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Hotel Rooms: Surcharges & Taxes

For several years, now, we have been cautioning military reunion planners to be sure to add contract language that specifies that there will be no room charges or surcharges that are not specified in the contract.

Those of you who have ignored this advice may be in for a rude shock! Several recent trade publications have had articles on this subject. A Halloween article from CNN Money, for example, headlines “Hotels Piling On Hidden Fees.” Quoting from the article:

“Thinking of taking a dip in the pool while on vacation? Even if you choose not to, you could get charged $40 just for having the option.

Following in the footsteps of the airlines, hotels are piling on a slew of hidden fees for services that used to be free. Now guests are getting charged for everything from access to a gym (or a pool), to early check-ins or departures to holding your luggage.

All of those fees really add up. Total fees and surcharges collected by hotels in the U.S. are projected to hit a record $1.8 billion this year, up 80 percent from a decade ago. Guests checking into the Quality Inn & Suites in Surprise, Ariz., for example, probably wouldn’t expect to see a $1.50 “Safe Warranty” fee for use of the safe already in the room. The hotel introduced that fee this summer, according to the general manager of the property.

Stashing your bags for a few hours after checking out of the Hilton in New York will cost $3.50 -- that’s what’s called the “luggage holding fee.” Hungry? Think twice about grabbing a bag of pretzels from the minibar. Mini-bar restocking fees can run up to $10 at hotels like the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas, in addition to the hefty price of the snack.

And before you pull out your wallet to provide a tip to the bellhop for bringing up your bags or to housekeeping for making your bed, most spots have already charged you a generous gratuity for their service, just like they have done for years with room service.

It’s also increasingly common to pay $10 to $20 per day for Wi-Fi access, as well as pay a fee for making local calls or even receiving a fax. And you can expect to pony up anywhere from $15 to $50 a night if you want to bring a pet (that is, if the hotel allows pets) and $10 or more a night for a rollaway bed.

That’s on top of a host of other fees that have become standard, like reservation cancellation fees, which can be as much as the room rate, or a resort amenity fee, which can add a significant amount to your daily tab. At the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel, Calif. guests are charged $60 a night for the privilege of using the gym and parking on the premises.

The pricier the hotel, often the heftier the fees. For hotels, all those charges add up to nearly pure profit. Most have incremental profitability of 80 percent to 90 percent or more. The “surcharging fad” took off after Sept. 11 and got worse throughout the recession as Americans reeled in their travel plans and hotels saw a sharp decline in revenue. In addition, the rising price of food and fuel has put added pressure on most hotels’ bottom line.”

Check Your Bill

In any case, you are advised to check every bill you get carefully. If you have a debit card, for example, don’t be surprised if you suddenly see a monthly debit card fee. If this happens, try and get it stopped, or change to another bank. Still another recent event that happened to me

R EUNION F R IENDL Y N EWS • Spring, 2012

was an unexplained $95 charge on a credit card. We tracked it down to a magazine subscription we hadn’t ordered and a late fee for not paying it! It seems I failed to mark the box that said I did not want it.

A fair number of hotels are getting rid of their health clubs and offering special discounts at neighborhood fitness centers. It’s a good deal for the hotel as they get a commission. It’s a good deal for the fitness centers as they get more business. The hotel guest on the other hand now has to pay for something which used to be free.

More Taxes, Too

The list of counties and cities increasing hotel taxes is growing every day. Politicians seem to think that the public is a pigeon waiting to be plucked for municipal stadia and convention centers. There are just too many to list, but fair warning, we hear of another every day. Maybe it’s time to put a clause in those contracts that limits the amount of room tax also.

Restaurants, Also!

Due to the economy, restaurants at every level are hurting also. All sorts of special deals are in the air. Restaurants are working hard at small details to provide better service, to cut down waste, and to control costs. Tip: Check Groupon coupons at your reunion destination. If a restaurant is willing to make a special Groupon deal, they probably will bend over backwards to give you a great group deal – you may want to consider a restaurant for your reunion banquet, not just for the cost saving, but for the wide open menus. You can be inventive, also!

P.S. AMRF members get a break on Sales Tax on the reunion banquet in eight states!

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