5 pitfalls to avoid when booking hotels

Apr 7, 2021

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So you think you found a great hotel deal, but then get to the checkout page or, even worse, show up to the front desk and are surprised with unanticipated fees on your bill. We’ve all been there.

Unfortunately, hidden fees and unanticipated add-ons are increasingly common in travel, especially with hotels. In addition to resort fees, we’ve encountered hidden fees for things like having extra guests or even housekeeping. We’ve also seen some hotels impose strict cancellation policies for bookings that are supposed to be flexible.

A little bit of research can go a long way when booking travel. Here are five things to look out for specifically before booking your next hotel stay to avoid any surprises.

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In This Post

Amenity fees

One of the most common surcharges nowadays is amenity fees — oftentimes referred to as resort fees, facilities fees or destination fees. These are mandatory charges added to your final bill for every night of your stay. While you typically don’t pay these fees until checkout, they should be disclosed at the time of booking.

These ancillary charges, which range from $5 to $40 or even upwards of $100 per night, are allegedly in place to provide access to amenities like the gym, pool, beach chairs and Wi-Fi. We’ve even seen properties, such as the Staybridge Suites Times Square, charge extra for housekeeping, and properties like the Harborside Resort at Atlantis charge utility service fees. Some resorts, including Atlantis, also charge mandatory gratuities on top of the other fees.

Beach chairs are a common inclusion of resort fees. (Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Fortunately, you can usually avoid these fees when booking award stays with Hilton and World of Hyatt. Marriott Bonvoy and IHG, on the other hand, still pass them on when booking with points.

Related: How to avoid resort fees

Extra guest fees

It’s important to always specify the correct number of guests when making a reservation or you could face extra fees.  These fees are usually between $5 to $10 and are charged for the third and fourth guests, though outside North America, it’s also common to be charged for the second guest. That said, the fees can sometimes be much higher than that — especially at all-inclusive properties.

A TPG reader recently reached out to share that the North Island Resort in Seychelles — a private-island resort you can book with Marriott points —  tried to charge them an extra $1,210 per additional guest per night. Even worse, the extra guest fee wasn’t disclosed anywhere at the time of booking. Also, this isn’t an all-inclusive property, so the guests weren’t receiving any additional benefits.

Related: Booking the wrong number of hotel guests

Family travel
Always specify the correct number of guests in your booking. (Photo by Shelby Soblick for The Points Guy)

Extra strict cancelation policies

Typically, when you book a flexible rate or an award stay, you can cancel your stay for a refund up to 24 to 72 hours before check-in. However, this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. It’s vital to review the cancelation policy of every hotel booking you make as some properties have much stricter policies.

Ski resorts, in particular, tend to have more punitive cancellation policies. For instance, winter stays at The St. Regis Aspen Resort come with a 60-day cancellation penalty. The same is normally true for The St. Regis Deer Valley, though it appears it will give guests a 30-day cancellation deadline for the upcoming season.

Some beach resorts, such as the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel in Hawaii and The St. Regis Maldives, require you to cancel your stay at least two weeks before arrival. Meanwhile, the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort requires at least 21 days’ notice.

Related: Your guide to booking refundable travel

Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort
Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort (Photo courtesy of Hyatt)

Award hold fees

In addition to strict cancellation policies, some properties impose deposits for booking awards. If you cancel your stay outside of the grace period, you’ll be charged a cash penalty, as opposed to losing your points. These fees — which aren’t always clearly disclosed — are sometimes equivalent to the cash rate of your stay, so you could potentially be on the hook for hundreds or thousands of dollars. While it appears that these properties have done away with these fees during the pandemic, properties known for imposing award hold fees include the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, the Westin Rusutsu Resort and the W Koh Samui.

Exclusions at all-inclusives

If you’re booking an all-inclusive resort, it’s important to review what is and isn’t included. For instance, there may be extra fees for certain restaurants, activities, premium alcohol and room service. As discussed above, resort fees and mandatory gratuities are common at all-inclusive properties.

Related: 13 mistakes to avoid at all-inclusive resorts

Seaplane transfers in the Maldives
Airport transfers often aren’t included with all-inclusive resorts. (Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

Before booking your next hotel stay, do your research to see what extra fees you might incur and if there are any punitive policies you need to be aware of. While most major hotel chains and online travel agencies have gotten better at disclosing these things, every property is unique, so you should always read the fine print. If there’s a fee that lurks up on your final bill and truly wasn’t listed anywhere on the hotel’s site, you can try to get it waived at check-out.

Featured photo by Becca Manheimer/The Points Guy.

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