Last week I began my travel rant mini-series with a look at airlines and their horrible and somewhat deceptive use of fees. This bane of travelers everywhere though isn’t just the imprimatur of the airline industry. Recognizing the potential financial windfall, hotels have entered into this dangerous arena as well.
Before writing this post, I was aware of many techniques used by hotels to nickle and dime their guests, but I also asked my social media followers which fees they found most onerous. The resounding choice for the most hated hotel fee was wi-fi internet access.
In the early days of the internet (about ten years ago) I remember the only options in hotels were either a weird TV-interface system or connecting directly via Ethernet cables. The gradual acceptance of wireless internet by the hotels changed the landscape and pretty soon wi-fi became the most popular way to connect to the internet while traveling. What also emerged was a strange divergence in how hotels treated this new convenience. As a rule of thumb, less expensive hotels with wi-fi capabilities rarely charge for it, but the more expensive, luxury hotels almost always do.
The logic for this odd state of affairs most likely comes from an analysis of the hotels’ clientele. Those staying in the less expensive hotels may be less likely to pay for internet access, but would use it if it were free. Individuals staying in more expensive hotels almost always want internet access and, according to hotel logic, would be more likely to pay for access.
However, this policy is slowly turning into a major customer relations nightmare for the hotels. Regardless of one’s ability to pay $15 a night for internet access, it does not mean it is right to gouge customers. In a day when free wi-fi is provided at McDonald’s and Panera Bread, it makes no sense to hotel patrons to pay for what should be a complimentary item. For me personally, it makes me want to stay in less expensive hotels just for the access to free internet and breakfast. These are major expenses and while I may stay at slightly more expensive hotels from time to time, that does not mean I want to spend a fortune traveling. On the contrary, I look for every opportunity to save money whenever possible.
This is also true when I travel for business. Since 2009, corporate travel budgets have been slashed and most organizations are very reluctant to send their employees on the road. When they do, they expect modest charges and in the age of the blackberry, hotel internet is an easy fee to discard.
In 2010, a certain level of technological infrastructure is expected when
traveling, especially at properties that frankly should know better. We now know as customers that there is no real reason to charge for internet access, except to further gouge us with an expensive and annoying charge. I guarantee you when, not if, hotels discontinue this ridiculous fee, they will earn converts to their brand for life; not unlike Southwest and its bags fly free promotion.
Internet access though wasn’t the only fee my survey respondents found ridiculous.
Parking – To charge for valet parking is completely understandable and expected. They are, after all, providing a service. Charging a guest to self park their car in the hotel parking lot however is absurd and downright rude. While staying at a resort in Florida recently, we were asked at check in if we had a car and wanted to self park. We said yes, and proceeded to do so for several days. Imagine my shock when suddenly on the bill was a $10 a day fee for parking our car; a fee which had never been mentioned before! I couldn’t believe the arrogance necessary to charge someone to park in a parking lot that was huge and not even very close to the hotel. What was I paying for exactly? Again, less expensive hotels would never dream of charging for self parking.
Food – Sigh. Hotel food. At once both convenient and frighteningly expensive. Hotels exist in bizzaro land where paying $25 for a hamburger and $30 for an omelet and orange juice suddenly seems normal. The base rates and accompanying service charges have always been exorbitant and completely out of line with reality. However, as more and more establishments begin to offer complimentary breakfast, the concept of paying so much for a mediocre breakfast buffet is going the way of the dodo. While I don’t see hotels changing the charges associated with room service or restaurant dining, breakfast fees should be one area that hotels seriously think about changing their errant ways.
There are a whole host of other hotel fees that annoy guests from paying for water to the mysterious “resort fee” addition to many bills. Like the airlines, hotels have given in to the fee monster in the short sighted hopes of quickly and easily increasing their profits. However, the long term effects of these outrageous fees may very well mean a shift from medium-priced hotels, to less expensive ones just to escape the fees. When searching for hotels, I am now more likely to stay at a less expensive property for the sole luxuries of free wi-fi and breakfast. I seriously doubt that I am alone in this trend; in fact, more and more travelers are rebelling against these fees as they become increasingly ridiculous.
Hotels do have a chance for redemption. Whichever large brand adopts the marketing philosophy of Southwest airlines in eliminating their most absurd fees, will become a hero amongst travelers everywhere.