Just Say No To Hotel “Urban Fees”


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.”

I am on record, for some years now, as a loud opponent of  resort fees.  They are just a way for hoteliers to sneakily grab your money.

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.

7 thoughts on “Just Say No To Hotel “Urban Fees””

  1. Avliding the hotels hasn’t worked in the past. Far too many people accept and pay them, even if they don’t like them. The only way to solve this is legislation. No business should be able to impose a mandatory fee in addition to their rate. People travelling on redemptions end up paying for a stay that should be points only. I did a query recently for a Marriott in New York (and NOT near times Square, it was in the Upper East Side, I believe. In addition to the $700 plus dollar room night, they’d added the destination fee. Can you imagine in the grocery store if you bought a can of corn and the store accessed a 25 cent “store usage fee” so they could offer the corn for 79 cents in their flyer and still make a dollar four? That is just exactly what the grocery store equivalent is to what the hotels are doing, but it looks even more absurd in the context of a can of corn. This whole fee thing is total abuse of the consumer. The only thing more absurd is the fact that the legislators don’t put a stop to it.

  2. Firstly, I agree that paying an Urban Fee to stay in Times Square sounds like a joke. I cannot think of a less savory place to stay in Manhattan. In New York City, particularly, virtually everything is conveniently located thanks to public transportation and relatively reasonable taxis. I’d pay to get out of Times Swuate.
    Secondly, I recently experienced an Urban Fee (although it was called something else). Apparently it did appear in the fine print but because it’s something I didn’t expect it wasn’t something I was on the look-out for such as taxes, “resort fee” (obviously…this was Boston), wifi, etc. I was charged something like $25.00 recently at a Starwood property in Boston (a so-called five-star property). When I checked in they offered me a glass of Prosecco, but not to my traveling companion who was paying her own Urban Fee for her own room. She was sitting down while I stood in line for SPG special members (gold status). There were lots of Lou he’s and bars in or adjacent to the reception area and there was a weekly party for dogs going on (I kid you not.) Of course these venues are not free and a table in the bar is not guaranteed. All the spaces are commingled with the lobby and reception and concierge that it is impossible to escape the raucous loud music and wild barking dogs. When I checked out I asked about the $25.00 per room fee. The desk clerk replied: ” Well, you know that free glass of “Champagne” (read: prosecco) you had when you got here plus all the venues available and we have free apples in the lobby and we run events like the dog party…well all of these things are included in the fee and the fee is clearly stated as an additional charge when you make your reservation . So, the complimentary glass of Champagne that no guest who received one acted as if it was an entitlement but rather a kind gesture for which the desk clerk was profusely thanked. Upgraded wifi was not included nor was parking (of course). And Included was the punishment of having to hear dozens of barking dogs during the dog mitzvah taking place.
    Room service now automatically adds on a tip in addition to the service charge and it says so on the bill but the giant space for the tip is still there. But I know about that one!
    Taxes and government mandated fees are another issue. So…
    Thirdly, in the U.K. They passed a law requiring hotels to require all pricing to be quoted with the 25% VAT already included in the price of the accommodation. No other way of communicating the price of a room should be permitted! At least in England (and a few other countries, absolutely) the posted and quoted cost of your accommodation is not 25% less than it really is.
    These fees and taxes may not be hidden but if there’s nothing to hide why not quote them as the immutable part of the price for staying in the room: room service, valet parking, etc are charges we expect to pay but $25.00 to hear music in the elevator or be assaulted by drunken happy hour guests lounging in the lobby doesn’t seem like a fair charge.

  3. The first time that I encountered a resort fee was some years ago at the Dolphin Hotel at Epcot, where a client was holding an event. I have never again stayed at that property, and I always now ask about additional mandatory fees when booking a hotel. I was just at the Marriott Marquis Union Square in San Francisco, which fortunately did not impose an “urban fee.” But I was lucky that I did not have a car with me. The nighly parking rate was $74.15. Also in DC, the Embassy Suites charged me $45/night for parking. I now know there is a public garage a block away for much less, which I will use in the future. One has to be on guard at all times. The hotels have learned from the airlines: take advantage of EVERY possible hidden charge. Displayed rental car rates are often the base rate. Taxes and airport/city fees can add as much as 57% in my experience. Why do they do that? They are all competing in the same market with the same taxes and fees. I am willing to pay whatever price I have agreed to, but I rail against hidden fees. A Ruth Chris Steak House in San Antonio charged me for “rocks” — the ice in a bourbon on the rocks, and I have never eaten at another one again. Similarly, the low-level chain restaurant Carrabba’s Italian Grill added an 18% tip to my bill for a party of one. I told asked the waitress to get me the manager. He came to my table, asked me what he could do for me, and I said, “Call the police.” He asked me why, and I told him that I was not going to pay the bill. He took off the tip, and I left it for the waitress in cash. Also, I’ve noticed some restaurants now have decided “not to deal in change,” but they always seem to round off in their favor. Some restaurants print suggested tip amounts on the bill. Check their math. The figures on occasion don’t compute and are inflated compared to the percentage listed. It all makes you want to stay home.

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  5. It’s now Sept 2018. Most of the hotels with any name recognition in SF that used to not impose the fee, now have a “destination fee”. So it will be hard to get them to take it off. How do we change the legislation???

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