by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | March 01, 2008

IllustrationIt is no secret that many resorts charge a daily “resort fee” -- which can be anywhere from $10 to $25 per day -- in addition to the agreed-upon room rate. But it’s not the only dollar add-on guests can expect to find on their invoices at checkout. Over the past several years, hotels have initiated a slew of new fees, from parking and portage to minibar restocking, Internet access and luggage storage. As far as revenue streams go, these added surcharges, many for services that not long ago were complimentary, are hugely profitable and growing.

According to lodging analyst Bjorn Hanson, principal of New York City-based Pricewaterhouse-Coopers’ Hospitality and Leisure group, hotels reaped close to $2 billion from such surcharges in 2007, a substantial increase from the $550 million they collected in 2003. What’s more, for 2008 Hanson predicts an increase in the number of hotels charging these fees, as well as a hike in the amounts charged. And that is on top of the 6 percent increase in average daily room rates PWC is forecasting for 2008 as the industry extends its seller’s market momentum for yet another year.

Under-the-radar fees

Hoteliers love to use the term “transparency” when describing how the Internet has transformed room rate pricing. When it comes to resort fees and surcharges, however, the reality is more like a thick, black veil. Of the 25 randomly selected resorts in the accompanying chart (see page 42), M&C had to call the reservation center of each property and run down a list of potential services to find out if the property charged an additional fee for any of them.

The list of ancillary fees is endless. Just because there’s coffee and bottled water in your room doesn’t necessarily mean it’s complimentary. Plan on using the in-room safe? Chances are, you’ll pay. Hoping to hit the treadmill at the fitness center before a long day of meetings? Better check if it’s included in the room rate. Need to catch up on e-mail between events? There might be a connection charge, even if you brought your own wireless card. And while the hotel will gladly store your luggage for a few extra hours after checkout, there could be a portage fee for the service.

Finding these hidden fees takes perseverance and time. For example, M&C found that while the website for the Wigwam Golf Resort and Spa ( in Litchfield Park, Ariz., clearly listed a $15 fee to access the fitness facility, management company Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide’s site for the resort, which is a member of the chain’s Luxury Collection, did not. It merely included a line within the resort’s “Features & Activities” section that read, “Fees on certain facilities/services may apply.”

“Each resort has the ability to decide whether to charge a resort fee or fees for any type of service,” explains David Scypinski, senior vice president, industry relations, for Starwood. “Those fees can also change at any time, which is why we don’t put it on the Starwood site. It’s too hard to keep up with them.”

A “travesty” is how Maureen Beck, a sales associate with Elmhurst, Ill.-based Select Meeting Sites, describes these hidden fees. “I don’t see why they can’t in-clude it in the rate they quote you,” she says. “You always have to ask them for the resort fee, and then you have to ask them what other fees they charge, because they don’t come right out and tell you. My clients have to have that information so they can divulge it to their attendees, who need to know what their potential spend is going to be, because it determines if they can go to the program.”

The probability of hotels bundling resort fees into their room rates is highly unlikely, says former longtime Marriott sales executive Mike Beardsley. “Rates are highly competitive, because most people shop by rate, which is why these fees are always listed as additional line items,” notes Beardsley, now CEO of Inn Fluent, an Ashburn, Va.-based third-party site-selection firm. “Still, all fees need to be disclosed in the group’s contract, and if they aren’t, you are not liable for them.”