Would you pay a $25 “urban fee” to stay at a hotel near Times Square?
The question is not academic. A growing number of hotels – many clustered around Times Square – are dinging guests $25 extra per night in an “urban fee,” modeled on a resort fee of course.
On the list are Hilton New York, Marriotts around Times Square, even Le Parker Meridien.
When a staffer at the UK Independent called Marriott to inquire about the fee, here’s what they learned. “A member of staff said it was a fee reflecting the hotels’ proximity to a ‘tourist attraction,’ that it was specific to Times Square, and that none of the other Manhattan hotels charged a fee.”
Do we have to put up with this?
The urban fees are in fact not new. As far back as 2013, Reuters noted that urban fees were showing up at some hotels.
It’s not just Manhattan either. In San Francisco, some 34 hotels charge an urban fee, up from just three in 2016.
What do you get for this fee? Not much. Usually hotels point to allegedly “premium” Internet access, maybe gym access, possibly a local newspaper, probably local phone calls – and, really, this is just stuff I don’t want or use and before it was usually free.
Even some hotel executives know such fees are hinky. At a recent conference, co sponsored by Hotel Business, Bob Habeeb, CEO of First Hospitality Group, said: “I think the tricky thing with resort fees or amenity fees is they’ve got to represent a real value for the consumer and not be just a veiled play for ADR. During the waning days of the Obama administration, the FCC called Katherine Lugar [the CEO of AHLA] and said we’ve been looking at the way your industry uses these amenity fees as a backdoor way to collect unspecified and undisclosed revenue, and I think we’re going to look at this.”
Habeeb added that in the Trump era pressures from Washington appear to have lessened. But he added: “It’s inevitable that consumers are going to push back if these fees don’t represent something that they can find value in. It’s a great idea to have little packages people can buy into and enhance their experience, but you’re on slippery ground when you start talking about charging a fee for things people perceive should be part of what they paid for in the first place.”
Resort fees in some locations have crept up over $50 daily. I am not against hotels charging more – we live in a capitalist society. What I am against is showing one price as the daily rate and then adding on taxes and fees that can significantly raise the daily rate.
Hotels love fees. In 2017, NYU professor Bjorn Hanson estimated they’d rake in around $2.7 billion in fees and upcharges.
Hanson, incidentally, has stated that hotels are doing a better job of plaininly disclosing fees. “Some fees and surcharges are sometimes unfairly called ‘hidden’ or ‘surprise,’ but disclosure on websites, confirmation emails, ‘tent’ cards in guest rooms, room service menus, and guest service directories continues to increase in the nature of the disclosure. In interviews for this update, the issue is more about unpopularity of fees and surcharges rather than fees and surcharges being ‘hidden’. One of the reasons for the sense that some of these fees and surcharges are ‘hidden’ or ‘surprise’ is because the categories are often established and the amounts are set hotel-by-hotel rather than by brand, and both can change frequently.”
The bad news: as hotels have gotten better at disclosure they also have dug in their heels about erasing them. Used to be, four or five years ago, if you made a ruckus at checkout about the resort fee, poof, it disappeared. Not so fast anymore, frequent travelers tell me.
So how can you avoid the new urban fees? For starters, just don’t stay at hotels that charge the fees. There may be three dozen San Francisco hotels that charge an urban fee, but there are around 500 hotels in and very near the city that don’t. The odds are with you.
As for Manhattan, mainly the urban fee seems to be found near Times Square – and whyever would you want to stay there?
Many, many hundreds of Manhattan hotels don’t charge an urban fee so if you stay at one that does it is on you. Just don’t.
The point: it’s up to us to avoid the fees we don’t want to pay.
Most hotels on the Las Vegas Strip now charge a resort fee. Most hotels in Scottsdale do likewise. Ditto Hawaii. There just are places where it’s tough to duck a resort fee so we will pay it and grumble.
Urban fees are different. They are at a handful of properties and if we skip those properties – maybe even posting that a reason is the urban fee – hoteliers may get the message that this is one fee too far.
It’s up to us to just say no.