/ Money, Travel & Leisure

Hotel bill shock: the hidden ‘extra’ you have to pay

Whether it’s for work or a holiday getaway, stays in hotels can be expensive enough. And now it seems some hotel booking sites are being sneaky with the non-optional fees, leaving guests caught out.

Remember those ‘flights for 99p’ that would actually cost closer to £99 once taxes, fuel surcharges and credit card fees were added? The government has gone some way to sorting this out with the airline industry. But now hotels are at it.

Many unsuspecting guests at hotels in the Caribbean and America, especially Las Vegas, Florida and New York, ask for their bill at checkout – only to find an extra, non-optional ‘resort fee’ has been added. And it’s pricey, typically £15 to £25 per room, sometimes double that.

Unavoidable hotel fees

The fee covers the guest’s use of facilities, from gyms to phone calls. Details of the charge are often buried in T&Cs, so you’ll be forced to pay, even if you didn’t use anything it covers.

EU-based hotel booking sites are required to be explicit about all non-optional fees, not hide them. But at least two hotel booking sites are making it very difficult to find details about the fees, potentially misleading consumers about the cost of their hotel.

Extras from Expedia

Expedia has already been reprimanded by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for this lack of transparency. It stated that all taxes and fees were included in a booking for Westhouse Hotel, New York, even though the guest was expected to pay an extra $30pp (£20) a day resort fee. The ASA ordered it to make these fees clearer after a complaint.

ASA ruling for change

We looked at five hotel booking sites: Ebookers, Expedia, Hotels.com, Lastminute.com and Opodo to see how clearly they displayed non-optional charges for the Wynn Hotel, Las Vegas.

Three of the hotel sites we looked at, Ebookers, Lastminute.com and Opodo had clearly displayed resort fees. However, Expedia and Hotels.com’s $28 (£19) charges were easy to miss and were not listed alongside the price of the room. You had to scroll to the bottom of the page or click a button to see it.

We think that both websites need to be much clearer in how they display these non-optional fees. They are not listed clearly beside the room price, where we think they should be. Expedia told us it had made initial changes to its site after the ruling and was planning further improvements. Hotels.com said that it is also looking into the matter.

The ASA said that the ruling it made applies not just to Expedia but also to all companies in the holidays and travel sector.

It said: ‘If anyone has concerns that an advertiser isn’t being upfront about non-optional charges we encourage them to get in touch with us.’

Do you know about the resort fee and expect it on your bill? Or have you been caught out at the end of your stay?

When booking a hotel have you ever been hit by a 'hidden' fee?

No never (maybe I need to book holiday) (54%, 120 Votes)

Yes and it took me by surprise (33%, 73 Votes)

Yes but I knew it was coming (13%, 30 Votes)

Total Voters: 223

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These ‘compulsory extras’ appear to be the hotel industry’s response to increased use of ‘discount’ booking sites. I’ve been using hotels.co.uk and Expedia for some years now for business travel to the USA and Europe as well as within the UK. I have noticed the rapid increase of such additions in the USA and now UK and European hotels are catching on.

In the USA ‘resort fees’ and ‘local taxes’ have, to an extent, always been added separately. I say only to an extent as it was generally only the hotels in true ‘resort’ areas that added fees for what had been ‘free’ services such as use of private beach areas, loungers, towels, so as to offer a lower eyecatching headline rate. Local taxes are traditionally charged separately but on hotels.com have always in my own experience been added to the final total displayed as generally I will pay in advance.

Where it gets really nasty is when a visit is made to a city which has a lot of ‘business’ but which is also a ‘resort’ like Miami where, if payment is made on departure, on settling the bill is often doubled by the addition of a string of unannounced charges for everything from parking to use of the rooftop pool and beach facilities whether used or not! And it can get truly nasty. I have seen the Police called in Miami to coerce a convention visitor who had used none of the ‘facilities’ to pay the bill.

This blight is now creeping into Europe and the UK with hotel operators competing on headline price then trying to jack up their ‘take’ by charging separately for everything they can, car parking at out of town hotels where there is no option to use public transport being my pet hate. At many hotels now the room rate is effectively increased by a ‘car paring allocation’ sometimes even when a space is not used or provided. On reading reviews of a hotel out on the North West fringes of London that I might have used it was the previous guests’ comments about a charge being added even if no parking was used that put me off forever!

