Many business and leisure travellers trekking to New York City are now finding extra fees tacked onto their hotel bill, described by some chains as an “urban destination charge”, and by others as either a “mandatory destination fee” or a “daily destination fee”.
Costing US$25-50 per night, these new charges mimic hotel ‘resort fees’ as levied in other destinations like Hawaii, which are billed in addition to the nightly room rate.
What’s more, when booking a hotel room online, these fees are seldom included in the advertised price, which makes it hard for travellers to compare the total cost of one hotel stay to another.
For example, when searching for a room in mid-March, we found the New York Hilton Midtown hotel advertising rooms for US$382/night via the Hilton website…
… yet only after clicking through to the next screen is the property’s “urban destination charge” revealed – but this still isn’t included in the room price displayed.
You’ll only see the full details by clicking on a specific room rate, which is also where the cost of any applicable taxes and other charges are hidden, as these aren’t included in the advertised price either, as is (unfortunately) standard practice in the United States:
Suddenly, the room you thought would cost US$382 (A$482) per night has suddenly jumped to US$470.74 (A$593), “urban destination charge” included.
Other prominent chains like Hyatt and Marriott also list these fees in a similar way, via a small alert at the top of the initial booking screen when the compulsory fee isn’t accounted for in the price being advertised…
… with a total price shown later during the booking process which includes all unavoidable fees and taxes:
Starwood Hotels and Resorts is arguably more upfront about these charges than the other chains – even though such fees aren’t mentioned on the first page of the booking process where a traveller can compare lead-in prices at different hotels…
… the brand’s “destination fee” (along with applicable taxes) are clearly indicated on the next screen where the traveller can choose their room and rate – not later in the process once this selection has already been made:
Well, what do I get for paying hotel destination fees?
Like the more common hotel resort fees, these new hotel “destination fees” offer some inclusions to help justify the price: often beginning with complimentary Internet during your stay, along with free calls from the in-room phone.
However, it always pays to read the fine print, as the policy at each hotel varies.
At the New York Hilton Midtown hotel where a US$25/day “urban destination charge” applies, that free Internet is limited to three devices only – and while there’s a US$25/day food and beverage credit included to ‘offset’ this fee, the credit can only be used to buy US$10 worth of food per day from one venue, and US$15 worth of beverages from a separate venue at the hotel each day.
Other properties are more generous with their inclusions, such as the W New York Times Square where a similar US$25/day “mandatory destination fee” now applies, which buys free local, long-distance and international calls from the in-room phone, free Internet, a US$25/day bar credit, a US$20/day laundry credit and also a museum ticket or a gym pass.
How to avoid paying these hotel destination fees
While the hotels describe these fees as compulsory or mandatory, you may be able to avoid paying them by selecting a rate that includes a fee waiver.
For instance, at the New York Hilton Midtown on the dates we searched, we found that the basic flexible rate for an entry-level room (a ‘deluxe room two beds’) had an overall price of US$484.30: urban destination charge included.
However, a separate ‘exec lounge access’ rate for the same room on the same nights was selling for US$486.60, including taxes but with no $25/night charge to be paid.
While that’s still US$2.30/night higher than the total cost of the standard flexible rate, you’d get access to the hotel’s Executive Lounge during your stay, including complimentary daily breakfast, coffee throughout the day and evening nibbles: and if you were going to stay at the property anyway, it’d make sense to pay that little bit extra, while still avoiding the usual US$25/day fee.