How to Avoid Resort Fees
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It’s a universal traveler truth — resort fees stink. While resort fees have been a thing for decades, their beginnings were much more humble than today’s realities. TPG’s Loyalty and Engagement Editor Richard Kerr recently addressed some of the crazy ways hotels charge these extra hidden fees, as well as how a traveler can avoid resort fees, on the latest Talking Points episode.
As told by Kill Resort Fees, at first, resort fees were much lower ($5–$10) and often were optional, reserved only for those who wanted to use the resort’s amenities beyond the base room and rate. Today, resort fees can cost more than $100 per night, might be higher than the room rate itself and are seldom optional.
In very recent history, online booking sites and even an attorney general have started fighting back in a variety of ways (up to and including a new suit filed against Marriott). While battles are being waged against these now commonplace, mandatory fees — known by many names — here in 2019, travelers are far still from winning the war on resort fees.
But, that doesn’t mean you have to spend $30, $50 or potentially more than $100 per night of your own hard-earned cash on these resort fees destination fees, facility fees and now even housekeeping fees. You can win many of your own personal battles against resort fees with these strategies.
How to Spot Resort Fees
To beat a resort fee, you have to know how to spot one — and that can be tough, especially now that even non-resorts tack on destination fees. While many brands are decent at prominently disclosing resort fees when pricing out rooms online, others are much sneakier.
For example, Great Wolf Lodge is notorious for not breaking out taxes and fees on the booking screen, making it easier to sneak in a resort fee. Not only that, but the amount of the resort fees and information on which Great Wolf properties charge resort fees is nowhere to be found its site. The closest you will find to those details is that “some Great Wolf Lodge resorts charge a nominal resort fee.” Gee, thanks.
If on your booking screen the taxes/fees section looks higher than just taxes (which really shouldn’t ever amount to more than 10% of the base room rate), be very suspicious that a hidden resort, facility or destination fee is lurking.
Also know that while most properties that charge resort (or destination) fees charge a flat fee per night, per room, others charge a percentage of the room rate or a per person resort fee. Never assume you know the real cost until you dig deeper and price the entire stay with the correct number of room occupants.
Ways to Avoid Resort Fees
1. Book an award stay.
One of the easiest methods to avoid a resort fee is to book a room using points. Some hotel loyalty programs waive resort fees on award stays made purely with points (as opposed to cash and points that may have added fees). Per program rules, Hilton and Hyatt consistently waive resort fees on award stays.
Wyndham Rewards is also known for waiving resort fees on award stays, though I’ve heard more issues with spotty implementation with that program than the first two. Choice also has been known to waive resort fees on some award stays. Marriott does not waive resort fees on award stays.
That said, focus on Hilton and Hyatt for the most reliable resort-fee-free award stays.
You can earn Hilton points with a plethora of cobranded credit cards:
- Hilton Honors American Express Card: Earn 80,000 Points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the Hilton Honors American Express Card in the first 3 months of Card Membership. Plus, you can earn an additional 50,000 points after you spend a total of $5,000 in purchases on the Card in the first 6 months. ($0 annual fee; see rates & fees)
- Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: earn 150,000 Hilton points after spending $4,000 in the first three months. ($450 annual fee; see rates & fees)
- Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card: earn 130,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 within the first three months of card membership. Plus, you earn an additional 50,000 points after spending a total of $10,000 in purchases on the card in the first six months. ($95 annual fee; see rates & fees)
The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
You’ve got even more options when you need World Of Hyatt points since they transfer on a 1:1 basis from Chase Ultimate Rewards. So, if you have Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Chase Freedom (No longer open to new applicants) or Chase Freedom Unlimited, you can easily transfer those points to your Hyatt account.
You can also pick up the World of Hyatt Credit Card. Earn 30,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening. Plus, up to 30,000 more bonus points by earning 2x bonus points total on purchases that normally earn 1x bonus point, on up to $15,000 in the first six months of account opening. The annual fee is $95.
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 potentially help. For example, within the World Of Hyatt program, those with Hyatt Globalist status do not pay resort fees, even on paid stays.
The application of this isn’t as smooth as with waived resort fees on award stays, but the rules are clear that top-tier Hyatt elites shouldn’t be charged resort fees when on eligible paid rates. (Such as when you book directly with Hyatt.) Note that having the World of Hyatt Credit Card helps you earn Hyatt Globalist status faster with spending on the card.
In Las Vegas, resort fees are rampant, but Diamond or Seven Stars members within the Caesars Rewards program don’t pay resort (or parking) fees at casinos such as Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, Harrah’s, Bally’s, etc.
This can help you even if you’re not a big gambler. A hotel credit card that comes with elite status, such as the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card, can be enough to status match your way into a high enough tier within the Caesars Rewards program to avoid resort fees. Here’s a step-by-step guide of how to make all of that status matching glory happen so you can go from Vegas zero to hero in a flash.
3. Look for a hotel without resort fees.
Some travelers simply refuse to ever pay resort fees and will immediately cross off any property that charges them from their lists. In places like Las Vegas, Hawaii, Orlando and similar, there’s not a long list of hotels without resort fees, but there are often a few if you look hard enough. Here’s a link to Las Vegas hotels without resort fees, but fair warning, the options aren’t great. Here’s a similar list for Hawaii (just be sure to double-check that nothing has changed since the list was last updated.)
If you can’t find a hotel you want without a resort fee, consider Airbnb or other home rental services. However, note that even Airbnb hosts can charge a resort fee if they manage six or more listings, so book carefully there, too.
When in doubt, consult the website ResortFeeChecker.com to verify if a given property is known for charging a resort fee or not.
4. You Can Ask Not to Pay a Resort Fee — But …
One strategy that is far from guaranteed, but works some percentage of the time, is to simply ask to not pay the resort fee — especially if you are not going to use the included amenities. While this might work occasionally, it doesn’t always, even when some elements that should be included in a resort fee are closed, missing or broken.
For example, during a recent stay in Las Vegas, a TPG staffer attempted to avoid at least some of the $37/night resort fee when the safe he needed to use for his passport was broken (the safe was a listed resort fee amenity) and the Wi-Fi didn’t always work. The answer was … no dice. He had to pay the full fee even though key elements he needed didn’t actually work.
However, at a resort in Hawaii, a TPG staffer was able to get a resort fee waived when the pool was closed during the stay. In other words, it never hurts to ask for resort fees to be waived, but don’t just assume you’ll be able to talk or protest your way out them. The best plan is to avoid the fees in the first place.
Resort fees have been a growing problem in the travel industry for a long time. They are expensive, sometimes poorly disclosed and often don’t actually add real value to the stay. Perhaps the tide will turn against them in the coming years, but until then, we’d love to hear your strategies for avoiding resort fees.
Featured image by Katie Genter / The Points Guy
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