Avoiding extra charges on your hotel bill

Q? We’re close to signing a contract with a hotel for our next family reunion, but I’m worried about some of the extras the hotel wants to charge us for besides our rooms and our banquet. Is there anything we can do to make sure we don’t end up with a much higher bill than we’re expecting?

A! Yes, you’re right … hotels do offer many services besides rooms and catering. And they’re going to want you to pay for some or all of them, sometimes regardless of whether or not you use them. You’ll want to know – in advance – what extra charges and fees the hotel may apply to your reunion, which are optional, and which are likely to affect you.

Let’s take a look at fees you may be asked to pay, or which may apply to your reunion. Depending on the size of your group and the time of year your reunion is taking place, you may be able to get some or all of these charges waived or reduced. But … you must ask for these concessions, and you must make sure that anything you and the hotel agree tois clearly noted in your contract – before you sign it! This is a partial list.

1. Resort fees. These are typically added on by resorts or hotels with significant recreational facilities (golf, tennis, a swimming pool, horseback riding, etc.) If you can’t get them waived in your negotiations, try to get them lowered, or ask to have your room rate reduced by an amount equivalent to the resort fee.

2. Early check-in fee. Again, these are most common at resort properties, but ask the hotel if these are charged. If they are, be sure your attendees know so they adjust their travel schedule to arrive later or to check their bags at the bell stand and go out for a nice lunch while waiting for their rooms.

3. Telephone and WiFi fees. Telephone charges are easily avoided by using your cell phone. The only times you should ever need to use your room phone are to call the front desk or to call another guest room. Many hotels offer complimentary use of their business center computers or allow you to go online for brief periods for less than the charge for a full day’s use of WiFi service.

4. Parking fees. If the hotel offers free parking, ask to have this included in your contract, in case the hotel changes their parking policy between the time you sign the contract and your reunion date. If there is a parking fee, try to get it waived or reduced in your negotiations
5. Health club, swimming pool and gymnasium fees. As with parking chargestry to find a hotel that offers complimentary use of their health club and pool. Typically, suburban properties are far more likely to offer this amenity than downtown hotels or resorts. A hotel that charges $8.00 a day for using the pool and health club will cost a family of four $32.00 per day just so that dad and three children can splash in the pool for an hour while mom takes a nap. Again, if you can’t get the charges waived or reduced, try to negotiate “pool passes” with the hotel.

And … if your reunion group includes a large number of children, make sure the hotel’s pool is large enough to accommodate everyone who might want to swim at the same time. If the hotel has a smaller pool, they may limit how many people can use it at once. Some hotels will allow you to “buy” an extra hour or two of pool time past normal closing time for a “pool party” or similar event if you agree to pay for having a lifeguard or two on duty.

6. Additional person(s) fee. Some hotels quote a rate that includes an additional charge for each extra person in the room, beginning with the second person. Try to negotiate a “flat” rate that covers up to four people in the room, or a rate that states that children under the age of 18 stay free in the same room with their parents. If you want breakfast included, it’s best to include breakfast for two adults, and then pay a pre-set price for additional breakfasts. Be sure to ask about special breakfast pricing for younger children.

7. Housekeeping gratuity. Some hotels will ask you to pay this as a separate charge. Ask to have this fee waived, or agree to a set fee for the entire reunion group up front, with the clear understanding that the money is to be given to the housekeeping staff who will be attending to your group’s rooms.

8. Safe fee. Some hotels will charge you for having a safe in your room, even if you don’t use it tostore anything. You should decline this fee, and advise anyone needing to secure valuables (computer, camera, etc.) to do so at the front desk. Virtually all hotels provide the use of safe deposit boxes at the front desk for free.

Again, by asking your hotel salesperson about any and all fees which might apply, and carefully reviewing the list, you should be able to avoid – or reduce – many of these charges entirely! You may have to engage in some extended negotiations with the hotel on some of these items, and you’ll need to remember that a true negotiation always involves each side giving up things to obtain other things. For example — if the hotel has offered you three complimentary upgrades to suites, and this isn’t terribly important to you, offer to forego the suites in exchange for something that is important to your members, such as free parking and/or free use of the hotel’s pool. Or let them know you’ll spend a few dollars more per person on your banquet dinner, if they’ll waive the “extra person” fee for your guest rooms.

The objective – as always – is to make sure you pay a fair price for services you’ll be receiving, and that your members don’t feel that they’ve been “nickled and dimed” at every turn at what should be a festive event.

Hope your reunion goes well!

Dean MillerAbout the Hospitality Answerman

Dean Miller, national sales director for Visit Fairfax (fxva.com), the convention and visitors bureau in Fairfax County, Virginia, is a great friend of reunions. Contact him (703-790-0643; [email protected]) when you are planning a reunion in the Washington, DC, area. Fairfax County is nearby, affordable, and conveniently located to all the area has to offer.