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As an award travel enthusiast, I’ll be the first to admit that airlines and hotels don’t always make it easy. Changing programs, inconsistent policies, and unexpected fees all add to the challenge of using your points and miles effectively. But for every problem that pops up, you can count on award travelers to find several solutions. Today TPG Contributor Nick Ewen looks at hotel resort fees, and offers strategies for keeping them off your bill.

Over the last several years you may have noticed a fee mania sweeping the travel world. Airlines have been the main culprits, tacking on fees for changing flights, selecting seats, checking bags, and even for ordering non-alcoholic beverages (though US Airways thankfully backed down from that one after several months of complaints)!

Unfortunately, hotels haven’t been immune to this trend, and along with airline fuel surcharges, hotel resort fees are one of the gravest offenses to savvy travelers. Today I’ll look more in depth at hotel resort fees and discuss some strategies for you to avoid them on your next stay.

Waikiki is home to many of the islands
If you visit Waikiki Beach in Hawaii, you’ll encounter resort fees at some of the top hotels.

First, a quick overview of resort fees and where you’re most likely to encounter them. Generally speaking, hotels add a mandatory resort fee to your room folio, ostensibly in exchange for a variety of amenities during your stay. This could include parking, internet access, beach chairs/umbrellas, local phone calls, free newspapers, or any other on-property benefit they’d like to “bundle” together. In essence, the hotel is acting like an all-you-can-eat buffet; rather than charging you $150 a night and letting you choose which amenities to ad a la carte, they’re charging you that same $150 plus a $20 fee per night.

Fortunately, you’ll only encounter resort fees in certain locations, like Florida, Hawaii, Las Vegas, and the Caribbean, and they’re typically limited to higher-end resorts. However, this is just a rule of thumb, and it can vary widely from hotel to hotel and chain to chain. I recently stayed at the St. Regis Bal Harbour, a luxurious property on the beach in South Florida, and I didnot have to pay a resort fee. On the other hand, the decidedly less glamorous Doubletree San Juan tacks on a 20% resort fee for items like a DVD player, bottled water, and the pool!

TPG visited the W in Vieques back in 2011 and experienced the $60 resort fee first hand!
TPG visited the W Vieques back in 2011 and experienced the $60/night resort fee first hand!

The amount of resort fees also varies significantly. Some properties charge a flat fee per night, while others charge a percentage of the room rate (which could be good or bad, depending on your room rate). I’ve read reports of fees as low as $3 per night, but have also seen them as high as $60 per night at a property like the W Retreat & Spa on Vieques Island in Puerto Rico. With rates as low as $259/night, this fee increases your rate by almost 25%!

It used to be that resort fees were relatively hard to spot, but hotel chains have become much more transparent in disclosing fees at booking (in large part thanks to a stern warning from the FTC in 2012). Here are some examples of resort fees for a mid-November stay in Maui. First up, the Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria resort:

Grand Wailea

Here’s a sample of the resort fee disclosed for the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa:

Maui Hyatt Regency

Next up, the Wailea Beach Marriott:

Wailea Marriott

Finally, here’s the booking page for the Westin Maui Resort & Spa:

Westin Maui

In each of these cases, the fee is disclosed in a (somewhat) transparent fashion when making a reservation. This can help avoid that dreaded surprise when the final bill is slipped under your door on your last day.

So are resort fees legitimate? I’m sure hotels would argue yes, but they seem like nothing more than an underhanded way to gouge paying guests for amenities and services that either:

  • Should be included in the room rate, or
  • Aren’t wanted or needed

Personally, I don’t put resort fees in the realm of exploitative exorbitant fuel surcharges when it comes to the spectrum of illegitimacy, but they do always leave a bad taste in my mouth. Take the Grand Wailea resort fee, for example. What if I have no interest in scuba diving? And what if I have a cell phone and don’t need to make phone calls from the room? Some guests will take full advantage of the services and amenities paid for by the resort fee, but it would be easier and more upfront to just bundle those services into the room rate.

