By Sara K. Clarke, Tribune Newspapers
8:09 PM EDT, June 20, 2013
So you finally grasp the fees many airlines charge for things such as extra suitcases and added legroom? Well, before you fly off on vacation this summer, be aware there's at least one more surcharge many travelers face once they reach their destination: the hotel "resort fee."
Typically ranging from just a few dollars to $30 a day, these catch-all hotel fees are catching on in popular travel destinations nationwide.
Segregating the cost of certain amenities and creating a separate charge for them allows hotels to keep their basic room rates as low as possible, an important consideration, given that the Internet now allows travelers to compare hundreds of hotel prices in seconds using a computer, smartphone or digital tablet.
But these resort fees, which might cover things such as Internet access, a fitness center or pool, usually are mandatory and, if combined with a daily parking fee, can increase the cost of a vacation or business trip by hundreds of dollars a week.
"Call the hotel directly and ask," advises Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel.com, a travel-resource website. Added fees, she said, are "definitely becoming a problem for more and more travelers."
In Orlando, Fla., one of the most popular destinations in the country, the trophy for biggest resort fee, $30 a day, goes to Nickelodeon Suites Resort, according to FeeZing.com, an upstart Internet site that has begun tracking such fees. Bill Maloney, the site's founder, started by focusing on the nation's two largest hotel markets, Las Vegas and Orlando. The site also compiles fees charged by the major U.S. airlines.
"Even smaller hotels or less-expensive hotels, where you wouldn't expect to see it, you're still seeing some fees," said Maloney, whose site collects fee data from hotels and uses "secret shoppers" to verify the amounts. "In a way, you can't blame them, because people will go for the lower (room) rate."
At the Nick hotel, the fee includes parking as well as local telephone calls, Internet access, live entertainment and the use of an on-site water park, a hotel spokesman said.
At a hotel such as the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, the resort fee and a self-parking charge can add as much as $41 a day to the cost of a room, according to FeeZing. At Universal Orlando's three hotels, there is no resort fee on the bill, but separate charges for the Internet and parking still add $28 a day to the cost of a stay.
The federal government, which recently cracked down on airlines for failing to disclose certain surcharges when advertising their fares, already is casting a suspicious eye on resort fees.
In November, the Federal Trade Commission sent a letter to 22 hotel chains warning that their online-reservation systems may violate the law because they provide a "deceptively low estimate" of the price consumers can expect to pay for a room. The agency strongly encouraged the companies to review their websites to ensure that quoted room rates include all mandatory fees.
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