Dale McCarthy anticipated her family’s planned February vacation to Grand Cayman would be expensive. Hotel rates are at a premium during school breaks. Ditto airfare.
But McCarthy still experienced sticker shock when the Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa informed her there would be a $150-per-night fee to guarantee connecting rooms. The family of four typically gets two separate sleeping areas at an activity-packed resort to accommodate their son who has special needs.
“I was totally surprised. It’s not like we don’t travel. We’ve been to plenty of other hotels, and I’ve never gotten hit with this charge,” she said.
Many industry experts said they hadn’t heard of connecting room fees before, but they agreed that hotels are tacking on fees at a heightened pace for everything from restocking the minibar to having the bellman hold your baggage.
“When there are a lot of fees, you feel nickel-and-dimed,” said Wendy Perrin, owner of the online travel advice site that bears her name. “As a mom who travels with her children all the time, it’s so expensive that any hotel that makes it more expensive — it just feels punitive.”
The charges may feel like punishments, especially when there are so many of them. According to an August 2014 report from the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University, “Total fees and surcharges collected by US hotels will increase to another record level of $2.25 billion in 2014.”
The increase is a combination of more fees and higher amounts charged, the trend report stated.
McCarthy, who called the hotel to discuss the fee after booking the rooms through a travel agent, said a front desk staffer explained that the exorbitant fee insures that these rooms are taken out of inventory, a requirement because of the limited number of connecting rooms, the period of high demand for the rooms, and to make up for potential loss of income should, for example, someone else contact the hotel three days prior to the reserved stay and want the rooms for longer. Repeated e-mails to the Westin Grand Cayman could prompt no explanation for the fee.
“It feels financially out of bounds,” said McCarthy, whose travel agent got the hotel to reduce the charge so the family is paying it for five of the seven nights they are staying there. “If you do the math, it’s a lot of money, and it would pay for 2½ months of our son’s therapeutic services.”
Perrin said $150 is as steep a surcharge as she’s seen. The increasingly common “resort fee” many hotels charge is $20-$30 a day.
“It’s for the use of certain facilities and services, some of which you’d expect to get for free and some you might have to pay a little extra for,” said Perrin. “It can include the daily newspaper, use of bicycles, use of the pool, the gym. It depends on the amenities, but it’s usually a mix of five to 10 things you’re getting. And it’s a mandatory fee that sometimes might takes travelers by surprise.”
Susan Peavey, whose eponymous travel agency has outposts in Harwich, Marshfield, and Randolph, doesn’t think hotel fees have become as rampant as airline charges, but has noticed an uptick in hidden fees in certain destinations such as Las Vegas, Hawaii, and New York.
“It could include a housekeeping charge, which is usually charged at checkout,” said Peavey, who reminds her clients to ask questions about fees at check-in. “You have to be aware of what you’re doing.”
Hank Phillippi Ryan knows about the Las Vegas fees first-hand. Last year, the mystery author stayed at the Paris Hotel and Casino while attending the American Library Association’s annual conference. After a fruitless search in the hotel lobby for a computer to print her airline boarding pass, she found a kiosk requiring $7.95.
“I went to the concierge and asked, ‘Can you print my boarding pass for me?’ ” Phillippi Ryan recalled. “He said, ‘Sure, that will be $5. It’s the cheapest you’ll find in Las Vegas.’ I just went to the airport and printed my pass there.”
Phillippi Ryan, an investigative reporter for WHDH-TV, theorized that hotels charge the fee because most guests will pay it without grousing.
“I’m a constant traveler. It can be so exhausting and tiring that I’ll do almost anything to make it less so. Most people are intimidated by the potential difficulties of getting from here to there that they’re willing to pay extra to make it more comfortable,” she said. “I suppose the attitude is: If people will pay, why not charge it?”
Phillippi Ryan, who stayed in some 50 hotels across the country in 2014, said surcharges seem to be on the rise across all travel platforms. “I’ve been in cabs where they say it’s 5 percent extra for a credit card fee,” she said. “I say, ‘I’m not going to pay that.’ That’s my one holdout.”
Regardless of whether it’s a taxi company or hotel, Phillippi Ryan said all the fees leave her with a bad feeling about the experience. She said she has recently started to see printed envelopes in hotel rooms suggesting guests tip.
“When the hotel demands you say thank you, it’s less pleasant. It seems like an institutionalized thank you,” she said.
But Christina Gambini, vice president of hotel programs for Tzell Travel Group, said hotel surcharges aren’t about manners. They are simply new revenue sources in an industry that is constantly adapting. She cited the loss of income in recent years from unused landline telephones in hotel rooms as one example of a motivating factor for new (or newly noticed) charges.
“Some of the fees we’re seeing, [hotels] might have had for a long time,” she said. “It can be Wi-Fi. It’s very standard, but if you want to do anything with it, you have to pay. It might be free for e-mail, but to download or stream there’s a premium.”
Experts said fighting the fees works on occasion, and Peavey said booking through a travel agent gives guests an extra voice in the argument. While she said she has personally never encountered a hotel that guarantees connecting rooms, she does take a proactive approach, calling the destination a week in advance of the stay to push the accommodation through.
“We’re a free service and we work for the client. We e-mail the [general manager]. We go thru the sales office. We have hotel reps we call,” she said. “I think we have a better chance than the public does.”
Joe Viger of North Conway, N.H., said anyone can usually negotiate a reduced — or eliminated — fee if they have the time and energy to devote to the process. He flew 30,000 miles and stayed in dozens of hotels last year for his job in software sales. He said his extensive travels have helped him form strategies for gaining the upper hand on certain surcharges. He always fights resort fees and he prefers to speak with female customer service representatives who, he said, are more willing to compromise.
“You do have the power to influence the situation in your favor,” Viger said. “Sometimes it’s worth hanging up on the agent if you’re not getting a good vibe and calling back. You are usually a little at the mercy of the person you’re dealing with.”