A Stingy Traveler Stung by Hotel Fees
I AM not so big on luxury travel. I’m simply too cheap, even when I’m traveling on the company dime.
These days, living in southern Arizona, my idea of first-class transportation is a good horse (All that
legroom! No security agents pawing at you and your saddlebag!). And I’m still bragging about the hotel
rate I got the last time I was in New York: a cool $89 a night at the La Quinta Inn near Kennedy
International Airport — including free breakfast and Internet, plus an airport shuttle.
Nevertheless, after a long recession in the hospitality industry that cut deepest at the top-end properties,
upscale hotels have been climbing back. According to Smith Travel Research, the leading industry
analyst, occupancy rates were up 18.1 percent and average room rates up 9.9 percent in the
“upper-upscale” segment of the domestic hotel industry for the week ended April 2, over the comparable
week in 2010. Both rate increases led the industry.
Luxury hotel people now use terms like “frugal fatigue” to explain why many upscale customers who had
switched to less expensive hotels with fewer amenities during the recession are now coming back. But
most executives I know in this exalted segment of the industry have also been saying that once good
times did return, luxury customers would probably be far more demanding of “value.”
As to “value,” let’s consider what many business travelers regard as the most annoying aspect of staying
in these hotels: being nickel and dimed with fees and surcharges. We have become accustomed to free
Internet, free parking, free breakfast and maybe even a free nightly cocktail hour at many midscale and
sometimes even economy-scale chain hotels. But five-star hotels and luxury convention hotels have long
been notorious for slapping on extra fees for a wide range of services.
Like many business travelers, I’ll opt for the convenient midscale hotel brand whenever I can. But on
occasion, there is no choice but a high-end hotel for events like days-long business conferences.
I did this last week, when I stayed for two nights at the splendidly named Arizona Biltmore A Waldorf
Astoria Resort, a venerable resort spread across 39 lushly manicured acres in Phoenix. It’s a beautiful
property that does a big convention business. I wish I could say my stay reflected the new attitude toward
value. But let’s examine the billing and fees.
When I booked in early March, I got a confirmation, $654.70 for both nights, including taxes. My credit
card was billed for a one-night deposit, $327.35. But when I checked out, the total room rate came to
$672.70 — $18 more.
The breakdown on my statement at checkout was interesting. There was a charge of $12 for something
mysteriously listed as “Bellman Grat-Porterage,” a gratuity fee for bellhop service I did not require or use.
There was also a $3 nightly charge for “housekeeping gratuities.” (I always tip the housekeeper by
leaving money on the pillow, and as cheap as I can be, it’s always more than $3.)
I had stayed at the Biltmore for the two-day annual Phoenix International Aviation Symposium. As is the
case with most convention planners, the symposium “negotiated a group contract in advance with the
Biltmore, which included the bellman and housekeeping gratuity,” a statement from a public relations firm
for the hotel, P&G Communications, said,
Nevertheless, I checked the hotel’s Web site for a routine booking this week and found that the hotel
charges a $28-a-day service fee for everyone.
In the luxury segment, hotel fees that create the most annoyance, beyond Internet charges, have include
charges for bellhops and housekeeping, which often show up during conventions and conferences. Some
hotels also add so-called resort and amenity fees, and some add a surcharge for groundskeeping.
The fee-fest is back in full force, said Bjorn Hanson, dean of the Preston Robert Tisch Center for
Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University. In 2008, hotels added a total of
about $1.75 billion in fees and surcharges. That fell to $1.55 billion in 2009 because occupancy dropped
so sharply at the high-end hotels during the recession. For 2011, the figure will be higher; “in fact, it’s
likely to be a record,” Mr. Hanson said.
Most fees and surcharges, he said, “occur in upper-upscale and luxury hotels, and both the numbers of
types of fees and surcharges and the amounts are increasing.”