Gotcha: the worst hidden hotel fees and other cash-grabs

Too many hotels delight in squeezing guests for every dollar they can: here are some of the most offensive rip-offs and rorts.

By David Flynn, April 11 2022
Gotcha: the worst hidden hotel fees and other cash-grabs

Hotels like to call us guests, but have you ever felt the more appropriate classification would be ‘Mr/Ms Revenue Centre’?

After all, you’ve already paid plenty for your room – only to be hit at every turn with a raft of unexpected charges ranging from the downright sneaky to the outright insulting.

These can go way beyond those exorbitant but expected costs of drinks in the mini-bar, that $10 pack of peanuts in the snack tray, or ringing up a double-digit phone bill from a few short local calls.

During my extensive travels I’ve encountered plenty of rip-offs and rorts perpetrated by hotels. Here are five from my list.

Resort and destination fees

Mostly seen at US hotels, even when they’re not anything like what you’d picture as a resortresort fees – also known as ‘destination fees’ – are a compulsory daily charge allegedly covering facilities like the pool and gym.

It makes no difference if you don’t actually use those amenities, you’ll be charged the fee anyway. This surcharge can also be said to cover the provision of WiFi, housekeeping, the concierge or anything else which:

a) is a standard inclusion for a hotel, and

b) which the property believes it can get away with.

Resort fees and their evil ilk were created by hotel groups both to reduce the commission they had to pay to third-party booking sites, and to show an appealingly low room rate on hotel comparison sites and searches, because these extras fees only appear when you go through with the booking.

Hidden service charges

Most US hotels automatically add a 20% gratuity to room service orders, on top of a ‘service charge’ for delivering the meal – and they still leave an empty space on the docket where you’re expected to tip the waiter.

But being hit by a hidden service charge can go far beyond room service.

Checking out from a boutique five-star hotel in London, I noticed the bill included a daily 5% ‘discretionary service charge’ based on the room rate.

That worked out to around £10 per day for no particular service I could think off, nor any the front desk staff could name – and certainly nothing that wasn’t par for the course at such an upmarket hotel.

To their credit, the hotel removed the charge once I queried it – but it left me wondering how many tens of thousands of ‘free money’ they raked in every month from unassuming, unaware guests.

Paying to use the minibar fridge

That’s right: I’m not talking about paying for a drink from the minibar, but for the temerity to use that convenient fridge to store your own drinks or snacks, or even medicine.

During one stay at a highly-rated Marriott group hotel in Seattle, guests – I’m sorry, ‘revenue centres’ – were expected to pay US$7 to store personal items in the fridge.

Naturally this is to discourage guests from stocking up at any nearby 7-11 or Walgreens, although the hotel was willing to provide me with a second ‘personal use’ fridge free of charge (not including a $5 tip to the bloke who delivers it to your room).

Too-slow Internet

Failing to keep pace with the boom in mobile computing and multi-device ownership, some hotels offer free WiFi that’s is so slow you are effectively forced to pay for the upgrade to a useful service – especially if that already snail-like speed is being shared among two people.

Thankfully, more and more hotels are catching up to the need for true in-room broadband – but it remains a good argument for being a member of the hotel’s loyalty scheme at a status tier where complimentary access to premium WiFi is one of your perks. 

Paying to receive mail and parcel deliveries

This trick is favoured by several US hotels, especially but not exclusively in Las Vegas.

In the case of some massive conventional centre hotels, the property will outsource its mail handling to a Fedex business centre which then charges guests anywhere from $5 to receive a standard-sized envelope and $20 for a small shoebox-sized parcel, for example.

That’s not a delivery fee to your room – it’s just a cost for the hotel accepting your mail.

I’ve found that when checking out of the hotel, tactfully protesting the idiocy of $5 to receive a featherweight envelope can see all ‘handling’ costs wiped from the bill.

Other city hotels can charge anywhere from $10 upwards to receive an order from the likes of Amazon, and can be far less amenable to foregoing the fee – although if this cost isn’t clearly flagged on the hotel’s website (check the section on business services or business centre, or the broader guest services page, for example) it’s not a hard case to make that the fees are not publicised and should be dropped. 

What are some of the hotel rip-offs and rorts you’ve encountered during your travels?

So the advice from this is to give the US a miss until they can sort out their broken free-for-all system. 

Delta Air Lines - SkyMiles

16 Oct 2017

Total posts 151

No, the advice is to know the US system just like any other system you come across. As pointed out by others, many of these extras can be negotiated with a friendly chat on check-out.

Love that you're trying to defend companies attempting to gouge paying guests. 

