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1.8 billion reasons hotels love add-on fees

If you’re staying at a hotel or resort in the coming months, Bjorn Hanson has a little advice:

“Before you buy, use or do anything, ask if there’s a fee or charge involved,” said Hanson, who studies the lodging industry as dean of the Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University.

Why? Because according to Hanson’s research, U.S. hotels will take in an estimated $1.8 billion in add-on fees and surcharges this year. That’s a small (6 percent) increase from last year — due mostly to increases in occupancy, he says — but up a whopping 50 percent from the $1.2 billion they collected in 2000.

“They’ve become institutionalized as a revenue source for many hotels,” Hanson told msnbc.com. “They’re becoming more widely practiced and more guests are being surprised by them.”

Among those surprises:

  • Baggage-holding fees: Checking out at noon but not flying home until 6 p.m.? While some hotels will still store your luggage for free, more are charging for the service. “They’re charging $1 to $3.50 per bag,” said Hanson. “That’s in addition to the expectation of a gratuity.”
  • Minibar-restocking fees: According to Hanson, more hotels are charging a fee of $2.95 to $9.95 to restock minibars if even a single item has been removed. If you can’t resist the urge, “maybe you should buy more items to amortize the expense,” he said.
  • Resort fees: These fees, which typically cover bottled water, use of the in-room safe, access to the fitness center, etc., can run between $8 and $40 per day. Worse yet, they’re generally mandatory, which means you’re charged whether you use the amenities and services or not.

“People hate resort fees more than anything,” said Anthony Curtis, who monitors the Las Vegas lodging scene as president of LasVegasAdvisor.com, an online newsletter. “We try to make the point that they can be reasonable if it’s something most people would use anyway, like Internet access, but people just don’t buy it.

“Our readers tell us it feels like a bait and switch,” said Curtis. “They’d rather see a higher rate that’s all-inclusive.”

Alas, the evidence suggests that travelers are more likely to see those higher rates but no decreases in add-on fees and charges.

“As hotel occupancy recovers, it will provide a sense of confidence on the part of hotel executives to implement more fees and increase the dollar amount of existing fees,” said Hanson. “Larger increases are ahead.”

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Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.