Guests get fed up as hotel fees pile up

It's the little — and not so little — hotel fees that drive frequent traveler Michael Sommer up a wall.

Sommer says he has been charged hundreds of dollars this year in handling fees on FedEx packages that he sent or received. He also was charged for a toll-free call from his room at a Marriott hotel to the hotel company's reservations number, and he was assessed a handling fee, as well as a cleaning charge, when he had a shirt laundered.

"Hotel chains are nickel-and-diming people to death," says Sommer, a technology consultant in Jacksonville who spent more than 230 nights in hotels last year. It's particularly annoying, he says, that hotels in the same chain have different policies and don't waive fees for their best customers.

Many business travelers agree with Sommer, and some say that hotels set high prices because they know it's a hassle for guests to find outside vendors for such services. "Hotels, to a significant degree, hold their guests hostage," says frequent traveler Peter Roberts, who works in the banking industry and lives year-round in hotels.

Joe McInerney, president of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, disagrees.

"Hotel guests can find out about these charges when making a reservation and choose where they want to stay," he says. "They can stay at a hotel that provides these services or go to an outside vendor."

McInerney says hotel fees for incidental services represent a "minuscule" amount of total revenue.

In 2007, revenue from sources other than room rental and food and beverage sales in restaurants, lounges and banquet space was less than 6% of total hotel revenue, according to PKF Hospitality Research. The sources were, among others, retail shops, golf, spa, in-room movies, parking, commercial leases, laundry, telephones, mail handling and bag storage.

A PKF Hospitality survey of 6,000 hotels found that, for each hotel room occupied last year, the average revenue was $141.72 for room rental, $53.16 for food and drinks, and $12.34 for other expenses. Hotel chains say they allow individual hotels to decide whether to charge a fee, and many hotels are simply passing their costs for a service onto guests.

But the problem may not be as pervasive as travelers think. USA TODAY selected 20 U.S. hotels and requested their charges for handling packages, toll-free calls and laundering clothes — some of the most common services needed by frequent business travelers.

Most do not charge for toll-free phone calls or for sending or receiving a package. Policies — and laundry charges — vary at hotels within the same chain.

At the Atlanta Marriott Downtown, it costs $4 to receive an overnight letter from a courier company and $11 to receive a package up to 25 pounds. A 51-pound package has a $45 handling fee.

At the San Diego Marriott Mission Valley, there is no charge to receive a package, but it costs $10 to send a package, or $25 for a package over 49 pounds. At the Chicago Marriott O'Hare, there is no charge to send or receive a package.

Marriott spokesman John Wolf says Marriotts "generally do not charge" for toll-free calls, but the company "allows hotels to charge if the market they operate in also charges." The company lets individual hotels decide whether to charge for handling packages, but, "We strongly encourage them to use discretion."

Holiday Inn does not allow its hotels to charge for toll-free phone calls, says spokesman Brad Minor.

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