Jetstar Airways - Qantas Frequent Flyer

03 Jul 2018

Total posts 41

Is this why checkout in the US takes so long? Everybody negotiating their bills?

Crazy USA prices, no free upgrades, I once paid US$14.00 to print my boarding pass in San Fran down at the Wharf.

17 Jan 2019

Total posts 1

The Sydney Hilton charged me $20 to hire an umbrella on a recent trip.  I vigilantly cared for that umbrella during my rainy stay in Sydney.  I returned it and requested the charge to be removed from my bill.  It wasn't and has been worth more than a measly $20 bucks of  my time to get a credit.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1087

I went to a major hotel in Melbourne recently and was told that I was getting the breakfast package.  It turns out that meant I could have breakfast in the hotel but it wasn't included and they charged me $40 per person for a pretty ordinary spread.

Velocity

23 Feb 2016

Total posts 22

So what if you don't have the 'breakfast package'? You're barred from buying breakfast in the hotel?? That's... hilarious! 

In any case if you're anywhere in the city you're FAR better off hitting one of the amazing cafes for better coffee & food for 1/2 the price...

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 470

The room service tip/gratuity is interesting. At the Sheraton Waikiki a few years ago, my meal arrived and I signed for it and grabbed my wallet to give the delivery person a tip. He immediately said, "Oh no, sir, no tip is required, there's already a gratuity incorporated into the bill."  Good on him! 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

31 May 2019

Total posts 6

Another reason to thank the Australian Consumer Law! It is illegal to advertise (to Australians) a price which is not the final and all inclusive price... none of that rubbish if you do your searches from Australian websites usually.

The worst I had was in a hotel in Las Vegas during a convention, they wanted to charge me $50  "for storing personal items in the minibar or for altering the contents of the minibar." The best thing to do it just to push back from all this. In this case ring the front desk, tell them you will be emptying the minibar but not consuming anything, so that you can use the space for your own items, and at the end of your stay you will refill the mini bar, so you are alerting them that they can't charge you $50. That's what I did, no drama when I checked out.

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 389

Had exactly the same "using the fridge" tax at Vegas and hotels in other cities. Absolutely insane.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

20 Mar 2018

Total posts 8

I once tried to get a kettle for the room in Vegas - only to be told they are a fire hazard so the hotel doesn't allow them!

so i went to Walmart and bought a open filament to put into a cup to heat up - so much safer

Etihad - Etihad Guest

29 May 2019

Total posts 6

Good move!

Interesting article about US and kettles - https://www.sbs.com.au/food/article/2017/03/10/americans-dont-use-kettles-and-australians-are-completely-floored

Tip: don’t google US + kettles + hotels - you’ll find some very disturbing stories about what people use kettles for 😬🤢

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 389

With most of these charges, at least the sneakiest ones, you just need to be up-front with the hotel, question the charge and make your case against it and ask it be removed. Don't get into heated arguments with the front desk staff, it's in their power to remove the change or enforce it, so just keep your cool, make your case as to why the charge shouldn't be levied, be "firm but fair" as they say.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 May 2015

Total posts 79

Don't forget service charges on included breakfast. I stayed at the Sofitel in Chicago and booked a rate that included breakfast. Upon checkout there was an extra $100 charge which turned out to be a service charge for breakfast. When I asked how it was calculated or what the % was they weren't even able to tell me. It's often the most expensive hotels that are the sneakiest with these sort of charges.

Jetstar Airways - Qantas Frequent Flyer

03 Jul 2018

Total posts 41

Wow.. at a normal 10% service charge, that means breakfast was $1000. 20% means it was $500. That's some breakfast! I hope you were there for at least 5 daily breakfasts for two.

Joe
Joe

03 May 2013

Total posts 664

Exactly why I now avoid USA as a holiday destination. Tips, gratuities, services charges etc etc; as far as the eye can see. The only saving grace for the USA is that shopping can be a steal-literally!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer - Chairmans Lounge

01 Sep 2011

Total posts 408

Im fed up of hotels especially in usa not having housekeeping done daily. I insist it is done. If they are going to diminish service with eg housekeeping once every 3 days,  then adjust the room rate down. No excuses acceptable. Just spent 2 weeks at homewood suites sw 1st av Miami and for what was paid, it was poor standard.

Velocity

23 Feb 2016

Total posts 22

My favourite was back in 2010 at the high-end Maui hotel that didn't have any shade for loungers by the pools unless you paid a minimum of $US100 for various versions of a shelter or $US250 for a gazebo.

My heavily pregnant and pale-skinned wife & I splashed out on a basic one for a day and picked one out by the pool steps for the next day. We settled in next morning and sure enough some loud-mouthed, entitled American woman had a row with the staff insisting she had booked our spot. When staff asked if we would mind moving we obliged without complaint because we were literally moved 3 metres over (the guest tried to buy off her guilt by buying us lunch but we declined that too).

