Readers Feel the Pinch of Paying Hotel Extras
DON’T get Jesse White started about those fees and surcharges that high-end hotels slap onto your bill.
He was more than happy to discuss his annoyance with that kind of treatment.
“It’s fee, fee, fee — a litany of fees,” said Mr. White, who owns a retail business in Florida called Sarasota
Architectural Salvage that specializes in period furnishings for restorations.
“When I’m a traveler, I’m mostly a business traveler, and I’m looking for value and not getting it when I
stay at these hotels,” he said. “Plus it hurts, as a business owner, when you send other people on the
road, when you’ve budgeted X for the travel but it comes back X plus 20 percent. It drives me crazy.”
He said he recently took his family to a luxury hotel for a holiday — “three rooms; a huge bill, including a
mandatory valet parking fee in a place with a huge amount of available parking space,” he said. In the
departure commotion, with many guests waiting out front for their cars, he forgot one suitcase filled
“mostly with the kids’ toys,” he said.
When he called the hotel from home to ask about the suitcase, he was told someone would get back to
him. “And that was it. “Nothing. They never got back to us,” he said. “Their niche is high-end customer
service, and they don’t call a person back?”
On the other hand, like most business travelers, Mr. White said he stays more often at midrange hotels
that seldom add fees. These hotels, incidentally, are prospering.
On a recent business trip in Atlanta, he stayed at a Drury Inn and Suites near the airport, where the
amenities include free parking and Internet and a free breakfast and evening hot buffet with free drinks. At
departure, he left a bathing suit in his room.
“I called them, and they called me right back and said they found it and, since I was coming back in a
couple of weeks, they’d hold it for me,” he said in a telephone interview. “This is an airport hotel in Atlanta
with thousands of people coming through, with occupancy probably 80 to 90 percent — and I got my
swimming suit back.”
Mr. White was among a lot of readers who reacted to last week’s column in which I complained about the
fees on my bill after a recent stay at the luxury Arizona Biltmore, a Hilton property in Phoenix. I was
especially rankled by a $3-a-night charge for “housekeeping gratuity” and $12 for bellman service and
“porterage,” even though I did not use a bellhop and always leave money for the maid in the room.
Incidentally, a two-ounce pack of cookies in the minibar at the hotel was $6 and a bottle of water was $8.
Last year and in 2009, during the worst of the economic slump, high-end hotels were the most affected
segment of the lodging industry. The conference and conventions business that many resorts specialize
in was especially hard hit. One result was that people who book business meetings suddenly had pricing
power and were able, in many cases, to demand concessions — not just on room rates but on those
infernal fees — in exchange for the group business that these hotels needed.
But now, the high-end hotel segment is recovering. For the week that ended April 9, revenue per
available room at the two top segments, upper-upscale and luxury hotels, was a combined 15.3 percent
higher than the comparable week last year, according to Smith Travel Research. That rate far outpaced
the average for the industry as a whole.
Revenue for fees and surcharges this year will probably be a record, exceeding the $1.75 billion that
hotels made in 2008, according to Bjorn Hanson, dean of the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality,
Tourism and Sports Management at New York University.
And pricing power is returning to the hotels. “It has been more and more challenging getting hotels to
waive these ancillary fees,” said Lori Jenaire, who negotiates arrangements for meetings and
conferences for clients at ConferenceDirect.
We all have pet peeves about fees. Some readers are livid about so-called groundskeeping fees and
others by charges for things like that in-room safe that few people use. A nightly charge for housekeeping
especially irks me. So let’s say I share my skepticism and cynicism with one business traveler, who wrote
this after reading last week’s column: