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Don't be a sucker.  Be prepared for hotels trying to slip extra fees and charges onto your bill without prior warning.

Don't be bullied into paying such things.  You don't have to, and shouldn't.

 
 
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How to Negotiate the Best Hotel Room Rate Part Four

Hidden Extra Fees and How to Resolve Them
 

A hotel room safe is seldom very safe, but perhaps better than nothing.

Sometimes offered for free, sometimes at a daily rate triggered when you activate it, but sometimes, you're charged a surcharge for its availability whether you use it or not.

Be sure to understand what the real total complete cost of your hotel room will be, and understand what is included and excluded in the rate so as to avoid nasty surprises when checking out.

Part 4 of a series on How to Negotiate the Best Hotel Room Rate - please also visit

1.  Optimize the Dates of Your Stay

2.  When is the best (and worst) time to make your hotel reservation

3.  What is Included and What is Extra

4.  Hidden extra fees and how to resolve them

5.  Who to Speak/Book With and What to Say

 

 

An increasingly common game, in many industries, is adding a poorly or even not previously disclosed extra fee onto the cost of a transaction.

Some hotels in some regions used to be notoriously dishonest at doing this.  The power of public exposure and shaming, combined with prosecutions from state Attorneys General, has massively reduced such dishonesty, but it may still be lurking in the background.

If you have the proper documentation with you to establish what you are getting and what is included/excluded/extra you can quickly squash any such attempts to trick you into paying more than you fairly should.

Unexpected Extra Charges When You Checkout

Sometimes you may find an unexpected fee is added to your bill without warning or advance notice, and it only appears when you're checking out.

If there is no clear added extra benefit over and above what you would normally expect in a hotel of that type given to you in return for the extra fee, then don’t pay it.  Dispute it.  Say ‘if this is a mandatory fee that everyone has to pay, like it or not, why wasn’t I told about it when I asked about the rate?’  Indeed, if you’re really working up a good head of steam, also ask ‘if this is a mandatory charge that everyone has to pay, and in return for which nothing much extra is given, why isn’t it just part of the room rate?’

A previous example of an often hidden fee that you should dispute is an energy fee.  Hotels have sometimes charged an ‘energy’ surcharge to compensate for the supposedly higher price they might be paying for electricity or gas or whatever.  This surcharge seems to range anywhere up to $5 per room per night.  But you don’t get anything extra for this fee – indeed, the same hotels that are charging more for electricity are also going around and replacing the already dim light bulbs in your room with even dimmer ones!

Other examples include resort properties trying to charge a ‘facilities fee’ for the mere availability of the resort facilities, whether you use them or not, and hotels charging you a mandatory fee for providing an in-room safe, whether you use it or not.  One such hotel attempted to justify this hidden charge by saying they were charging the fee to draw to the guests’ attention the availability of the safe for storing their valuables!

To protect against this, it pays to print out and carry with you copies of the pages on the booking site where you booked your hotel showing what was described and disclosed.  There have been several court cases and also prosecutions by state Attorneys General of hotels that have been 'cheating' by not disclosing fees up front.

Many times hotels will reverse out these hidden charges if you have a good case to show that they truly weren't disclosed to you in advance, and it helps to be resolute about the matter, because you are truly in the right.  But if there was some subtle disclosure which you simply failed to notice, then you're in the wrong, and you have a much weaker case to support your claim for reversal - in that case, you should be polite and apologetic rather than strong and certain in your claim (see our series on How to Complain for suggestions on how to proceed in such cases).

Giving in without giving in

If you're getting nowhere arguing about the claim while checking out and you need to hurry to make a flight or business meeting (and this is what the hotel hopes, of course - they hope that the time pressures acting on you will cause you to give in), go ahead and pay them the amount they're asking for, but write alongside your signature on the credit card charge form 'Under Protest' or 'Disputed'.  That way you can continue the argument through your credit card company, through the booking agency that made your hotel booking for you, and you can also complain to the Attorney General in the state the hotel is located in, if you feel strongly enough about the matter.

Another appropriate place to complain is to the head office of the hotel group (assuming the hotel is a member of a chain rather than an independently owned and operated hotel).  Usually the hotel chain's management is as horrified as you are to discover such deceit, which is almost always not official company policy.  In such cases they may help you get the problem resolved, and will take steps to prevent it re-occurring in the future.

Who is at fault?