We laughed last though - the staff thanked us by upgrading us for free to the giant gazebo with four loungers, a couch, a bar fridge and a TV - totally over the top but amusing. 

The constant pay-for-everything upgrades though are frustrating and exhausting - how a beach resort can't provide any shade for guests is just weird.

29 Jan 2012

Total posts 114

Well known hotel at the square - I inquired at their business center about a small parcel to be sent overseas, and was curtly demanded to supply CC details before they even knew the size, weight or destination for the parcel - was informed CC details required to source a quote, thus cancelled and made other arrangements. Charge first then inquire what service you require, perhaps this is the standard in the US.

15 Sep 2021

Total posts 9

Not just the US performing this little trick.

On a recent NSW Country weekend getaway,  we returned home to find credit card had been charged with an additional $4.50 

Result of inquiries was that we had used the long life milk from the rooms fridge. Now when we are told coffee and tea making amenities were available we assumed this included the milk held in the rooms fridge.

NO it did not!

Really?? This milk can be easily obtained from Coles/Woollies for around $0.90 

Couldn't care less about the $4.50, neither here nor there, but kind of sneaky wouldn't you agree

Etihad - Etihad Guest

29 May 2019

Total posts 6

Never, ever been charged for this. 

Was it on the price list for chargeable items? I’d name and shame them. Not about the money, terrible customer service IMHO.

16 Jun 2021

Total posts 2

Wow some amazing stories .. Here's a tip - the 3rd partry booking websites are now so powerful that Hotels have to be on these websites to survive.  My tip is to get your price off the 3rd party website and then contact the hotel direct and ask if they can do better, generally they will as anywhere up to 20% of the 3rd party booking site price goes to the 3rd party. 

That's a very good practice and one I started doing a few years ago too. I find the best deal for a hotel on the big sites like Wotif, Expedia etc, then I check the hotel's own rates and if they are more than the booking site I just call the hotel and they will always drop their rate to match, or they will match the same package, eg if the booking site has a room + breakfast, the hotel will offer the same deal. Plus booking direct with the hotel you usually get any perks of status which often don't apply if you go through a booking site.

Amt
Amt

12 Nov 2018

Total posts 15

Everyone talking about the USA… have Australia hotels removed their 2-3% surcharge for credit card payment? I actually threatened to pay one in cash once. Only to be told they couldn’t accept over $5k. 

12 Apr 2022

Total posts 1

I travel extensively in the US. Just in the first 3 months of 2022 I spent 60 nights in the West Coast hotels.. Las Vegas, SF, and Hawaii hotels are notorious for their hidden charges. Me and many other people went to consumer bureau and complained about "resort fees" back in 2015-18 period. California has some of the strongest consumer protection laws. They changed the name to "destiantion fee" as a compromise. It is a gray legal zone, that is why some hotels do take it off the bill, but much less likely lately. Their excuse is Covid, etc. The hotels are making the most $ historically in the US. You can forget about customary daily cleaning (excuse is Covid, although that makes no longer sense). Big chains like Mariott stick to it. I was at Mariott Seattle, had to call in every second day to ask them to clean my room. At one point they suggested if I needed fresh towels to come down to the lobby to get them. At that point, I absolutely refused and gave them my piece of mind. 

I am afraid the fees are becoming huge. My stay at a lovely hotel in SF (Caza hotel) charged me "destination fee" $29 plus tax; Overnight parking $65 (you can not park on the street, since you are almost certain to find your car broken into); Amazon package delivery $10; Mail (envelope) $6; Rate for the room was $290/night.  Drink at the bar (local beer - $13!!!) All together you end up paying well above $400 / night for what would be 3star hotel in Australia / Asia. Unless you absolutely have to travel to the US, it would be advisable to not give US tourism business at this point. 

03 May 2020

Total posts 7

I’m in the USA now..latest trick is to charge credit card $100 a day to cover expenses not known and then leave it to you to fight for it back.  Then of course there is the foreign exchange rate that banks charge in credit cards.  Also top end hotels look stunned when you ask them to make up your room….it’s a towel replacement only policy.

BA Gold

01 Apr 2012

Total posts 175

I know it's cheeky but every time I travel I email the hotel in advance, say I am carrying medication that needs to be kept refrigerated, and can they arrange for an empty fridge in my room when I check in.

90% of the time this is accommodated with no issues, no charge.


Hi Guest, join in the discussion on Gotcha: the worst hidden hotel fees and other cash-grabs