Update: Some Marriott hotels are now charging a nightly ‘sustainability fee’
Editor’s note: This post has been updated with a statement and information from Innkeeper Hospitality Services. It was originally published on Jan. 10, 2022.
In a world full of hotels trying to nickel-and-dime guests, it probably won’t come as a shock to hear that a new, unexplained charge is being reported by travelers checking out.
A guest at the Hotel Saint Louis, part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, noticed a charge for a “sustainability fee” of $4.99 per night on the bill. According to the guest, who stays there frequently and shared the experience on FlyerTalk, this was the first time he had seen this charge on his bill.
This story was first reported by One Mile at a Time.
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In a call to the hotel’s front desk, the fee was explained to TPG as helping with recycling and “reducing [the hotel’s] carbon footprint.” There is nothing on the hotel’s website explicitly saying what the fee is for or how it’s used.
In a statement to TPG, Innkeeper Hospitality Services, which owns Hotel Saint Louis and several other hotels charging the fee, said:
"In a nutshell, the Sustainability Fee supports the environmentally-responsible features in our properties. These added value features are specifically designed to reduce the carbon footprint with eco-friendly alternatives and can include anything from switching to renewable energy sources, localizing supply chains, developing energy-efficient technologies, eliminating food waste, and reducing plastic usage, to name a few. The fee is disclosed to customers when they are booking a room under rate details."
The company also said that at Hotel Saint Louis specifically, the fee is used to support a number of initiatives and features like new HVAC technology that reduces energy consumption, window insulation, low-flow bidet toilets that reduce water and bulk waste, metal water bottles for guests to use during their stays and sourcing local food suppliers.
The company also said it will remove the sustainability fee "when an individual finds it objectionable" and would pay the fee itself, "because we understand that while we believe in environmentally responsible stewardship, not everyone cares about our planet's health."
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen something like this. Last year, TPG reported that a Las Vegas hotel was charging $3.95 a night for a “utility fee,” despite the fact the hotel claims that amenities like Wi-Fi are always free.
In fact, Marriott recently agreed to disclose resort and other fees in the upfront cost of hotel rooms after reaching a settlement with the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office, which was investigating the company’s use of “drip pricing.”
Drip pricing is where fees aren’t disclosed upfront as people book hotels, but are slowly disclosed throughout the booking process. As TPG reported last year, Marriott profited around $17 million in resort fees alone in 2019.
In this instance, we’ve found the sustainability fee pop up within two hospitality companies that independently own and operate hotels that are part of Marriott: Innkeeper Hospitality Services, as mentioned above, and Greenwood Hospitality Group.
Those Marriott hotels include:
- The Warrior Hotel, Sioux City, Iowa.
- Hotel Saint Louis, St. Louis.
- The Current Iowa, Davenport, Iowa.
- Hotel Blackhawk, Davenport, Iowa.
- Hotel Northland, Green Bay, Wisconsin.
- The Farnam, Omaha, Nebraska.
- Seven Gables Inn, St. Louis.
TPG reader Scott White shared an October invoice from a stay at The Farnam, an Autograph Collection property in Omaha with a sustainability fee of $5.50, about 50 cents higher than the majority of the sustainability fees we found at the other hotels.
On the Marriott website, however, a stay at The Farnam for Jan. 18 includes a $5.25 sustainability fee.
These fees are isolated to a handful of hotels as far as we can see, primarily in Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska, and across the two hospitality groups mentioned above.
The reality though is that hotel groups tend to copy one another when it comes to adding fees, and this could be the beginning of a potentially tricky cash grab cloaked in the name of sustainability, a hot topic in the hotel space at the moment.
This example of a hidden fee also highlights how different hotel rates can appear when first looking for a room versus its final, all-in cost at checkout.
For example, looking at the Hotel Saint Louis on Marriott’s website, the first rate shown for a guest room for one night (Jan. 18) is $160 for the nonrefundable rate.
The rate Marriott displays on the initial page does not automatically include taxes and fees, making the price appear lower than the final cost of the room. If you click the box in the upper right corner that says, “Show rates with taxes and all fees,” you will see the full cost of the room, as shown below.
To see the breakdown of fees and taxes you should select the room, move to the next page and open the “Summary of Charges.” It’s important to review this section including “Additional Charges” to look for any unexpected resort fees or other charges included in the room cost so that you’re not surprised when you check out.
In the screenshot above you can see the pesky sustainability fee of $4.99 charged to the room.
The final charge for this particular room was $36.04 more than the $160 rate first displayed. It’s also worth noting that under “Additional Charges” the fine print reads: “Changes in taxes or fees implemented after booking will affect the total room price.” Hopefully, that doesn’t mean any more unexpected fees, though there could potentially be more.
Related: Here’s how to avoid paying resort fees
We’re not shocked that these hotels have added another sneaky fee that guests have to pay, but we’re tired of it. Hotel guests have a right to know exactly what they’re paying for and what services they get out of the fees they pay. We’re all for sustainability, but if these fees are actually going to help with sustainability efforts, we’d like to know how.
TPG has reached out to Marriott and Greenwood Hospitality Group for comment. We will update this story if they respond.