Believe It or Not, Resort Fees Finding Ways to Get Worse

Mar 5, 2019

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Resort fees, destination fees, facility use fees — travelers universally hate these added fees that often contribute no value to a hotel stay but can sometimes cost more than the nightly hotel rate itself. The bad news is that these fees are getting worse. Much worse and in ways you probably haven’t seen before.

Mandatory resort fees have been increasingly common at hotels in popular leisure destinations including Las Vegas, the Caribbean, Hawaii and Orlando since the late 1990s and early 2000s. Then a couple of years ago, the fees started sprouting up in cities at decidedly non-resort hotels. As the fees expanded beyond resorts, they got new names including: destination fees, facility fees and amenity fees.

Reportedly, there were 15 hotels in New York City that charged destination fees in 2016. By 2018 there were 84. I’d bet that number is even higher now in 2019. For example, during my recent stay at the St. Regis New York there is a mandatory destination fee of $50 per room, per night. Last year, we used points to stay at the Westin Grand Cayman where there is a mandatory $65 per night resort fee, even when staying on points.

But just when I thought I’d seen it all with resort fees, I was recently thrown a curve ball at a Caribbean resort that may be a peek into the next wave of resort fee nastiness. Not only that, but a Manhattan hotel has a new way of eeking out some extra dollars, too.

Why Do Resort Fees Exist?

Before we delve into the new ways hotels are taking more from your wallet with fees, let’s talk about why it is happening. Obviously, resort fees exist to make the hotels more money. Sure, hotels may say the fees are to bundle items and services travelers want into one “convenient” fee, but when that fee isn’t optional, it isn’t convenient, it’s another name for a higher nightly rate.

Resort fees allow hotels to make it look, at first glance, like there is a lower going rate than there truly is for the room in question. It also allows them to not pay commissions and such on that portion of the rate to sites such as Expedia, travel agents, etc.

As Richard Kerr of Award Travel 101 points out, even the US government has said that, ” … separating mandatory resort fees from posted room rates without first disclosing the total price is likely to harm consumers by increasing the search costs and cognitive costs of finding and choosing hotel accommodations.” I couldn’t agree more. And yet, here we are with ever-increasing resort fees.

How High Do Resort Fees Go?

Resort fees can cost more than the actual room rate. You will find this frequently at some inexpensive Las Vegas casinos. At Circus Circus, room rates are often less than $30 per night before taxes and fees. However, the resort fee is a constant $32 per night ($36.28 with taxes).

This takes what looks like a $24 room and turns it into a room that costs $63.49, which is a pretty far cry from the initial $24 number. Circus Circus is a pretty low-budget experience with or without the resort fee, but resort fees have infiltrated luxury resorts, too.

The Dorado Beach Resort, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve property, routinely has rates over $1,000 per night and you can’t earn or use Marriott points when staying there. Including taxes, the mandatory nightly resort fee at this property crosses the $100 per night threshold at $104.98 in added mandatory charges per night on top of an already-expensive hotel stay. That’s not even the highest resort fee out there though — Fisher Island Club and Resort in Miami reportedly has a nightly resort fee that rings in at $160!

Resort Fees at Non-Resorts

Resort fees rebranded as destination fees have infiltrated big cities, but that invasion aside, these fees exist in some locations that are really neither big city destinations or traditional resorts. For example, hotels from chains such as Best Western and Travel Lodge don’t offer amenities you would probably associate with a resort, but resort fees persist none-the-less at these brands in cities where resort fees are common — like Orlando.

A New Enemy: Per Person Resort Fees

So resort fees can cost more than your hotel rate, can sail over $100 per night and exist at properties that are decidedly not resorts. How could things possibly get any worse?

Things can get worse if resort fees are charged per person. Recently, my husband and I had a long weekend getaway to Scrub Island in the British Virgin Islands. The location is beautiful, but the final bill came as a jarring parting surprise to a weekend in paradise (and not because of the $15 frozen daiquiris).

I had seen a $30 resort fee mentioned on the website when booking, which is almost tame by today’s resort fee standards. But what my eyes had missed was that the mandatory $30 nightly charge wasn’t per room, as is most common in the hotel industry, it is charged per person.

