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Hotels making record profits on growing list of surcharges

Hotel-services

Hotels first started adding surcharges in 1997, mostly at resorts with expansive pools, tennis courts and fancy gyms. The so-called resort fees paid for staff to set up beach umbrellas and lounge chairs. Three years later, hotels added energy surcharges to cover rising utility bills.

Hotels then refrained from adding any major surcharge for several years. But as airlines and car rental agencies made fees commonplace, hotels started to think up new ones, collecting record amounts in each of the past four years, according to Hanson’s research.

Even the in-room minibar — a decades-old splurge — isn’t safe from the new wave of add-ons.

At the Liberty Hotel in Boston a cold can of Coke from the minibar costs $5. That’s just the base price. The fine print on the menu reveals an 18-percent “administrative fee” to restock the bar.

Elsewhere, the in-room offerings more conspicuous. Jimmy R. Howell was shocked by the W San Diego’s efforts to sell him snacks and drinks.

“Usually these extras are kept under lock and key,” Howell says. At the W, they were “strewn about” the room, above the bar, on the desk, nightstands and in the bathroom. “It seems like an effort to tempt you.”

Even moving an item in the minibar can generate a fee.

The Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, like many other hotels, bills items to guests’ rooms if sensors in the minibar note they have been removed for more than 60 seconds — enough time, hotels say, to read the nutritional information and make a decision.

The Aria goes one step further. It also charges a $25 a day “personal use fee” if a guest puts their own soda or bottled water in the minibar. A guest in need of a mini refrigerator can have one delivered to their room — for an extra $35 a night.

Some hotels are bucking the trend. Hyatt’s upscale boutique Andaz chain offers complimentary local snacks and non-alcoholic drinks from its minibars.

Hotels are also revisiting resort fees, upping the price, especially at the high-end.

For $650 a night, guests at the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort — set on a former coconut plantation in Puerto Rico — enjoy rooms with 300-thread-count sheets and walk-in-closets. But that’s not the full price. There’s a $60 nightly resort charge, which provides for a welcome drink upon check-in, Internet access, the use of beach umbrellas and lounge chairs, bicycles and a daily poolside ritual iced tea service that includes fruit skewers. Guests pay whether they use the services or not.

Other hotels are adding mandatory tips.

The Fairmont Southampton in Bermuda, which was recently charging $469 a night, charges a resort fee and mandatory gratuities for each person in a room. So two adults and two kids sharing a room would incur $48.28 a night in resort fees and $40.80 tips — adding 19 percent to the nightly rate.

And the fees aren’t limited to resorts anymore. The Serrano hotel in downtown San Francisco adds on a $20 per night “Urban Fee” that includes Internet, local phone calls, newspapers, morning coffee and use of bicycles.

Perhaps nowhere are hotels pushing fees further than in Las Vegas. Forget resort fees. Those are taken for granted there. Resorts like The Bellagio are learning from airlines and selling enhancements.

Want to skip the notoriously long Las Vegas check-in lines? That will be $30 extra. Want to check-in early? That’s another $30. Check-out late? Also $30.

And if you want two queen beds or one king bed, it will cost extra to guarantee your preference. For an extra — you guessed it — $30, the Bellagio will lock in three room preferences such as bed type, requests to be near or far away from the elevators, rooms on a high or low floor or the option to have quieter non-connecting rooms.

Then there was the fee Hank Phillippi Ryan, a mystery writer, faced while in town to sign copies of her new book “Truth Be Told” at a convention. Before heading to the airport, she went to the lobby of the Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino to print her boarding pass. There a kiosk offered the service — for $7.95.

“I think I actually yelped,” she recalls. “I had never seen that before.”

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