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Valet Padding: Another Trick Hotels Use to Suck More Cash Out of You

Fairmont Newport Beach: One of many hotels with mandatory valet

Pretty much everyone thinks resort fees are slimy. Yet the consumer uprising against them has merely simmered for years. It hasn't really boiled over to the point where hotels across the board are embarrassed to charge them. 

Add to the "resort fee" a rising trend among hotels: the forced valet parking. Even at hotels with plenty of space for self-parking, mandatory valet parking is on the rise. If you're driving—and most people in America are—you have to submit to a valet (often, it's run by a company that contracts with the property), and every time you need your car, you have to call ahead and wait for it.

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For this, a standard daily fee is $25 to $30. On top of that, you're expected to tip the valet each time you claim your vehicle.

Airlines are forced to advertise including fees because those charges are not negotiable. But hotels get away with resort fees and mandatory valet parking in part because they can defend them in court as optional. You could walk to the hotel; driving isn't necessary. Technically, you're supposed to be allowed to get out of resort fees, too, although often, declining to pay could mean you get no Wi-Fi or access to the pool. In the past, Starwood, Wyndham, and Hilton all settled with guests who were furious about paying the extra fees.

Why do hotels do it, beyond pure profit? Competition. If you, as a hotelier, can remove $30 of your room rate and attach it to some required service, then when you advertise your prices to the public, you can make it look like you're the cheapest one. You make back that money on the back end.

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Anyone who has stayed at a corporate hotel knows that you almost always check out having paid more extras and ancillary charges than at a non-corporate hotel. It's part of their bag of tricks.

The Federal Trade Commission has been rattling its saber lately, pressuring 22 hoteliers that they had better disclose their extra fees up front or they could face a knuckle-whacking. But considering a single busy property can garner millions in these added fees every year, getting them to stop would probably take a lot more knuckle-cracking than our current government has the stomach for.

What's prominent disclosure? In the case of Marriott, to take only one example, the extra fees aren't disclosed when you purchase, the way taxes are. They're squirreled away on a page called "Fact Sheet." At Hilton, they're revealed only when you click a one-word link, "Details," that appears beside an initial rate quote.

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This is why, before you make a reservation at any hotel, you must not only remember to ask if it charges a resort fee (or a "facilities fee"), but you must now remember, if you're driving, to ask about the parking situation. Combined, the two can add $50 or more to the room rate you've been quoted—but you'll never know it unless you ask.

Is that fair to other hotels that are more forthcoming about what a stay will actually cost you?

 

(Photo credit: Fairmont Hotels & Resorts)

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