For the two of us, that meant it wasn’t $30 per night, but rather $60 (plus taxes and fees) per night added to the total nightly bill. I’ve encountered lots of fees in my traveling career, but this was the first per person resort fee that I’d faced. This is fully disclosed on the hotel’s site, but it just wasn’t something I even knew to read closely to catch. 

While it’s not yet too common, it’s not just Scrub Island that has a per person resort fee. The Fairmont Southampton Princess in Bermuda also charges per person fees in the form of a resort levy of $16.76 USD per person, daily. Oh and don’t forget the mandatory gratuities of $11 per person per day.

Variable Resort Fee

Another relatively new enemy is the variably priced resort fee. Richard Kerr from Award Travel 101 told TPG about a resort fee first he just encountered at the Hotel 48 Lex in Manhattan. If you book a stay directly with the hotel, there is a nightly $35 ‘House Privileges Fee’ (that’s yet another fancy name for resort fee) that covers essentially nothing beyond what you would expect a full-service hotel to provide. That’s already not great, but it gets worse if you book via a third-party site like Travelocity or similar.

For those third party guests, the $35 nightly fee jumps to a $60 nightly fee for the very same room and the very same ‘amenities’ included in the fee.

How to Avoid Resort Fees

Don’t stay at hotels with resort fees

If you have had enough of the increasing resort fee insanity, there are ways to avoid them. First, you can simply choose to not stay at a hotel or resort that charges a fee, though you do have to pay very close attention to the website and booking process to sort through whether or not a resort fee is charged as it is not always obvious. The website can help, too. In resort fee epicenters, like Las Vegas, avoiding resort fees at hotels will be very tough but not impossible. (The Four Queens downtown has no resort fee.)

Las Vegas Strip
Las Vegas Strip (Getty Images)

Use points to avoid resort fees

Another way to avoid resort fees is to stay using your points at certain brands. Both Hyatt and Hilton do not charge resort fees to guests when staying on a purely points award stay. The same is not true of cash and points stays. This savings can be significant, and is something to factor in when deciding whether to use points or cash for a stay.

For example, the Andaz Maui currently charges 25,000 World of Hyatt points per night for an award stay (increasing to 30k in March 2019). If you book an award room, it really will cost just 25,000 points per night and you won’t pay the $45 per night resort fee. Unless you want to really parse through the details of each hotel, there’s no more reliable weapon against resort fees than staying on points awards at those brands.

Andaz Maui

In our tests, Wyndham also seems to waive resort fees on award stays, though I have heard some inconsistencies in practice, so Hilton and Hyatt are the safest bets on points.

Use elite status to avoid resort fees

While it is not common, you can sometimes use elite status to avoid paying resort fees. For example, Hyatt waives resort fees on paid stays for Globalist elites, which is truly a valuable elite benefit.

Another way to avoid resort fees is via status in select casino programs. For example, Caesars Rewards members who are at the Diamond or Seven Stars elite levels do not pay resort fees, which is a big deal in Vegas (if you don’t want to stay at the Four Queens).

Caesars Palace Las Vegas
Caesars Palace Las Vegas

Caesars Diamond status is more attainable than you’d think via a number of pathways — even if you never gamble. One easy pathway is that Wyndham Rewards Diamond status matches to Caesars Diamond status. Not to worry if you don’t currently have Wyndham Diamond status as you can status match to that status level from hotel programs. It may not last forever, but that status match may help you on an upcoming trip.

Currently, even Hilton Gold status that you can earn from having the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card matches to Wyndham Diamond. That can then be matched to Caesars Diamond status, which protects you from resort fees in Las Vegas at casino resorts such as Caesars, Bally’s, Planet Hollywood and more.

Bottom Line

Basically, no one outside of the hotel industry likes resort fees, and yet they are only increasing in amount and frequency. As was my experience in the British Virgin Islands, resort fees may now even increase when you bring friends or family along for the trip when they are charged on a per person basis. Or, the fees may increase if you don’t book directly as seen a 48 Lex in New York City. Stay vigilant when booking as hotels are finding new ways to charge you more than the stated nightly rate.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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