Heading to a conference at the Green Valley Ranch Resort outside Las Vegas a few months ago, Carol Margolis was pleasantly surprised when she snagged a discounted rate of around $100 per night. Unfortunately, she was also surprised upon arrival to discover that the rate didn’t include a mandatory $24.99 resort fee for amenities including shoe shines, complimentary newspapers and access to the gym and Internet.
“That’s 25 percent of what I paid for the room!” said the consultant, public speaker and founder of SmartWomenTravelers.com, all for services she had no intention of using. “I had no time for working out; I didn’t need my shoes polished, and I have an AirCard so I didn’t need their Internet.”
None of which, of course, made a difference, since resort fees, like à la carte airfares and invasive security procedures, are getting harder to avoid all the time.
Resort fees gone wild
This week, for example, the Bellagio in Las Vegas will begin charging a mandatory fee of $22.40 per day for in-room Internet access, fitness center privileges, local and toll-free calls and airline boarding pass printing. Down the street, Vdara recently raised its daily resort fee from $15 to $18. Both resorts are owned by Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts International.
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But it’s not just MGM or even Las Vegas. Last summer, Starwood Hotels and Resorts began levying daily fees of $12.57 to $20.94 at its four Waikiki properties (Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, Moana Surfrider, Royal Hawaiian and Sheraton Waikiki). And in November, the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz., eliminated several individual fees and began charging a single $19 daily charge.
You don’t have to have a degree in revenue management to understand why more and more properties are relying on resort fees. “It’s like the airlines,” said Anthony Curtis, president of LasVegasAdvisor.com, an online newsletter. “It’s as if they’re saying, OK, the rate is $50, but we’re going to hold $15 over here and advertise a rate of $35.”
The results look like great deals, especially on third-party websites where hotels can improve their rankings with low base rates and where full disclosure is often lost in the fine print. “Hotels are trying to drive occupancies by rate, not by value or the experience,” said Glenn Haussman, editor in chief of the industry website HotelInteractive.com. “The fees are designed to make up that difference.”
And, perhaps, enhance it. According to John Lindelow, owner of Travel Hawaii LLC in Kailua, Hawaii, resorts in his state further bolster the bottom line because the fees are exempt from both travel agent commissions and the state’s 9.25 percent hotel tax. The fees, he added, are “disingenuous, misleading and anti-Aloha.”
Meanwhile, back in Las Vegas, the new fees at Bellagio and Vdara are part of MGM Resorts’ plans to introduce resort fees at all its properties on the Strip. “We’re bundling together our most commonly requested services and putting them all into one low daily charge,” said spokesperson Yvette Monet. “We’ve found it to be a matter of convenience for our guests.”
Reasonable or a rip-off?
Surprisingly, perhaps, some travelers feel the same way. As national sales manager for a natural skincare products company, Derek Hunter would rather deal with one daily fee than pay individual charges for the gym, Internet access and bottled water. “It’s not always nickel and diming,” he said. “Sometimes it’s to pay for the cost of the extra service. Add it all up and it isn’t such a bad deal.”
Others suggest that the fees can make sense in select situations: for example, at the Sheraton Waikiki, which used to charge separately for parking and Internet access. “If you have a car and you use the Internet, the resort fee ends up being a pretty good deal,” said Lindelow.
Most travelers, however, feel otherwise. “I don't mind paying $200 for a hotel room,” said motivational speaker Barry Maher. “I don't even mind it when that $200 room becomes a $229 room because of taxes and government fees. But I abhor it when my $110 room becomes a $124.95 room because of mandatory resort fees.”
Unfortunately, fighting the fees is generally a losing battle, although some travelers have had success negotiating their way out of them. “I always ask to opt out,” said Teri Gault, founder of TheGroceryGame.com. “I'm not always able to [avoid] this bogus package deal. But I do ask for the manager, and sometimes they have been able to waive it for me.” Another option is to try contesting the charges with your credit card company after receiving your statement.
But, according to Curtis, the only guaranteed way to avoid the fees is simply to stay at resorts that don’t charge them. In Las Vegas, for example, Caesars Entertainment doesn’t charge resort fees and removed pre-existing fees when it bought two local properties, Planet Hollywood and Westgate Towers, last summer. The company has even launched a Vegas No Resort Fees page on Facebook to promote its fee-free offerings.
“They’re making the same kind of play that Southwest Airlines is,” said Curtis, referring to the airline’s contrarian no-bag-fees policy. “A lot of our customers are considering Caesars over other places because of that very policy.”
Others, like Carol Margolis, have already acted on their anger over resort fees. “It’s so frustrating that we’ve started staying at other resorts,” said Margolis. “We decided it was just stupid to be paying this extra fee when we can just as easily stay somewhere down the street.”
Rob Lovitt is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com. If you'd like to respond to one of his columns or suggest a story idea, drop him an e-mail .