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ASK JOURNEYS: Hotels introduce a rash of ancillary fees

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Some hotels are now charging guests extra for storing bags or showing up early.

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Some hotels are now charging guests extra for storing bags or showing up early.

MANY who are enjoying this first long weekend of the summer may be travelling to other parts of the country by air or road, and have decided to stay in one of the hotel or resort properties their destination has to offer.

In doing so, they may be hit with some very unfamiliar ancillary fees. While we are becoming used to these irritating charges from the airlines, it's only now that the hospitality sector seems to have caught on to this as a way to inflate their bottom-line profits.

I've often dealt with Wi-Fi complaints here, but the new concepts in ancillary add-ons are likely to create even greater anxiety.

For example, when guests book rooms for a stay but then decide to check out a day early, they may soon face an early-departure fee for each day they leave before the original booking end-date.

It's a similar situation with check-in times. Most hotels have a specific check in time posted so that housekeeping staff have time to properly clean the rooms. However, those arriving early will usually be accommodated with a room if one is available at the time.

Now, some hotels charge guests who show up early and want a room immediately. Perhaps one of the more frustrating things about this is that while check-in time is often around 3 p.m., check-out times are usually around noon. Why a hotel would want to penalize a guest within that three-hour period is beyond me.

When most of us book hotels, we're asked to provide our credit-card information as a guarantee to hold the room until arrival. Until now, the cancellation period was quite generous, with acceptance of your cancel call up until 4 p.m. of arrival day.

Now, that grace period appears to be moving back to 24 or even 48 hours ahead of arrival, depending on the hotel chain. This new policy could really change the nature of when guests book rooms, forcing a much more stringent approach to travel planning in order to avoid multiple charges for services not rendered. For busy corporate customers, this could present a significant challenge.

Even the Wi-Fi issue is taking on an additional level of charges. Some chain hotels are introducing a form of tiered service, where basic Internet service is charged at one price and high-speed access is offered at a much higher charge.

Some of the other fees I've encountered really come out of left field, and are sure to leave consumers angrier than ever.

We all know that if we take something from the mini-bar we must pay for it. But now, in addition to that, some hotels have introduced a restocking fee to replace that bottle of pop that you're paying for. Similarly, that free bottle of water is still free -- except for a restocking fee to replace it for you.

Here's another one. Most hotels are happy to store your bags while you're occupied on your departure date -- a generous tip to the concierge and you're happily on your way. But those days may be disappearing as more and more properties introduce storage fees for the service.

Resort fees have become almost standard at tourist properties around the world. Now, a new wrinkle has been introduced by business hotels as well. Even though you may have not used the bell service, or have already tipped the person helping you to your room, you may find that a gratuity charge has been added to your bill for housekeeping and bell services.

There was a time when it was common to tip for housekeeping services. With that having all but disappeared, it seems the hotel industry is trying to reinstate it with an automatic extra charge.

To satisfy the new business traveller's desire to keep to keep in shape while on the road, most quality properties that cater to this market have added excellent gyms where guests can work out in the morning or evening. But that, too, is becoming a revenue opportunity for a growing number of hotels. Fees vary, but $15-$20 a day is not uncommon for use of exercise facilities.

In most cities, it's the business traveller who accounts for the vast majority of guest nights. While they may not be affect personally by these new charges, you can be sure that their corporate accountants will be looking at these expenses with jaundiced eyes.

The consumer has little choice about all this, but there is one possible way to avoid at least some of these new ancillary fees. Often, loyalty programs offer to waive some of these fees as member benefits. That being the case, there is certain to be a rush to join these programs for every property or chain used by even the casual business traveller.

Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found at www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at wwwthattravelguy.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 29, 2013 E2

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