Airline Fees Spread: Hotels, Resorts and Restaurants Catching Fee Fever

Airline fees for checked-bags, snacks, changing reservations and booking flights over the phone are not a surprise anymore (but if this is news to you, better study up on today’s airline fees for travelers).

This year, we saw the end of “free” standby flight privileges at some airlines (American, for one, will now charge $50 for this). On the horizon: the possibility of pay toilets on airlines, or at least on Europe’s Ryanair – though it’s hard to tell if the carrier’s outspoken CEO is serious or simply spouting off for the publicity value.

Is Everyone Going Fee Crazy?

But airlines aren’t the only ones going fee-crazy. So are hotels – and restaurants. But maybe cruise lines actually got the trend rolling (Google “cruise fees” and more than eleven million results pop up). And rental car companies have been playing the game for awhile, too.

You know, like the now fairly common fee to add a second driver to your rental car – a fee that can set you back (with some rental car companies, anyway) about $10 a day or more.

As noted, eateries are catching fee fever, too. Visitors to San Francisco may be surprised to see some restaurants are imposing a separate “health surcharge” fee to help owners cover the cost of employee medical care, but this has been around for a few years.

The “No Flip-flops” Fee

But here’s a new dining charge: a restaurant owner in Australia is imposing a “thongage” fee of about $9 – he slaps it on the bill of anyone who has the audacity to show up at his Darwin dining spot wearing flip-flops.

Beware the Mini-Bar

Hotels had been slacking off on fees during the economic meltdown, but while rooms are still relative bargains, fees are understandably making a comeback – because, like those airline bag fees, the money is just too good to pass up.

Among the old and new hotel fees noted by the St. Petersburg Tribune:

Baggage hold fees: no, many hotels won’t hang on to or store your baggage for free anymore, even for a couple of hours – before you check in or after you check out

  • Housekeeping surcharge (which can hover around $10)
  • Mini-bar stocking fee – to check and see if you’ve used anything
  • Those water bottles in your room – no, they’re not free – and can cost $6 or more

But the most imaginative fee may well be the “resort fee” – which seems to be imposed on properties¬†with the least pretension to the name.

Bottled Water Fee

A resort fee can cover a variety of amenities – but the fun really starts when it comes as a total surprise to the clueless hotel guests.

Christopher Elliott recently reported on a couple who were shocked when hit with a $10 a day “resort fee” for a high-end Disney property in Orlando – a hotel fee that covered Internet, phone, and bottled water – none of which the couple took advantage of. They complained but apparently you don’t mess with the Mouse and the fee remained on their bill.

How to Avoid the Fees

You’re excited about your vacation, so you may not be a vigilant as you usually are. That’s a mistake. Read the fine print on everything you buy from airline tickets to hotel room and more. Make your car rental reservations online so you don’t feel pressured at the counter to grab your keys and go – take the time to read what you’re buying.

If the car rental company charges a huge fee for the convenience of renting at the airport, look for off-site rental agencies; if the hotel charges a resort fee, call them and ask for an explanation before you reserve your room – maybe you can work something out. If there is no resort fee, fine – but don’t touch that bottle of water until you call the front desk to find out if it’s “complimentary” or not.

And if you happen to find yourself in Australia’s Northern Territory, preparing to dine in an Italian restaurant called Tramontana – please, change out of those flip-flops first.

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Published: May 19, 2010