Drawn in by the low rates and luxe amenities of hotels, we often find ourselves floored by the final bill come checkout. Why? Well, we forget about all the nickel-and-diming that happens while we’re in the room watching RuPaul’s “Drag Race.” Take our advice and avoid these blisteringly high hotel fees at all costs; in most cases, you can spot them a mile away.
1: Booze, bevies, and bites in your room
This one might seem obvious in 2020, but it still throws some people off. Let’s say you book a room for a celebration at a swanky boutique hotel. You walk in your room and amazingly, the staff has treated you to a tray of high-end crackers, a small bottle of single-malt whiskey, and a quaint 375m-bottle of Cab. How thoughtful! Here’s the catch: Every item on that tray will be charged to your bill if you open it. Some people are fooled by the fact that there are no prices listed on the items themselves or even included on the tray — but the prices will be posted somewhere in the room. If you can’t find them, call the front desk and ask.
As added motivation for avoiding the boozy welcome: Know that there’s a significant markup on in-room treats. For example, a bottle of wine that ordinarily costs $20 in the store could be marked as a $40 item in your hotel room. It pays to avoid this unnecessary convenience.
2: Safe fees
We’ve never used a safe in a hotel, but if you happen to bring something of value on your vacation, you may want to keep it locked up while you’re out and about. Just be warned that the hotel may charge a daily safe fee. It’s typically a modest amount ($2-5/day), but check with the concierge or front desk before using it to be sure. Otherwise, you have two options: Don’t bring valuables on your vacation or take them with you whenever you leave the room.
3: Dry cleaning
Dry cleaning fees: another given, right? And yet, some fancy hotels present themselves as obsequious all-inclusives, leading guests to assume dry cleaning and laundering services are just part of the room bill. Not so; costs per item range from $5 to $30, so don’t go leaning on the staff to keep your skivvies clean. Just bring enough clothes to get you through your vacation — no matter how fancy your hotel might be. In a pinch, find a nearby laundromat; the front desk staff or concierge should be able to point you in the right direction.
As a marketing lure, many a hotel chain will boast “free WiFi.” In some cases, however, that free WiFi exists only in common areas — the lobby, the pool, the restaurant, and so forth. Once you enter your room, you might be dinged with a daily rate. Those rates vary, of course, but run around $20/day. Some hotels even have internet tiers, with faster speeds costing almost twice as much. Before you log on, be sure you know the fees associated with internet use. Alternatively, use your phone to create a WiFi hotspot — and keep your surfing to a minimum.
5: Baggage storage fees
Let’s say you’re leaving late but the checkout time is 11am. You need to stow your luggage somewhere while you kick it in the city, waiting for your flight. You head down to the front desk and ask them to store your luggage for you. Unless the hotel explicitly offers complimentary baggage storage, expect to pay $1-4/hour. If you’re not sure if the hotel will charge you, ask a front desk agent. In some places, you can even negotiate to get less than an hour storage for free. Regardless, though, know the hotel policy and have a backup plan in case their fees are hefty. In a pinch, use a locker at the airport.
(Oh, also: Ask about their storage facility and who has access to it. If you’re worried about the security of your baggage, you want to know that it will be stored in a room that’s locked, accessible only by hotel staff, and is not thrown in with a bunch of other random supplies.)
6: Resort fees
All-inclusive for one flat price? Yes! Well, except for that pesky little resort fee. Here’s the scheme: Resorts advertise a low price for a room, food, drinks, and other amenities; this gets vacationers chomping at the bit to book. When they get to the resort, however, they find that a hefty resort fee has been tacked on to their bill — a sneaky way to boost profits that resorts don’t have to advertise. And while some travelers may shrug and forget about it, others may find that difficult; resort fees can run as much as $50/room/night. To get out of it, book a stay with points or some kind of loyalty award. Alternatively, leverage your elite status (if you have one with the resort brand) to get out of it.
7: Housekeeping fees
In most hotels, daily cleanup of each room is part of the nightly cost; we just assume the cleaning staff will be by to change our sheets and towels, vacuum, and do a little tidying. If you throw a rager, however, there might be a bit more to clean — and that means added fees. These can vary wildly depending on the extent of the cleaning and repair that’s needed, so just avoid it altogether by being a well-mannered, mostly-sober guest.
(Insider’s note: The cleaning fees at home rentals, VRBOs, and Airbnbs are famously higher than hotels. Keep that in mind if you choose to go the room-share route. For more info, check out this article from USA Today.)
8: Early departure fee
Need to shuffle off early? No problem — except there is a problem. In all likelihood, the hotel can’t turn your hotel room around fast enough to secure another reservation, so they have to recoup their losses. How? By charging an early departure fee of $50 or more. You can avoid this if you’re an elite or loyal brand customer, but otherwise, it’s recommended that you just stick it out for the duration of your reservation. That said, if you have an emergency, explain it to the hotel staff and they’ll likely be able to waive all or part of the early departure fee.
9: Extra person fee
It’s not uncommon for hotel guests to have friends or family over to their room. Hotels expect this. However, when one or more people end up spending the night (intentionally or accidentally), they may decide to tack on an extra person fee. This can run as much as $50/person/night, so plan to kick visitors out the door before it’s lights out. To be extra safe, ask them to leave before 10pm.
10: Gym or spa fee
Think all onsite facilities are available to guests as part of the nightly hotel fees? Think again. Some hotels will tack on a fitness center or spa fee to help offset the cost of having staff onsite to help with facility maintenance and guest assistance. If it’s a particularly extensive operation, it’s always worth confirming whether or not you need to pay extra to use the gym/spa. If you’re desperate for exercise, take a walk (or a run) outside. If you need spa-like pampering, buy some cucumbers from the store and put a couple slices on your eyes while you relax in bed. Same diff, right?
(NB: Then again, most people who say they’re going to use the hotel gym never do. Maybe just enjoy your vacation and don’t worry about getting your reps in.)
11: Telephone surcharge
It might be common knowledge that long-distance calls incur a fee, but make no mistake: Many a hotel will also charge you for local calls. This is less of an issue in the cell phone era, but unless you need to call the front desk (mercifully fee-free), avoid using the in-room phone altogether.
12: Mandatory valet parking
It sounds kind of like an oxymoron, but mandatory valet parking really does exist at some hotels — if you want to use the hotel lot. So either be prepared to pay $15-plus (not counting tip) to get your car parked, or just find a street spot for your hot wheels. Otherwise, we recommend taking public transportation or a ride share to your hotel.
13: Extra towels
Get a little extra dirty? Call down to the front desk for more towels — or, wait, don’t. If you don’t read the fine print, you pay be paying extra $$$ for that extra fluffiness. Prices vary and will seldom break the bank, but will likely have you scratching your head at checkout. Instead of trying to decipher your bill, just use a blow dryer.
14: In-room accessories
Think that soap and shampoo is yours to take? Well, in most cases it is. But you might find an extra fee charged to your bill after checkout if the cleaning staff finds you used an inordinate amount of cleaning product — especially if it’s the posh stuff. All things in moderation; just clean with what you need and refrain from taking home a souvenir you’ll end up throwing away anyhow.