As you shop for vacation destinations, be on the lookout for costly resort fees. Resort fees are separate fees added on top of your nightly rate to cover certain amenities that the hotel provides. Resort fees are typically automatically added onto your bill, whether or not you use the amenities that the resort fee covers. Fees can range from a few dollars per night to over $30 per night. They may be optional, but most are not.
Resort fees are primarily added in tourist destinations such as Las Vegas, Florida, Hawaii, and various Caribbean destinations, but they can apply anywhere and they are not necessarily limited to resorts. If that is the case, how can you tell if a resort fee will be tacked onto your bill?
Thanks to actions by the Federal Trade Commission in 2012, hotels and resorts must disclose the booking fees in a reasonably open fashion. However, the fees are still not always obvious.
When booking direct, hotels generally include the resort fee and the amount somewhere on the booking page at or prior to confirmation. However, when booking through Priceline, Expedia, or similar third parties, the fee structures are not always as easy to spot and may be buried in fine print such as "the quoted rate does not include resort fees and any applicable taxes." The fee should be disclosed at some point prior to the booking confirmation page, but it is not guaranteed to be.
What do you get for your resort fees? You can usually get an explanation — and most of the amenities are pretty pedestrian. WiFi, in-room phones, pools, fitness centers, and delivered newspapers can be found on the list of some resort fees. You might argue that these items should be included. The hotel would simply raise the cost of the room in response.
To avoid resort fees, you must be preemptive. Include the resort fee as well as applicable taxes when evaluating your options, and call up the hotel to verify how much the fees are and what they are for. You may get a better deal by booking direct in any case. You can try to negotiate for a better room rate by arguing that you will not use those amenities, but without being part of a loyalty program that is likely to fail.
A searchable list of resort fees may be found at http://www.resortfeechecker.com. However, since this list is neither comprehensive nor guaranteed to be up to date, so it is best to verify all fees with your hotel before booking. That may require making a separate call to check out options if you plan to book with a third party.
What happens if you did not realize there was a resort fee included? Most likely you are out of luck. There have been class action lawsuits filed, including a recent one against the Venetian and Palazzo in Las Vegas, claiming that the fees were not disclosed or poorly disclosed until after booking and confirmation. So far, hotels have prevailed in these lawsuits and as long as the fee disclosure truly is available somewhere prior to confirmation, they probably will continue to do so.
In short, resort fees are just a way for some hotels to pass some of their operating costs along to guests without making it obvious in the nightly rate. The best way to look at them is to consider them as part of the overall price, and assume there is a resort fee unless you confirm with the hotel that there is not one. Then you can accurately evaluate your lodging options for your trip, and make the best choice for your stay.