Sometimes hotels will say 'I'm sorry, but this is not our fault.  We told (the booking service) about this fee and they should have shown it on their website.  You need to complain to them, not us about this.'

If that happens, ask the person advising you of this to quickly write on a piece of letterhead what they've just told you (a short note simply saying 'We advised XYZ Travel that we will charge you an ABC fee, and they should have told you about this; it is their liability to compensate you, not ours.' is all you need.

You can then address your complaint to the booking service, with this semi-official note from the hotel to support your claim - but only if they have also taken money from you.  If they don't have any of your money, they're not likely to cut you a check and send you a payment to compensate you.

Sometimes you'll find that the person who not ten seconds previously confidently told you it was not their fault will now refuse to write the letter you fairly asked for.  They might say they're not authorized to write letters on behalf of the hotel.  Ask to speak to whoever is authorized, and if no-one is available, put the problem and the responsibility for solving it with the hotel staff member.  Say 'Well, how do we solve this?  I need something to show to the booking service to establish that it is their liability, not yours, to cover this cost - what do you suggest we do?'.  Perhaps if time allows you could suggest 'let's call XYZ up and you can talk to them on the phone and sort it out with them right now'.

If they refuse to do these things, you could also say, in a friendly positive tone of voice 'Look, it isn't really the small dollar cost that is my issue here, but it is the principle of the thing.  I know you have the discretionary ability to make customer service adjustments - why don't you just make an adjustment to the total bill and we get the issue resolved positively now without involving XYZ or anyone else?'

If the booking service didn't take any money from you, tell the hotel 'I understand that, thank you.  It looks like we both have a problem with XYZ Travel.  But, they didn't take any money from me, so I can't ask them for a refund when I never paid them.  Can I ask instead that you deduct the cost of this fee from the commission you pay them?'

If necessary, you can point out that XYZ Travel's website is publicly accessible, and it is a shame the hotel didn't check to make sure the fee was being correctly disclosed, and you can even gently wonder why it is that you are having this problem - surely previous guests have also been inconvenienced, and surely it behooves the hotel to quality control the resellers who are committing the hotel to accepting certain rates and terms of service associated with those rates.

Unexpected fees disclosed when you checkin

Sometimes you'll find a situation where the hotel tells you about an unexpected fee when you checkin rather than trying to spring it on you when you checkout.

In some ways, this is even more objectionable because the hotel is trying to further trap you at a time when you're most susceptible - maybe it is late in the day, you're tired, and there are no other hotels conveniently nearby.  And they'll subsequently use this against you when they say with a dishonest smile on their face 'Well, we told you about this at checkin, you didn't have to stay with us if you weren't prepared to pay the fee'.

Use a similar approach to what you'd use at check-out.  Show the printouts of what you were promised and what you booked, and say 'I have this confirmation (show it to them) that quotes me for a room at this rate (point at the rate on the confirmation and state it) and nowhere does it say that I'll have to pay extra for this hidden fee.  I want the hotel room I was promised ('and which I paid a deposit for already' - if applicable) and guaranteed per this confirmation number.'

If you can't persuade them to honor this, do the same thing of writing 'Disputed' or 'Under Protest' on the checkin forms.  Then continue your dispute with the hotel general manager during your stay, so that you can show you were actively trying to solve the problem while staying there, and follow up as needed afterwards.

You should also try and get the booking service to help you.  Contact them and explain the situation - 'I booked this hotel stay through your service, and you never advised me there'd be this extra fee, but it appears there is no way I can stay at the hotel for the rate you quoted me' and ask them to solve the problem for you - 'Clearly, someone somewhere mis-communicated to someone else about this hotel's booking terms and conditions, and it isn't for me to say who is at fault, but it doesn't seem fair that someone else's mistake means that I'm now penalized'.

Conclusion

Don't reward bad behavior when it comes to being confronted with unexpected and non-disclosed fees.  Be polite and positive, but firm, and be sure of your facts - if a fee really truly wasn't disclosed, then you're in the right.  The hotel knows it is being dishonest and deceitful, and if push comes to shove, it will usually back down.

Read more in the rest of this series

This is part 4 of a series on How to Negotiate the Best Hotel Room Rate - please also visit :

1.  Optimize the Dates of Your Hotel Stay

2.  When is the best (and worst) time to make your hotel reservation

3.  What is Included and What is Extra

4.  Hidden extra fees and how to resolve them

5.  Who to Speak/Book With and What to Say

 

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Originally published 19 Sep 2008, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 

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