Like the encrustations of charges and fees added to headline prices by airlines these similar manipulations by hotels need some regulatory attention so as to level the playing field with clarity on the end price to be paid.

These delayed surcharges serve only to facilitate a misleading indication of price, whereby a reduced headline price is advertised with hidden charges added later in order to increase the total amount paid up to what the business wanted to charge but didn’t want to advertise.

Martin’s excellent post above explains how this happens in the United States, a country where sales tax is routinely excluded from headline prices. Although the exclusion of taxes from prices is expected and lawful in the US, it is unlawful through the European Union and most of the rest of Europe. Having said this, I have encountered the problem in Italy. When booking an Italian hotel via UK web sites, a local city tax is excluded and the hotel demands that the guest pay this upon departure. This has happened to me when booking through different UK companies for different Italian cities; it is widespread. This practice is a breach of Regulation 6(4)(d) of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

We came across the local city tax whilst walking from Florence to Sienna last year.
The travel company picked up the bill tho’.
I got the impression that many hotels bill this separately as they pass it on to the local authority and it doesnt go through the books in the normal way,
The amount varied dependant on the quality of the hotel and location but was about €3/2 per night per person.

David Waring says:
17 January 2015

I have twice been charged a local city tax : 2012 Marseilles, 2014 Brussels. I did not know that this was a breach of the regulation 6(4)(d) of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.
On both of these occasions I had booked my holiday/city break with the same booking agent that I was about to use for a 14 day tour of France and Spain by train in May of this year but their office was closed and when I checked my emails (to pass time while I waited for them to open) I came across your comments! Whew. I like their service but I shall certainly be taking this matter up with them before I book anything further with them. Thanks.

In September last year we went to Rome. There was a note attached to the reception desk stating that there would be an additional charge due to the implementation of a City tax. This had come into effect the week prior to our visit. The receptionist said that it was calculated on the star rating. In our case it was 8 euros a night- not a vast amount but it would have been better knowing about this before we went .

Andy B says:
17 January 2015

Probably confirms benefit of looking at comments on booking website or Tripadvisor.

Iwan Morris says:
19 January 2015

I have never been hit by a hidden surcharge while staying in a Spanish resort, and very few times only in a Northern European City. However, it used to be a joke between fellow travellers as to how much the “Berlusconi” city taxes would be when we were paying up on departure from the Italian resorts and cities that we stayed in on concert tours. We had already paid up in preparation before arriving at the venues, but it was interesting to find a “leaving Tax” levy associated with the “used materials” bills that were to be paid on our departures in the paperwork. They were ultimately sorted out, but if I remember correctly, the amount had to be paid in cash!! There is no doubt that the unsubtle nature of these taxes do leave a sour taste, but a similar thing that took place on leaving Fiji some 18 years ago could have been awkward as the “Leaving Fee” which had not been discussed prior to being collected for the airport, was demanded and had to be paid in cash of
Fijian denomination. Of course, most trippers to Fiji would not be returning and so had disposed of the last note and coin before arriving at the point of payment, and it took a fair bit of sorting out.
Notification is OK, but why can’t it be standard and declared in the Bookings!!?

Derick.W says:
20 January 2015

We were on the brink of booking an apartment in the Algarve through Trip Advisor, when they asked for the payment in Dollars. Strange we thought, so we checked with another site and found that the owner was English.
Trip Advisor pays the owners in Sterling so is charging for Sterling to Dollars and back again.
Naughty, as it that was about £150.00.

Miles says:
6 March 2016

I just booked a hotel with a reasonable deal on Expedia. Listing said, “No Expedia booking or credit card fees”. Hidden in a pop-up accessible only when you click a link in some fine print is a notice that the hotel charges $120 “cleaning fee”. Made the stay not so reasonable anymore.

Way to build trust in the industry :p

I have just been caught out by Expedia for something totally unexpected.I booked a one night stay at the Sanderson in London for £238.80 inc taxes and opted to pay at the hotel.I handed in my copy of the booking confirmation but was then charged £47.78 VAT on departure.!! Expedia stated when I contacted them to ask for help as they acted as an agent on my behalf that they are an American company and have nothing to do with VAT and that their advertised price of £238.80 does not include this tax even though it is a compulsory to pay it in the UK even if you then for whatever reason claim it back and b all hotel are required to show prices inc. VAT and if they don’t they have to state excluding VAT @ 20%.They also said I should have checked with the hotel to see if it was included-ironic because all their rates state that they are VAT inclusive. In short Expedia does not think that it has any responsibility to inform customers that they will be liable to pay VAT even if the agreed rate states that tax is included.Sounds like having your cake etc.

