Resort Fees Explained: How to Spot (and Avoid) Them on Your Next Trip

by  Karen Gardiner | Oct 9, 2013
Couple on vacation
Couple on vacation / grinvalds/iStock

Ah, those pesky resort fees. We've all encountered them in our travels, lurking on our hotel bills.

They've been around since the 1990s when they were generally utilized to pay for the upkeep of high-end facilities at upscale resorts; the beach clubs and tennis courts, for example. However, in the last five years or so, more and more hotels have been tacking on these annoying – and often spendy – extra charges for considerably lower-end facilities. For example, almost every explanation of these fees we've encountered includes such uninspiring "perks" as a newspaper and local phone calls.

According to research by Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management at New York University, the U.S. hotel industry collected approximately $1.55 billion in fees and surcharges in 2009. Not all of which were resort fees, but you can see how fees and extras add up. Here's a breakdown of these fees, how they work, when they're charged, and how you can avoid them.

What is a Resort Fee?

A resort fee is a (usually unadvertised) mandatory fee tacked onto a nightly room rate. Fees can be as low as $3.50 per night at the Clarion Inn & Suites at International Drive, Orlando (they call this one a "safe fee"), to as much as $60 per night for the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, Puerto Rico.

A resort fee is almost always a fixed rate that is paid per room, per night, however some of the perks that come with the fee are only good for one person; like the one mai tai per day, per room offered by the Waikiki Beach Resort & Spa ($25 a day), or at Bally's Las Vegas, where rooms sleep up to four people, but the $18 resort fee only allows two people access to the fitness center.

The things included in your fees run the gamut from the sublime ($25 resort fee applied towards some services at The Spa at the Trump Hotel, Las Vegas)  to the ridiculous. Notary service at the  Mirage Las Vegas ($25), anyone? But generally, the fee includes amenities such as WiFi, shuttle service, a newspaper, and the in-room phone.

Who Charges a Resort Fee?

You'll find resort fees are most prevalent in a few specific destinations: Las Vegas, the Caribbean, Florida, and Hawaii. In Las Vegas, you'll be hard pressed to find a hotel that does not charge a resort fee. The few that haven't charged a fee in the past – such as Ceasar's, which even launched a Facebook page at one point that asked visitors to “join the fight against Las Vegas resort fees” – are steadily jumping onto the resort fee bandwagon. From the point of view of the hotel, this is understandable. Why miss out out on the extra cash that everyone else is already getting?

A few ski resorts also add resort fees, One Ski Hill Place in Breckenridge, Colorado, for example, charges $30 a night, and the Viceroy Snowmass, also in Colorado, charges $16 a night.

How Do You Know if Your Hotel Charges a Resort Fee? 

Read the fine print before you book. Resort fees tend to be hidden from advertised rates – the rationale presumably being that the site can lure guests in with low room rates before hitting them with an extra fee later. Say you're searching for a hotel in Las Vegas on a third-party web site. You might see a good deal pop up like this one we found: The Palms Casino Resort for $67 on October 22. However, it's not until you get to the booking page that you see the resort fee listed ($20 per night); bundled together with the taxes.

Several hotels hide the resort fee from their advertised room rates until you are ready to book; and even then they often do not include the fee in the reservation total, instead running a strip of (literally) fine print saying something like "rate and total room rates do not include the daily resort fee of $22 or applicable taxes." (That's taken from the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas). You usually end up handing over the money at check-in or check-out.

While there's often an element of surprise with resort fees, hotels have at least become more upfront about them since the FTC sent a letter to 22 hotel operators last year warning that their online rates may have been deceptive and in violation of FTC regulations. If you are still unsure, don't hesitate to call the hotel before booking to ask exactly how much you will be paying, and for what.

Do You Have to Pay It?

The short answer is yes. There are a few resources available if you're looking for more detail about resort fees. VegasChatter, for example, keeps an up-to-date list of Las Vegas hotels not charging resort fees (it contains only 11 hotels). There's also no harm in trying to get the fees waived, especially if you advise management that you have no intention of using the facilities, or if you don't want a newspaper or WiFi. This is more likely to be successful if you have status with the hotel's loyalty program, which brings us to our final point...

Do You Earn Points on Resort Fees?

No. The extra money you are paying per night does not go toward your loyalty program status – even more reason to read the fine print, and keep yourself informed.

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