Which card is best for you will be based on how you spend your money.
There are ways to avoid resort fees (and keep your in your pocket). Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Fortunately, all is not lost, as there are ways to avoid paying resort fees (or at least knock a little bit off the price). Check out the list below, though keep in mind that many of these strategies may only apply to certain properties and/or loyalty programs, so check with the hotel to make sure that everyone is on the same page:

1. Book an award stay. One of the easiest methods to avoid a resort fee is to book a room using points. Many chains (or specific properties within a chain) waive resort fees on award stays. I just experienced that at El Conquistador (a Waldorf Astoria property) in Fajardo, Puerto Rico (review to come soon). I booked a two-night weekend stay using points, and at check-out, I was only charged for incidentals like food & drinks. Unfortunately, I was unable to find an official, published policy on this for any chain, though these FlyerTalk threads for HiltonHyatt, Marriott, and SPG may help.

The best I can tell, Hilton and Hyatt appear to automatically waive resort fees for award stays, whereas Marriott and Starwood do so at certain properties. Note that all of these chains indicate that the resort fee applies when booking a room using points, but most reports indicate that you won’t be charged at Hilton or Hyatt.

2. Use your elite status. Whether you’re on a paid stay or an award stay where you’re asked to pay a resort fee, having elite status can help. I’ve read reports of resort fees being waived for top-tier elites, and I received a discount ($5 off $25) last month at the Hyatt Regency Bonita Springs.

This surely varies from chain to chain and property to property; a discount could be automatic, or you could inquire about it at check-in. It never hurts to ask! Just be prepared to pay the full amount, especially if it was disclosed during the reservation process. If they won’t budge and you’re still not satisfied…

Hilton HHonors elite status platinum diamond gold silver banner
Leverage your elite status to get resort fees waived or reduced.

3. Point out your elite benefits. You’ll often find that a resort fee covers amenities and services that you should get anyway due to your elite status, like free internet or complimentary bottled water. You shouldn’t be charged for things that are already included as a published benefit. A colleague of mine avoided a resort fee at the Hilton Clearwater Beach by pointing out that Diamond members shouldn’t have to pay for internet.

Some chains even recognize this flaw in the scheme plan, and have implemented “alternative amenities” to compensate elite members. This FlyerTalk thread offers reports from various Starwood properties in response to SPG’s policy along these lines. There’s no guarantee that flaunting elite status will get you off the hook for fees, but it’s best to be armed with the appropriate information.

4. Decline use of amenities. If you don’t intend to use some (or all) of the amenities included in the resort fee, ask about reducing or eliminating it at check-in. This may be a bit harder to swing; after all, it’s hard for the hotel to know whether you use the pool, for example. I don’t advocate lying about it, but if you legitimately won’t be taking advantage of those services, there’s no harm in asking!

5. Pay for part (or all) of the stay with a card like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus. As TPG has discussed in the past, miles earned on the Arrival Plus can be redeemed for any travel purchase at a rate of 1 cent apiece. Plus, you get 10% of those miles back after the redemption. While you may want to use your hotel co-branded card for the majority of the folio, you can put the resort fee on this card and then redeem miles to cover it.

6. Open a credit card that waives resort fees. This (unfortunately) isn’t a widespread option, but the Total Rewards Visa will help anyone who visits Caesars properties on a regular basis. The card gives you automatic Platinum Status in the Total Rewards program, and waives resort fees for Platinum, Diamond, and Seven Stars guests.

7. Look for a hotel without resort fees. I have one friend that absolutely refuses to pay resort fees, and he’ll immediately cross off any property that charges them from his list. Vegas Chatter provides a yearly list of hotels in Las Vegas that charge (and don’t charge) resort fees, and the 2014 version only includes 15 holdouts. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but can serve as a guide for the top resorts & casinos in town.

Resort fees are a nuisance, but if you really want to stay at a property that has them, these strategies can help minimize the extra cost.

What strategies do you use to avoid resort fees? Please share your suggestions in the comments section below!

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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