If you haven’t stayed at a hotel recently, you might not realize how bad the hidden fee game has really gotten. A recent stay at the Westin Beachfront Resort in Fort Lauderdale really brought it home for my wife and I. It was so bad, we actually opted to go home rather than stay longer and throw good money after bad. More on that later.
The motivation for the entire travel industry to get fee happy is inherently obvious. This year the hospitality industry will rake in a record $2.25 billion in revenue from such add-ons. That’s 6 percent more than in 2013 and double that of a decade ago, according to a new study released Monday by Hanson as reported in Yahoo Travel. And it’s not just hotels, every facet of the travel industry from airlines to rental car companies are looking for new and creative ways to gouge the traveling public. It’s gotten so bad now that simply going on vacation and enjoying yourself has turned into a giant game of gotcha where you’re constantly being dinged for fees on a nearly constant basis.
Hotels in particular are motivated to misrepresent fees because it allows them to advertise a lower price in a highly competitive online marketplace. Our dispute with the Westin started with a $36 fee they advertised as a “valet fee” but in reality was a parking fee. At hotels not trying to rip you off, you only get charged a valet fee if you use the valet, otherwise you park it yourself and walk. But if there is no alternative to the valet, then it’s not really optional. Anytime hotels can use some twisted language hack to their advantage it allows them to cheat on their advertised rates.
It’s gotten so bad now that advertised rates for air fares and hotels have become an industry joke. Here are some tips for getting a better deal.
Don’t Book Through An Online Site
Use the online sites to get the rate and then call the hotel directly to try and negotiate a better deal. These days hotels are masters of the unspoken truth you need to ask about every service you have any reasonable expectation of using. Trying to negotiate after you book your stay is a lost cause. Hotels will then try to bargain with inflated comps like a continental breakfast. Don’t fall for those. Stay focused on the bottom line and don’t be afraid to walk away. Remember, they you worse than you need them.
Don’t Trust Online Ratings
Unfortunately those are entirely too easy to manipulate these days and the recent dust up with Yelp ratings illustrates.
Bring Your Own Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi at resorts is either expensive or non-existent, sometimes both. You’ll almost always be better off buying a few gigs of extra data and using your phone to setup your own hotspot.
Avoid Big Chain Hotels & Resorts
In every resort area are smaller hotels and motels that have been around forever but don’t advertise or use the big online booking sites. By depending on sites like Travelocity and Expedia you may be missing some of the nicer and more reasonably priced options. At a recent stay in the Keys my wife and I discovered a dumpy looking little motel that had a surprisingly vibrant set of entertainment options. We found that marvelous place completely by accident. These days convenience is not your friend. Tough it out by making phone calls and asking questions.
It’s unfortunate that vacation travel has turned into a giant game of gotcha, but that’s the reality. Winning the game means option out of conveniences like online booking sites and avoiding resort hotels.