What’s going on with hotels and rentals now?

13 August 2023
What’s going on with hotels and rentals now?

This summer, hotels and rentals have come up with some truly awful ways to piss off travelers and leave you stranded, or broke. Both stories were recently reported by Christopher Elliott on Elliot.org.

  1. Hotel fees are back with a vengeance, and 
  2. Vacation rental owners are suddenly canceling traveler reservations.

The sudden spike in vacation rental cancellations is suspicious, and it’s anyone’s guess as to why it’s happening.

The rise in junk hotel fees, however, is just plain greedy.

Wait, weren’t hotel junk fees going away?

They were supposed to! Early in 2023, the Biden administration declared war on all junk fees, but instead of backing down and stating clear daily rates, many hotels have gotten even sneakier.

Many hotels are driving up their average daily room rates using hidden fees. One of the most common complaints of junk fees this summer has been cleaning surcharges and resort fees, or rather ‘destination’ fees. 

Yep, hotel chains have rebranded resort fees to destination fees. Other creatively vague terminology include:

  • administrative fee
  • service fee
  • utility fee

Some of the most egregious fees we found were:

  • a top floor fee (yes, a fee for staying on the top floor even if you didn’t ask for that room)
  • a minibar fee (yes, minibars have sensors and they’ll charge you just for looking)
  • or our favorite, the Hotel Worker Protection Ordinance Costs Surcharge (aka, they’re charging you more so they can pay the workers a living wage)

Some hotels are now charging towel fees, bed sheet fees, and concierge fees―and these are mandatory fees on top of the room rate and taxes!

Here’s an example: the Shay Hotel in Culver City, California apparently has no intention of changing course. They announced The Shay Destination Exclusives: a destination fee (subject to change!) that ‘opens the door to a world of exclusive experiences’.

Get this, their $30/night charge includes metro passes, a daily drop-off rideshare service (within 2 miles of the hotel), access to discounted yoga classes, free electric vehicle charging, and complimentary domestic phone calls. 

Word is the hotel believes customers will love these fees …   Seriously? Who do they think they’re kidding?

Some details in that nightly destination fee might look like a good deal, but the problem is that no one gets out of paying it because it’s mandatory.

No electric car? Tough beans, ‘cuz your paying for it anyway.

Essentially, the Shay Hotel raised every guest’s room rate in a single swoop even if you never access any of the services. A resort fee by another name.

What are your rights?

Some customers are fighting these useless fees in court and involving Congress, but there are only so many ways to kill random and spreading junk fees one at a time.

If you booked through Airbnb or Vrbo, you have some protections, which are laid out in the company’s policies. See: 

  • Airbnb’s Aircover – if the owner needs to cancel your reservation within 30 days of your stay, Airbnb will help you rebook a similar place to stay
  • VRBO’s Book with Confidence – if the owner unexpectedly cancels your reservation within 30 days of your stay, VRBO will help you find a comparable property

If you’re using one of the major internet platforms and have prepaid for your lodging, you’ll need to negotiate with them for a refund. Typically, you’ll find the rental agreement to have information about your rights.

Ultimately, if a vacation rental or hotel chain suddenly cancels your reservation, you’ll only get what you negotiate. There are no distinct rules or guarantees about compensation or covering the cost of substitute lodging.

How do you avoid secret hotel fees?

To avoid seeing a creatively named surcharge on your bill at checkout, you can:

1. Avoid the worst offenders

See the hotel resort fee lookup tool before booking your hotel. Alternatively, call the hotel desk and ask what surcharges you will be expected to pay before you book.

Pro tip: some locations (Orlando, Las Vegas, and some Caribbean islands) have long-standing reputations for charging outrageous fees. To avoid them, book outside the main tourist center instead.

2. Carefully look at your reservation

There are apparently two schools of thought from hotel administration:

  1. Take the ethical route and list the mandatory fees as part of the room rate on the reservation.
  2. Take the less ethical route and wait until the final checkout – a practice called drip pricing – to give customers the final, all-in price.

Either way, you should know exactly how much you’ll pay for your hotel before you check in. If you don’t you have a strong case for getting the fees removed. That leads us to our next point …

3. File a credit card dispute

If you paid by credit card, you have the power to dispute undisclosed fees. File a credit card chargeback and ask to have the fee removed.

Pro tip: this is where #2 (look at your reservation) comes into play.

4. Politely complain

It’s always good to assume the best in people. When you have your final bill in hand, stop by the hotel front desk and inquire about those unexpected fees. 

  • If you can prove it was not disclosed (check your reservation details), then you can ask that it be removed.
  • If you’re a member of the hotel’s frequent-stay program, you can often avoid the worst of hotel fees (ask to make sure they have your loyalty number).
  • If you’re part of a large group, like a conference, you can ask your corporate travel manager to negotiate to have the fees removed.

Pro tip: there are some great methods to winning your argument – see this list of strategies.

Damian Tysdal

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.