The worst hidden hotel fees (and how to avoid them)

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

By David Flynn, October 27 2023
The worst hidden hotel fees (and how to avoid them)

Hotels like to call us guests, but have you ever had a stay where a more appropriate term would be ‘Mr/Ms Revenue Centre’? Unfortunately, this feeling is an all too common occurrence for many travellers.

After all, you’ve paid a pretty penny for your room, so to seemingly be hit with a raft of additional charges at every turn – from the downright sneaky to outright insulting – simply feels like a needless cash grab.

These sometimes go way beyond exorbitant-but-expected minibar costs (or that $10 packet of roasted nuts eyeing you from the snack tray) to frivolous charges like reservation fees for a seat at the bar or a charge for using the spa in your room.

During my extensive global 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. These can sometimes be upwards of US$40.

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.

Depending on the hotel and their stipulated fees, you may be better off abandoning the third-party cart and booking directly with the hotel, or finding an alternative property. 

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.

Internet from the dial-up era 

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.

What’s worse is when that upgraded WiFi is only marginally faster than the free version, making you question why you didn’t simply tether from your mobile phone instead. 

Thankfully, more hotels are catching up to the basic need for true high-speed WiFi – sometimes provided free for all, and other times only for loyalty members. The latter is a good case for joining the hotel’s loyalty program when free WiFi is among the perks.

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).

Of course, there’s nothing to stop you simply emptying the fridge of non-perishable items like soft drinks and using the fridge to your heart’s content, before restocking it prior to departure. 

Fees 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 flagged on the hotel’s website (check the section on business services or business centre, or the broader guest services page) it’s not a hard case to make that the fees are not publicised and should be dropped.

However, you can sidestep all that by having your Amazon delivery sent straight to an Amazon locker or other pickup point – check for their locations before placing your order.

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

12 Dec 2016

Total posts 10

Automated minibars with sensors and snack trays with built-in electronic scales are now pretty common at hotels in the US, so emptying the fridge of non-perishable items like soft drinks is not always a good idea. I found out the hard way in Las Vegas when I picked up a bottle to read the label, and put it back. I was automatically billed for the drink, and had to argue for it to be taken off.

UA

30 Jun 2015

Total posts 35

Did exactly this at the Fairmont in Vancouver airport.  Used express checkout so it was only later when I reviewed the folio that the bonus $52 charge was evident. Quick email and it was reversed but lesson learnt on the hidden switch below each item.

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 241

The tip on using Amazon parcel lockers or other collection points is the best way to avoid having to argue with hotels over their 'delivery' fee.

Joe
Joe

03 May 2013

Total posts 672

Thankfully I have never tipped anyone in the US (unless I felt it was deserved). Not falling into that Nth American brainwash trap. I make it quite clear I'm Australian and we only tip when we see fit, let alone currency difference and credit card costs for foreign transactions. I'm not there to pay for a service or product plus the employees salary - all while the employer/owner of the business laughs all the way to the bank. It's already criminal they itemise and attempt to legitimise all sorts of made up costs on the bill, as outlined in this article!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Jan 2018

Total posts 43

It’s not a brainwash trap. It’s a different business model which works there. As a sever, your income IS the tip which you earn for providing your service. When you don’t tip, you deprive your server of an income. That’s not fair. In fact, it’s worse. The IRS deems that servers earn about $15 per hour from tips and taxes them as such, whether they earn it or not, so, by not tipping your server is actually paying to serve you. That’s un-Australian.

Many restaurants tried the Australian style “living wage” variously paying $30 to $40 per hour (USD) and within weeks lost their staff as servers were earning much more from tips.

One of the great joys of travel is experiencing difference. Saying “I’m an Aussie and I’m not going to play” does an injustice to you and those you interact with.

PK
PK

03 May 2012

Total posts 120

Well said rnickey. It is un-Australian to visit a foreign country and knowingly exploit foreign workers by having them serve you for free, or worse, at their cost. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

31 Oct 2020

Total posts 3

100% there rnickey mouse, people shouldn't comment when they don't understand the system and culture.

Tips are part of a service workers wages and protected by most states, with laws on how tips are distributed and who can and can't participate in tip sharing.  Business owners (speaking for CA here) certainly can't, all those XX% auto gratuities on a bill must go to the employees and the business has to declare these. The state and IRS automatically assume a baseline earning for a service workers tips and tax a %.  The only ones laughing here are the tax collectors.

The fact that with tips they are earning more than “Australian style ‘living wage’ of $30 to $40 per hour (USD)” would appear to indicate that diners are paying excessive amounts of tips.

21 Jul 2021

Total posts 3

Yes, had the same thing happen to me with the mini-bars with the sensors years ago in the US, took out all their stuff (so I wouldn't get confused) and put a lot of my own stuff in there, just before checkout, put all their items back in. They wanted to charge me their exorbitant charges for everything in there, then had to argue that I had put it all back

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 241

Yeah, I hate it when minibars are so small and full of hotel stuff that you can't your own things in there, and then on top o that they have those sensors under every item. My solution is simply that after I get to the room, I ring down to the front desk and tell them I will be taking EVERYTHING out of the fridge so I can use it myself for my own supplies, so they can ignore whatever the sensors tell them, and that everything will be left on the table or wherever and I'll put it all back before I check out. I have never had an issue with this approach, they always appreciate me letting them know and I have never had the charge appear on my statement when I check out.

05 Dec 2018

Total posts 148

In regards to the fridge issue, what you can do is ask the hotel for another fridge for your medication. This can get around those annoying vending machine type fridges.

What you deem as medicinal is none of the hotel’s business.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer P1

23 Aug 2014

Total posts 139

Thanks David for increasing awareness of the rort that is the "resort fee" particularly on the West Coast (US) - even hotel staff when pressed are often embarrassed abut justifying the benefits of this fee.

An assertive stance can sometimes have it removed or result in an actual bonus benefit or upgrade, particularly at The Taj chain

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Mar 2011

Total posts 270

Credit card surcharges on booking some hotels, where you have to pay upfront.

Some hotels will let you pay on check out.


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