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A Small Business Owner’s Guide to Understanding Hotel Booking Fees

October 20th, 2016 /

If you’ve ever been socked with a $40-a-night “resort fee” or had the pleasure of paying for the pool towel you brought back to your room, you’re aware of how obnoxious unexpected charges can be. I’ve encountered them too many times to count at this point in my career, but they never get less annoying. While convenient, third-party booking sites like Priceline and Expedia have also made it increasingly easy for hotels to slip in obscure charges.

But when you’re a small business owner and travel frequently, a few dollars here and there really add up. So what can you do?

hotel booking fees

Hotel fees can eat up your travel budget if you’re not prepared for them. Image credit: Flickr user Sean MacEntee (CC BY 2.0)

Understanding Hotel Fees

First, it helps to understand what exactly you’re being charged for. The items below are often included when you book, even if you’re not planning to use the services they cover. Understanding what you’re in for can help you adjust your budget or opt for an alternate location. Occasionally (and we’ll get to that below), there are also ways to minimize or avoid these charges.

Common Booking Fees:

  • Airport shuttle service. Unless you are specifically told, never assume a shuttle from the airport is free.
  • Bellhop/housekeeper gratuities. This is just a tip that goes to the bellhop and housekeeping staff. I’ve also seen it referred to as a “service fee.”
  • Resort fee. Resort fees are not just for resorts, unfortunately. This maddening surcharge runs anywhere from $10 to $60 per day and can cover amenities like a business center, a pool, a gym, daily newspaper delivery, housekeeping, “complimentary” meals and refreshments or “free” local calls.
  • Taxes and other local charges. Taxes vary by location, obviously. While there’s not much you can do to avoid them, keep in mind that rates tend to be especially high in areas where the local economy is dependent on tourism.
  • Energy surcharge. Some hotels tack energy surcharges of several dollars a day onto their guests’ bills (regardless of usage) to compensate for rising energy costs.
  • In-room safe. These have become a staple, but hotels sometimes charge for the privilege of having a safe even if you never open it.
  • Parking. If you’re planning to use a hotel’s parking lot, garage, or valet service, there’s a good chance you’ll incur parking fees.
  • Facilitation fee, service fee or reservation fee. When booking a room through a third-party website (such as Expedia, Hotels.com, Priceline, or Orbitz) the site typically includes a surcharge for their services.

The Deal with Third-Party Sites

If you book a room through a third-party site, you also have to understand that you’re paying the website, not the hotel. The website then turns around and contacts the hotel on your behalf. Booking sites typically have a pre-negotiated rate with partner hotels that is much lower than the rate they advertise to you. This means they make money off the booking even before they charge you a service fee—or facilitation fee, or reservation fee, or whatever they want to call it.

So you’re essentially paying the website to negotiate a better room price for you, with the website then holding the reservation on your behalf. (This is also why hotels can’t usually provide a receipt or make changes to your reservation.)

This has a couple of practical applications. On the pro side, negotiating the cost of a room isn’t something that hotels will always do with individual travelers. Even with the additional service fee, you often get a better rate via a third-party site than you would through the hotel’s website or over the phone—especially during a flash sale or for a “mystery rate.”

On the con side, third-party bookings aren’t always the cheapest option, they certainly don’t make managing your reservation easier, and they make it easy for hotels to tack on a lot of the above-mentioned fees.

Additional Tips for Avoiding Fees:

  • Ask for the fees to be detailed. Request that your booking agent explain additional fees, and then inquire into any you’re particularly concerned about (like WiFi access or early check-in). I’d also recommend getting the name of the person you talk to. If a specific employee gave you information that later proves incorrect, the hotel is often more willing to accommodate you or rectify the situation through free upgrades.
  • Ask to waive fees for items you won’t be using. If you specifically ask, the hotel staff will sometimes waive fees for items like the pool, parking, or package delivery services that you aren’t planning to touch.
  • Sign up for a membership service that negotiates corporate rates. Booking fees aren’t much of a concern if your overall rate is low enough, which is why I’d strongly recommend a service like JetLux if you travel frequently. Members get access to corporate discounts on luxury hotels across the United States. You pay a reasonable membership fee in exchange for highly reduced rates, a flexible cancellation policy, and free suite upgrades. (You can also avoid fees for business essentials like WiFi.) These are amenities that people working for larger companies take for granted but which can be a godsend to small business owners.

Now that I’m a JetLux member, I don’t have to worry about doing my own negotiating with hotels. But if you’re still fending for yourself, this knowledge can help trim a few of the most onerous charges off your hotel bill. If you’re looking for other ways to save, you can also check out how to get cheap seat upgrades on airlines, or which hotels have the best loyalty programs for business travelers.

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