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Lodging experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic are changing, but fees aren’t

Some fees are hidden, so travelers should do their homework and ask some questions

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Photo (c) Boy_Anupong - Getty Images
Going somewhere? Maybe taking your first getaway since the start of the pandemic? You’ll probably be looking for a place to stay, just like I did when I set out on my COVID-19 revenge tour. As I found out, there are some new wrinkles and old wrinkles to consider when trying to decide on lodging.

Hello, goodbye

There have been considerable changes in the lodging world since the beginning of the pandemic. For one thing, the hungry traveler can bid farewell to their treasured hotel buffet. Anything that is “shared” -- utensil holders, self-serve beverage stations, etc. -- are a trouble spot waiting to happen when travelers are trying to keep socially distant and out of the coronavirus’ way. Pre-packaged muffins and granola bars are now the norm.

You can also say adios to having maid service every day unless you specifically ask for it. That’s because hotels are still trying to financially rebound from the pandemic and feel it’s a corner they can cut with a sympathetic customer. On top of that, there are fewer people to do those jobs thanks to the hospitality industry being down about 300,000 jobs from where it was in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Digital has also become the primary go-to for hotels. For example, the check-in process has become more app-based. Hilton is among the early adopters that have embraced digital touchpoints. The chain’s app allows customers to check in before they arrive, pick the room they think is right for them, and unlock their door with their phone.

Hidden fees have not gone away...

One thing that the pandemic didn’t slow down or change is the plague of pesky fees that increase the price of an overnight stay.

Two years after lawsuits were filed by state attorneys general against Marriott and Hilton, and lawmakers first grumbled about hidden fees at hotels and introduced the Hotel Advertising Transparency Act, nothing has changed. In fact, another fee-focused lawsuit was filed against MGM Resorts earlier this year.

Despite pandemic conditions, hotels are still lining their pockets with things like drip pricing and bundled fees for amenities -- like workout rooms -- even though those amenities might be unavailable to a guest because of COVID-19. In fact, misrepresentations about costs, amenities, etc. flung the Travel category into the Top 10 for the first time in the Consumer Federation of America’s recently released annual list of complaints. 

When I was looking for a safe, clean, and affordable place to stay in San Francisco, I fully expected a more buttoned-up approach to cleanliness. I was also hopeful that hotels would take the same posture as airlines with change fees and ditch some of their own “resort fees.” 

I was wrong. In my searches, I saw outlandish fees like $28.95 per person to get their breakfast to-go and a self-parking fee of $51.30 per night. When I found a hotel that reasonably met my expectations, some of that hope was dashed when I was surprised with a new, pandemic-related fee when I checked in -- an extra $23/day postured as a “sanitation fee” by the hotel clerk, but one not listed by Hotels.com in its listing of this particular hotel’s fees. 

"Though hotel services and amenities were reduced during the pandemic, hotels actually have been increasing hidden fees during the pandemic,” Lauren Wolfe, Counsel for Travelers United, told ConsumerAffairs.

“Many hotels have now added a Covid fee. Even with these added fees, hotels are reducing housekeeping services and still often have many amenities closed. This shows there is no correlation between services and extra fees."

Look closely and ask questions

Before assuming that a price listed in big, bold, green letters is the final price you’ll pay, do yourself a favor and try one of these methods to confirm what you’ll be paying for a hotel stay when all is said and done.

  • Call the hotel directly and ask if there are fees that you’ll be expected to pay at check-in. If there are fees for things you know you won’t be using – like the gym, pool, or Wi-Fi -- request that those fees be deducted. In some cases, a deeper look at a hotel’s listing might reveal that those fees are not mandatory and only apply if guests choose to use those services, so don’t be shy about asking. 

  • Use ResortFeeChecker to find out what fees a hotel is tacking on to the price of a room.

If you still get stung by what you consider an unfair fee, there might be some relief from your state’s attorney general.

“State Attorneys General think that hotel resort fees violate state consumer protection laws. If you are charged a hotel resort fee, you can file a consumer complaint with your Attorney General and they will likely work with you to make the hotel refund you,” Wolfe told ConsumerAffairs.

If worse comes to worst and you want to follow Wolfe’s advice, here’s a list of all 50 state attorneys general you can refer to.

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