I recently spent the night at a bougie hotel in LA with gorgeous views of the Hollywood Hills and generously provided free snacks, condoms, lube, and alcohol in the room. “Wow, I finally made it,” I thought to myself, followed by not-so-humble bragging about the fully stocked minibar on my Instagram story. I ate some of those snacks like the hungry HBIC I was… only to be slammed with a $76 bill on my credit card the next day (for Pringles, cashews, and some goddamn peach rings???). When I shared the devastating news that those snacks were NOT free with my Instagram followers, countless crying laughing emoji reactions flooded my DMs. I was repeatedly mocked and reminded how much of a naïve peasant I actually am for not knowing this “obvious” fact, which wasn’t obvious because there were no price tags or menus in sight. FML.
It turns out this isn’t the only trick hotels have up their sleeves to con us into paying more. What popular and little-known schemes should we beware of? I asked frequent travelers and travel experts about other sneaky ways that hotels secretly run up our credit card bills by the end of our stay so
I we can avoid falling for them next time around.
1. Half-Free Minibars With Motion Sensors
So yeah, the stuff in the fully loaded minibar in the hotel room isn’t free. You pay for what you take. Great. I learned that lesson the hard way. Jennifer Melroy, lover of national parks and founder of travel blog National Park Obsessed, confirms I’m not an idiot and this is a common problem among travelers. “The sneakiest way I’ve seen hotels try to get guests to pay more is the half-free minibar. Select items from the mini-bar are free, but you have to carefully read the mini-bar price list to figure out which products are free and which ones are not.”
But wait, that’s not even the worst part. Sometimes you’ll wind up paying for what you DIDN’T take. “Many hotels use motion sensors in their minibars that will charge you if you so much as touch or slightly move an item,” adds Mona Molayem, full-time millennial luxury travel blogger at MonaCorona.com. UNREAL. Good rule of thumb when it comes to hotel room minibars: Look but don’t touch (unless you want to pay the price).
2. The “Complimentary” Breakfast Buffet
Hungover and hungry in the morning? You might want to walk a little bit further than downstairs for breakfast. Lisa Dorenfest, blogger at One Ocean At A Time, who spends a ton of time traveling both on land and by sea (hence the blog name), has seen that higher-end properties pull tricks like charging more for “breakfast included” rates than for paying the “no breakfast” rate. She explains, “My experience is that the smallish 3-star local hotels are less likely to take advantage of travelers. The rooms are clean, breakfast is included, the service is often superior, and the experience is, well, more local.” All the more reason to shop local. Support the small business owners who run that diner up the road instead.
3. Hidden Wedding Preparation Fees
once you accept you're going to be bleeding money, the entire wedding process will start to get a litttttle bit easier
— betchesbrides (@betchesbrides) July 25, 2019
Congrats on getting hitched! To thank you for spending a huge chunk of cash in reserving a room block for you and your guests for your wedding, some hotels will tack on a bunch of hidden fees to your bill. HOW SWEET. “Couples are often unaware of site fees, catering charges, linen or furniture rental add-ons, lighting additions, etc.,” says Lauren Grech, CEO and co-founder of worldwide event management and design firm LLG Events & LLG Agency. Grech adds that this especially happens to those who are planning a destination wedding, since they don’t get to see the venue or meet all of their vendors in-person before the big day. Rude AF. Brides and grooms, beware.
4. Shuttles & Transportation Costs
One scheme that Tanner Callais, founder and editor of “everything cruising” website Cruzely.com, has noticed while traveling is that hotels will offer transportation packages that seem like a great deal… but they’re actually a trap. “While many hotels offering these packages are right near cruise ports, we’ve seen instances where booking the package can cost considerably more than just taking an Uber or Lyft. So yes, you get a ride to the port, but it comes out much more expensive than if you just went on your own.” I guess you really do pay for the luxury of convenience, even when it’s disguised as being “included.”
5. Stuffed Animals For The Kids
Okay, I don’t really like kids, but even I can admit that this is cruel. “Family travel hotels put a stuffed animal on the bed so that when the kids walk in they assume that they are getting a new stuffed animal. The parent can either seem like the bad guy or pay $30 plus for a stuffed animal they didn’t plan on,” adds Melroy. Imagine being a kid and getting all excited that you got a brand new toy, then your parents don’t spend $30, so you’re left heartbroken AND toyless? Tragic.
6. Changing The Name On The Reservation
Okay, this one blew my mind. Ready for the worst sneaky fee yet? Shout-out to Mitch Glass for this pro tip. Glass is a travel blogger who runs the travel blog Project Untethered, and he also agrees that “hotels can be sneaky little money-sucks.” (Money-suck might be my new fav insult.) STORY TIME. He recalls, “Recently, my mother-in-law got back from vacation and noticed a weird $200 hotel charge to her credit card. After some angry phone calls, she realized her husband originally made the reservation using his name—but he didn’t actually go on the trip.” What the hell?? “This, apparently, is not allowed. At checkout, the hotel charged a $200 ‘name change fee’ to her card without notifying her. Long story short, be careful when booking for a friend or family member. They could get screwed.” WILD. This hotel needs to be put on blast.
7. Using The Hotel Computer, Printer, Or Phones
International wifi and cell service sucks. Common knowledge. That’s why hotels nicely provide tech for us to use when in need! JK. Using the computer, phones, and other machines aren’t always free, either. Nope, you can actually be charged per minute, per piece of paper, or a flat rate fee. “While staying at a popular hotel once, I tried to use the computer in the business center to print my boarding pass for an upcoming flight. It cost me $10 to use the computer for 15 minutes, plus another $2 to print one piece of paper!” Molayem shares. To avoid these ridiculous charges, she recommends kindly asking the hotel front desk or concierge to schedule dinner reservations or print boarding passes for you for free instead of using the phone in your room or the business center.
How To Dispute Unexpected Hotel Charges
So what do you do when these unexpected charges pop up? Even though you might want to call up the hotel and threaten the innocent customer service rep who answered the phone, that’s not actually the best idea. According to Greg Ramey, co-founder and Chief Revenue Officer of group travel platform BACH, the key to fighting a surprise bill is to kill them… with kindness. “Politely ask the front desk for an understanding and, depending on the type of charge, there’s a strong change they’ll waive it for you.” I took Ramey’s advice and asked the manager of that hotel I stayed in to remove my $75 minibar charge and guess what?! He didn’t. Maybe it’ll work for you, though.
SMH. Dear hotels, on behalf of all of us here at Betches, STOP F*CKING CATFISHING US or else we’ll drop names next time. Please. (Am I doing the kindness thing right?)
Images: Pixabay, GIPHY (5), Twitter @betchesbrides