That sounds like a very unfair practice by Expedia, Linda. That additional cost made for a very expensive night in London. I believe that for compliance with UK law Expedia should quote the price inclusive of VAT, or at least state clearly that VAT is payable on top of the room charge. It is particularly misleading because they say ‘inc taxes’ which presumably means local sales taxes or tourist taxes as found in many parts of the world. Anyone would assume that such a term also includes a mainstream and unavoidable tax like VAT. The excuse of being an American company does not wash; Hotels.com is also an American company but does not conceal the VAT element.

Apart from that, did the rate include breakfast, and was it a good hotel experience?

There is apparently some kick-back from hotel chains over the chunky charges that these booking companies take of the total price. I have read this can be “up to” 30% [going from10%]. Now that the larger hotel companies have got to understand on-line booking AND that travel has rebounded from the financial crash they would rather customers regularly used them directly rather than an intermediary creaming profit.

Which? should be providing consumers with the inside knowledge of how these on-line organisations make money and what are the pitfalls. This Expedia item is really interesting and thanks to Linda for taking the time to warn others off.

However the burying of this knowledge ina Conversation highlights why I really really want Which? to provide a Wikipedia type interface so whenever I seek to buy or use a company I can check up on it . This to be called CAwiki in reference to the little -known Consumers’ Association which owns Which? Ltd.

It would also be beneficial to know that there are inter-continental hotel chains and if you are annoyed with one you may want know who else to avoid.

Apparently, you should never use hotel booking websites. The best method for both the best deals and the most accurate pricing is to book directly with the hotels themselves.

I endorse that. Ian.

Using a hotel-finding site to find a hotel is quite a good idea but it is usually then best [and cheaper] to book directly with the chosen hotel. If we all did that the Trivago’s and Expedia’s of this world would fold; we managed without them years ago and could get along without them now. They appeal to people’s laziness and desire for convenience. They project an image of trust and superior ability to get you what you want, but basically they are parasites that overall have a negative effect on the hotel business leading to a decline in standards and a hike in rates. They originated at a time when many hotels did not have good systems and were unreliable, but that has changed as they have had to modernise in order to appear on comparison sites. The intermediaries also appeared to provide a simple way to avoid language and communication difficulties but that is rarely an issue these days for English-speaking travellers. Booking ‘through’ the comparison site can still lead to errors and complications. I have witnessed scenes at check-in desks as travellers who think they have a reservation find they don’t or it is not the specified accommodation.

People should think about Tripadvisor: where does the money come from to host a worldwide review site [with a substantial admin tail] that is freely available to anyone who logs on? Obviously, from the commission it charges on bookings made through the site and from the charges it makes to hotels etc to be associated with it. There is only one source for such costs – the guest.

One tip I would offer to those booking directly with a hotel is to carry the same credit card on arrival as was used to make the booking.

Given Expedia’s previous run-in with the ASA can watch take-up this case for Linda Wilson.?

All the hotels in New York are gouging travellers with their $35 facilities fees. We got charged $240 for a three night stay in the Park Central (two rooms, four people). In future we are going to use AirBnB. I am never going to stay in a hotel in NY again, after 40 years of visiting the city the hotels finally lost my custom. Congratulations NY.

The Park Central is notorious for that sort of treatment.

7 March 2020

I have recently returned from New Orleans after staying at the Hilton Riverside Hotel. I signed out of the hotel after receiving a receipt which had a amount owing of zero. When I arrived home I have been charged over £200 on my credit card. I have contacted the hotel by e-mail but had no reply. I have contacted my credit card company and they say that the hotel have fifteen days to rectify the payment or explain it. Is this right?

Hi Albert,

I think you should speak to the hotel to find out what the charge is for and why it was not presented when you checked out.

From my experience of checking out:

I have sometimes had to remind reception that the previous night’s restaurant bill had yet to reach my account.

Also sometimes I have successfully challenged charges to my room that clearly should have gone to other guests’ bills.