NEW YORK (MainStreet) Check out at the Boulders, a luxury resort in Carefree, Ariz., and you are in for a surprise: every day there is a $30 resort fee and that covers telephone, parking, Internet and spa access.
The fee is not optional. It is a mandatory burden tacked onto every guest's bill.
The Boulders is not alone. Across America and beyond, an ever growing army of resorts nick guests for resort fees of $20 and higher per night, usually for the same bundle of services: bad WiFi, the inroom telephone you will never use, parking (even if you don't drive), pool towels, access to a gym, delivery of a newspaper you probably do not open, and, well, the kinds of things you rightly expect at a high-end hotel.
Call this a sharply divided fight. On the one side are guests who - pretty much universally - bitterly decry the daily upcharge. On the other side are hoteliers who, off the record, also pretty much universally say they despise the resort fee, but they charge it because if they did not, they would boost their rates by the same amount and would therefore jump out at a higher price point than competitors who charge lower room rates. Everybody does it, they say with a wink and a shrug.
But know that - with pluck and grit - you sometimes can get out of paying those fees.
This is becoming a must-have skill, because resort fees are even starting to show up at big city hotels. The Roger Hotel, near Grand Central in Manhattan charges $22 per night, for instance. The fees also have begun showing up at hotels in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and in other big cities where accommodations have little that is resort-like about them.
The big question: Is this legal?
The answer: maybe not. The Federal Trade Commission, a year ago, fired a warning shot when it told 22 hotel operators that they may be in violation of the law for "providing a deceptively low estimate of what consumers can expect to pay for their hotel rooms."
The FTC pointed a large finger at resort fees: "One common complaint consumers raised involved mandatory fees hotels charge for amenities such as newspapers, use of onsite exercise or pool facilities, or Internet access, sometimes referred to as 'resort fees.' These mandatory fees can be as high as $30 per night, a sum that could certainly affect consumer purchasing decisions."
Note: the FTC is not saying hotels cannot charge for such things. What it is saying is that charges have to be clearly disclosed, and frequently resort fees are anything but. Many hotels bury the fees in the fine print of room taxes and other items nobody really reads.
About the only thing that has changed in the year since the FTC put hotels on notice about resort fees is that more hotels charge them.
Which brings us to the money question: how can you not pay those resort fees?
Experts say this is a winnable fight.
Christopher Elliott, who writes a syndicated travel advice column and who calls resort fees "fundamentally dishonest," offered two tactics that may result in a hotel voiding its resort fee for you: "If the fee wasn't adequately disclosed at the time of the booking, you can politely ask the resort to remove it. That works sometimes."
Added Elliott, "If you don't plan to use any of the amenities covered by the fee, you can also ask the hotel to remove the fee--that also works sometimes."
Joe Brancatelli, who blogs about travel at JoeSentMe, also offered encouragement. "The easiest way to get out of it is simply refusing to pay it," Brancatelli said. "The hotel front desk will often remove the charge on polite but insistent request, especially if you have status with the chain [through a loyaty program]."
In other words: dig your heels in and ask the desk clerk to cancel the charges. If he refuses, ask to talk with a manager. Do this in public - in the hotel lobby - and don't be shy. Be polite, but speak up and, if only to stop other guests from getting the same idea as they overhear you, the GM will almost certainly erase the fees.
--Written by Robert McGarvey for MainStreet