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Hotels Suspended Amenities But Are Keeping Resort Fee Cash. The Scam Must End | Frommer's trekandshoot/ Shutterstock

Hotels Suspended Amenities But Are Keeping Resort Fee Cash. The Scam Must End

At this point, everyone knows that the travel industry has been forced to curtail its usual offerings.

To satisfy social distancing and tight sanitary protocols, hotels have suspended access to everything from fitness centers to complimentary shuttles.

Why, pray tell, are hotels still charging high resort fees?

Those pernicious charges are among the scammiest scams that ever scammed the travel public. And the novel coronavirus has made them even scammier.

Resort fees—or so the industry song and dance goes—exist to pay for extra amenities. Those amenities used to be part of the room rate until hotels realized they could make stays look more competitive in search engines if they subtracted a chunk of the rate and reapplied it later on as a fee.

The tax benefits were good, too, since resorts pay lower taxes on resort fees than on room tariffs.

Hotels have taken these fees to ridiculous extremes. At The Strat (pictured above) in Las Vegas, the resort fee ($36) is more expensive than the room ($29 as of this week).

What does the fee get you? According to The Strat's website, free local and toll-free calls, free parking, 24-hour fitness center access, and discounts on activities. (Yes, the site actually lists a discount as an amenity—twice!)

But right now, not everything at The Strat is fully open. One of its best pools is shut down, and so is the on-premises show that used to grant 2-for-1 deals as part of the resort fee. The fitness center and the remaining pool will refuse guests if they exceed 50% capacity.

Yet the resort fee didn't budge.

So that extra $36 per night only gets you free local and toll-free calls (but so does your cell phone), plus parking. 

It's the weakest of unforced errors. All the hotel industry had to do to maintain the illusion of good faith was to reduce resort fees while amenities are unavailable. But owners are so used to charging bogus fees without being challenged that they forgot to maintain the subterfuge.

Though Vegas is the country's resort fee capital, the same swindle is happening across the United States. The pandemic has exposed the justification for resort fees as the lie we always knew it was.

At the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, a whopping $45-a-day fee is supposed to buy guests, among other things, "continuous shuttle service to all four Disney theme parks" and "access for up to two guests to Spa facilities (steam room, hot tub)." Neither the shuttle nor the spa is in operation because of Covid-19, but the fee remains intact.

The Parker Palm Springs is still levying its usual $46.60 resort fee even though the fitness center, spa, and steam room—all listed as part of the fee's components—are shuttered by decree.

For a hot minute, it looked as if Las Vegas hotels would realize the situation is too desperate to continue tricking the public with resort fees and "urban fees." We had hoped that the Sahara's recent promotion to drop resort fees would become permanent. Sadly, after the deal ended, the Sahara went right back to charging $37.95 a night for using amenities with rooms that, at $37, are, as at the Strat, cheaper than the resort fee as of this writing. 

The bright side is that as long as hotels are curtailing what they offer, you have a better-than-usual chance of getting the resort fee removed from your bill.

And if the hotel refuses, you have a better-than-usual case for taking the owners to small claims court for not providing what you (ostensibly) paid for. (For more advice on how to get resort fees off your bill, see this Frommer's feature: How to Get Out of Paying a Hotel's Resort Fee—It Can Be Done!)

Hotels are in tougher financial shape than they've been in for years, but that doesn't give them the right to make cash grabs under the table.

Now is the moment to inform hotels of the terms of your return.

As you prepare to resume travel, only give your business to hotels that treat you with honesty, fairness, and respect.