How To Avoid Hotel Resort Fees (And Which Brands Are The Worst) |
You know how you book a room that was originally advertised for less than $100 per night, then it suddenly jumped to over $150? Part of it is because of taxes, but another big chunk probably comes from resort fees.
Some hotels have more offensive resort fees than others, and – while resort fees tend to be between $20 and $50 among hotels that charge them – their price can vary widely (especially as a percentage of the total cost of the trip).
Why Resort Fees Are So Boring
Sometimes called amenity fees, destination fees, resort fees, or resort fees, these semi-hidden fees are one of the most blunt — and increasingly common — aspects of travel.
The first known resort fees emerged as early as 1997, according to the Federal Trade Commission. It didn’t take long for customers to start complaining, and in 2012 the FTC issued warnings to 22 hotels that resort fees weren’t being properly disclosed on their hotel reservation websites. Although resorts have since changed the way they disclose resort fees, many complaints still exist.
This is largely due to what the fees actually cover. At the time, resort fees were charged to justify the luxury amenities associated with the room. More frequently now, however, hotels are fixing them in rooms that don’t look like a resort in any way.
Resort fees are a significant part of your vacation budget
NerdWallet analyzed more than 100 hotels in the United States with registration dates in January 2023. Among hotels that charge resort fees, the average resort fee was $42.41. Compared to the room rate, the resort fee averaged 11% of the overall cost of the hotel stay each night.
But especially at budget hotels, resort fees can make up a bigger chunk of your accommodation spend than that. Take, for example, the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Alana on Waikiki Beach. On the initial booking page, you are presented with a one night stay in October 2023 for $235. But then you’re hit with $49 in additional taxes and $35 in resort fees, bringing your total cost to around $320. That’s a 35% increase over the price you were presented with. And depending on the price of your room, sometimes the resort fee can be well over 35% of your room rate (and sometimes the taxes and fees combined are even more than the room rate itself).
Resort fee covers odd expenses
Of course, some hotels charge resort fees that are arguably worth it. $48 resort fee at Hyatt’s Andaz Maui in Hawaii gets you a welcome basket of local snacks including Maui Brewing Co. root beer, guava juice and macadamia nuts, complimentary snorkel gear and GoPro rentals, plus free lessons in ukulele, hula, stand-up paddleboarding, and cocktail making. There are also free outrigger canoe rides, among other perks. At the Ritz-Carlton Bacara in Santa Barbara, Calif., the $50 resort fee includes fitness classes, tennis racquet and e-bike rentals, and guided hikes.
But at many other hotels, the resort fee covers extras that are hardly extras at all.
At the Excalibur in Las Vegas, the daily rate of $35 includes access to the gym and Wi-Fi (though most off-resort hotels offer free Wi-Fi anyway and the use of the gym), as well as unlimited calls from the room. Plus, it covers free boarding pass printing (in case you still prefer them over mobile boarding passes).
Accommodation fees are mandatory
In most scenarios, you can’t just refuse to pay a resort fee, even if you’ve never set foot in the hotel gym.
Unlike airline baggage fees, which can be avoided by not checking baggage, there is no (easy) way to avoid resort fees. Instead, these fees are simply added at the last stage of payment.
How to Avoid Resort Fees
Since resort fees are charged on the rooms that charge them, avoiding them takes effort.
Book resort stays with hotel points (at select brands) or with elite status
When you book rooms on certain points, some resorts still add a resort fee, which you must pay in cash on top of the point rate. But at Hilton Honors and World of Hyatt, resort fees are waived on award bookings. It’s a win-win because you won’t be paying cash for the room – or the annoying fees.
The best hotel elite status programs do not charge resort fees to their most loyal members. Hyatt does not charge this fee to Globalist members, which is the program’s highest level of elite status. Because Hyatt charges some of the highest fees in the industry, this is an especially valuable perk (though realistically it’s not one that many travelers can reasonably expect).
Use travel statement credits
Some travel credit cards offer statement credits that cover a broad definition of travel. Load a covered expense onto the card (which can often include ferries, buses, campsites, and extras like baggage), and you can get a refund. Typically, resort expenses are also reimbursed as part of travel statement credits.
Present your file in person
Sometimes asking an employee to waive your fee can do the trick. You cannot simply refuse to pay the resort fee, but – just as some hotel employees are sometimes empowered to compensate you – the employee may have the power to waive your resort fee.
Just understand that this is the exception, not the norm. And while it doesn’t hurt to ask, it helps to ask nicely.
Hotels with the highest and lowest resort fees
To better understand the best and worst hotels for resort fees, NerdWallet conducted a comprehensive analysis of dozens of individual hotels across six of the top hotel brands to determine which were charging the highest resort fees. The data was for hotels in destinations where resort fees are common — such as Las Vegas and Orlando, Florida — as well as major cities. The data, which is part of a larger effort to find the best airline and hotel loyalty programs of 2023was collected as part of NerdWallet Best prices 2023.
Wyndham properties had the highest average resort fees relative to room rates, with Hyatt coming in second for the worst resort fees.
Technically, Best Western had the lowest resort fees, but perhaps that’s unsurprising given that its hotels typically lack resort amenities. Marriott had the second-lowest resort fee as a percentage of room price, but is considered the winner because its properties are more likely to offer resort-style amenities.
Based on our analysis, we found that the overall average resort fee – including hotels that don’t charge it – is $10.40, while the median resort fee is $40. Among hotels that charge resort fees, the average climbs to $42.41.
Avoid paying hotel resort fees
Perhaps the best way to avoid paying resort fees is to not stay at hotels that charge them, period. According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, about 6% of hotels charge resort fees — and these are the properties that have far more amenities available than other lodging establishments.
Most hotels in popular tourist destinations like Las Vegas and Hawaii will charge for them, but you can find a few gems.
In Hawaii, you can stay at the Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore, where you’ll have access to standard amenities like Wi-Fi, a fitness center, and pool (with waterfall) and can also take part in swimming lessons. ukulele and hula, plus activities like trivia – all at no resort fee.
If resort fees are your big deal, you may also find that vacation rentals like Airbnb are more cost-effective than hotels, especially for longer stays or trips with large groups.
Targeting hotel brands that charge fewer and less frequent resort fees is a good start.