, One Mile At a Time and View From the Wing reported on a new fee craze – the “urban destination charge”. Like “resort” fees, these mandatory charges look like little more than “gotcha” fees to deceive search engines. And unfortunately, like unwanted pests at home, they appear to be spreading fast as emphasized by pest control services.
Many Names, But The Same Basic Fee
“Urban destination charges” go by several names, including “facilities fees”, “daily destination fees”, “amenity fees”, and the like. They all cover basically the same things, though. Take a look at the Hilton New York Midtown, which drew Ben’s ire.
The fees aren’t just a Hilton thing, though. The Westin New York at Times Square and the New York Mariott Marquis charge similar fees.
Typically, the fees include some sort of food & beverage credit, “premium” WiFi, and some sort of tour or event ticket. As for why I hate these fees, let me count the ways…
Like Resort Fees, They Deceive Search Engines
My main complaint with “resort” fees is that they cause deceptive results in search engines. In other words, they allow hotels to appear cheaper than they really are on OTAs or metasearch sites. Let’s take a look at Travelocity as an example. Through a non-exhaustive search, I discovered that roughly 1/3 of the hotels in the Broadway-Times Square area charge mandatory fees. If you look at the Travelocity interface, though, you’d never figure out which of these two charge one.
You’d think the Crowne Plaza is only $18 a night more than the HGI…until you discover the $30/night fee hidden in the details. (The HGI doesn’t charge a fee.)
Of course, hotels know it’s the first click that generates interest. And they know that many potential customers, if faced with a choice of Hotel A, which charges $179 but no resort fee, or Hotel B, which charges $149 with a $30 resort fee, will choose the lower base rate every time. Even though the total out of pocket is exactly the same. Then, they can convince you how many awesome benefits you get for $30 a night. Free local calls access to a gym you’ll never use are totally worth it, right?
Some also say resort fees escape hotel occupancy taxes, thus costing the jurisdictions that charge the taxes real money. I’m not an expert on how occupancy taxes work, but it’s certainly possible depending on local rules.
Unlike Resort Fees, You Probably Don’t Expect These
Like them or not, you’re most likely familiar with areas where resort fees are common. Beach areas, ski resorts, golf resorts, Vegas, Orlando – most people know to look for the fees. Most New York hotels charging mandatory fees are in the Broadway/Times Square area. (This website has a list, though it’s not comprehensive best as I can tell.) I’m guessing many tourists headed to Midtown have no idea they might get snagged. But it’s not just New York City where these fees exist. Washington, DC and San Francisco (mainly around Pier 39) have seen an explosion in “destination fees” in the past year. Eleven hotels – including almost all Kimpton properties – now charge the fees. That number has exploded to 34 in San Francisco, versus just 3 last summer.
You can kind of see the common thread – areas with primarily leisure traffic where guests are willing to pay a premium to be close to the action, so to speak. The fees appear less common at primarily business hotels. At my last job, our corporate contracts forbade charging employees resort fees, even at properties that charged them. So there’s less incentive to add them. Hint: if going to New York City, there’s an easy way to avoid the fees, for now. Just stay a few blocks away from Times Square and walk or take the Subway. The Renwick, a perfectly decent Hilton Curio property at 40th and Lexington, doesn’t charge the fees. You can walk to Times Square in 10-15 minutes. There’s even cheap pizza and bagels nearby.
In other words, hotels want to charge fees for the privilege of visiting popular cities. Hey, they know lots of folks aren’t going to stay a couple of miles away to avoid the fees. Free money, right?
Not Just a Chain Thing, Either
I’d blame this on the big, bad corporate chains. Hilton, Mariott, Starwood, and IHG all play the “destination fee” game in New York. But in reality, boutiques make up the majority of offenders. In New York City, the most outrageous fee – $45 per PERSON per night – belongs to the WestHouse hotel. Yes, that’s $90 a night for a party of 2.
At least this fee includes booze, so you might get full value if you go crazy…
Meanwhile, boutiques make up all of DC’s offenders, though I suppose the multiple Kimpton properties count as a chain. And of San Francisco’s 34 offending hotels, only one belongs to the Big 3 – Starwood’s Park Central. More on that later.
All this makes you want to jump ship to Airbnb, right? Not so fast. That attractive looking rate doesn’t include a $40 “cleaning fee” and a $33 “service fee”. And if you cancel, you’re out half your money.
In other words, once junk fees take over, there’s no escaping them.
And No, These Aren’t “Enhancements”
What angers me the most about these fees, though, is how the hotels (predictably) spin them. I’ll let View from the Wing’s Twitter exchange with the Hilton Midtown speak for itself.
So let me get this straight, Hilton, Marriott, and Starwood. Charging me $25 a night to force me to eat in your overpriced hotel restaurant, grab a crappy sandwich from the grab ‘n go counter, and take a yoga class is an “enhancement”? Although that’s far from the worst example. Behold San Francisco’s Park Central, which charges $44 a night for these lovely amenities.
For the dates I checked (January 17th-19th), the Park Central wants $696 a night. And they want to charge me an extra $44 a night to borrow a book from the lobby and call Starwood’s 800 number to complain? Real smooth, Starwood. Real smooth.
I don’t like resort fees at beach resorts, either. But I’d guess most people staying at one probably use the beach and pool equipment. So there’s at least some justification for a usage fee, however flimsy. Hotels charging destination fees, though, know full well most of the “amenities” will never get used. (The Park Central’s list is especially laughable. I mean, seriously – board game rental? Notary public service?) They’ll likely succeed in getting guests into their overpriced bars and restaurants, where they’ll run up a bill a whole lot bigger than the $15 credit. These are cash grabs, pure and simple. And frankly, it’s shameful to bill these as “enhancements”.
Make no mistake. I refuse to patronize any hotel that levies an “urban destination charge”. Yes, even if a competitor costs more in total. Heck, next time I go to San Francisco, I’m just stubborn enough to stay in Oakland and take the BART over if the fees spread further. If you find these fees as offensive as I do, I suggest going on the offensive the next time you’re in a city plagued by them. Stay at a fee-free hotel, and let offenders know on social media that they lost your business because of the junk fees. It’s probably a losing battle, but if enough people hit them in the pocketbook and on social media, it might cause Hilton, Starwood, etc. to back off before these spread to every metro area in the country.