Hotel deal vanishes, thanks to irritating 'resort fee'
Like airlines, some hotels are "unbundling" their services, including charging a $25 resort fee for use of pool and other facilities (even if you don't use them).
Detroit Free Press
The Mirage hotel in Las Vegas seemed like an amazing summer deal on Expedia: $74.35 for the room and $7.18 in taxes. However, the smug traveler likely did not notice the fine print caveat: an additional $25 per-night "resort fee" would be charged when you checked in.
What did the fee cover? "Complementary" in-room Wi-Fi and use of the pool and facilities, even if you did not use them.
The resort fee did not cover snacks in the room, where a 3.75-oz mini bag of trail mix was $12. A bottle of Dasani water was $5. Pick up the phone to make even a local call and it was $1 for the first 30 minutes and 15 cents a minute after that.
At the pool, a small can of beer was $7.50. It cost $16.95 to see two dolphins in the "secret garden."
I do not mean to imply that Mirage is alone in its creative ways of separating customers from their money. It's just doing what other hotels across America are doing these days: "unbundling" services the way airlines do, nickel-and-diming customers with mysterious, made-up fees.
Often called "resort charges" or just "service fees," they are vague and usually are not charged until the customer arrives at the hotel.
Because most customers tend to be 1) only interested in the base rate; 2) impatient with fine print; 3) in a hurry, and 4) not too bright, they work.
Hotel websites and online travel booking sites dutifully note the fact these resort fees exist — in small print below the big, exciting boldfaced price of the room. Expedia, for example, states that "some properties have extra fees for amenities or services that may apply even if you don't use them." Expedia clearly lists the $25 resort fee — but I wonder how many people actually read that far.
Is there anything the customer can do to avoid these fees? Yes. Book hotels that don't have them.
Or, factor the fees into the true total cost of the stay. It still may be a deal; even with the fee, the Mirage room was only $106.53 a night. Just know that resort fees are out there.
Meanwhile, I am flying the yellow caution flag for booking car rentals and airline tickets, too. Here are a couple new twists:
Cars: Most car rentals have unlimited mileage — but mileage restrictions are creeping into the marketplace — 25 cents a mile after 150 miles, for example. If a price seems extra good, double-check the "rules and restrictions" clause for mileage charges. Also make sure your rental price includes taxes and fees. Sometimes they can be higher than the rental price itself.
Airlines: I flew Allegiant Air recently, and although I know the low-fare carrier charges for both checked and carry-on baggage, the price was so cheap it still was worth it. But when I checked in online and tried to pay for my carry-on, it gave two prices — cash or credit, just like at the gas station. It was $12 if you used a debit card, $13 if you used a credit card.
That reflects the recent settlement between big merchants and credit card companies that allows merchants to pass along to customers their cost of processing credit card transactions.
Allegiant, naturally, is presenting it as a "debit card discount," not a "credit card surcharge."
Yet I am alarmed by the enticement to use debit cards — essentially paying cash — for airline tickets or other kinds of travel products.
Credit cards carry protections debit cards don't have. If the company goes under without providing you the service, or if they double charge you, you can contest the charges through a credit card. If you paid cash via debit card, oops, too bad.
I don't know about you, but all these resort fees and dubious discounts give me a headache and make me feel like staying home.
Ellen Creager's column runs occasionally at seattletimes.com/travel