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Always read the fine print, always ask questions on anything you don't understand, and never assume the first price for a hotel or airline ticket is what you will really end up paying.  

That, in a nutshell, is the advice that the Federal Trade Commission and travel experts give to anyone planning a trip, whether here in the Black Hills, or anywhere else in the world, to avoid getting sticker shock when paying for a hotel room or airline ticket.

Extra fees, taxes and other unexpected charges from hotels and airlines can leave a sour taste in any traveler's mouth when they go to check out and find that a hotel room offered at $89 a night turns into $110 or more. And the so-called "hidden fees" are becoming more common across the travel industry.

According to Fodor's, the travel site and guide book publisher, a PriceWaterHouseCooper's Hospitality Division study recently showed that "hotels are gorging themselves on surcharges and hidden fees. Hotels worldwide were on track to rake in nearly $2 billion in surcharges and hidden fees in 2007, more than tripling the $550 million they took in" in 2003, Fodor's reported. And many websites say the take has only gotten higher since then.

If you're booking travel plans online, the real price of a hotel room or a flight won't show up until just before confirmation. If you book over the phone or at the front desk, you might not find out the total charges until it's too late — at the checkout desk.  

The most well-known add-ons are the myriad fees tacked onto airline ticket prices. Some airlines now charge for use of pillows and blankets, or demand extra money for exit row seats in coach that have a bit more leg room. American and Delta airlines charge $25 for the first checked bag and $35 for the second; American charges $150 for a third checked bag.

U.S. Air charges $7 for a "sleep set," which is a pillow and blanket; it can cost up to $150 for an unaccompanied minor to fly; and priority seating ranges from about $15 to as much as $299 on United.

Lesser known, but sometimes equally costly, are the hidden costs of staying at a hotel. Nationally, hotels are charging pool and towel fees, fees for gratuities for employees, and a fee for the safe in your room, whether it is used or not.

Typically, advertisements and quoted prices for a stay at most hotels only state the base price of a room. They do not include taxes, city-imposed fees or other service charges, which can amount to a substantially higher bill than the advertised room rate.

Anyone who books a stay in a hotel or motel in Rapid City will see an 8.5 percent tax, plus a $2 Business Improvement District fee (often called an occupancy tax) added to the cost of their room, said Michelle Lintz, executive director of the Rapid City Visitors & Convention Bureau.

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The same taxes are applied in hotels in Deadwood, said a spokeswoman for the Deadwood Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau.

But some hotels in the area charge even more additional fees, commonly referred to as "resort fees," at their own discretion.

"Each hotel does their own thing; I've heard that some hotels charge extra for certain amenities," Lintz said. 

A March invoice from a stay at Cadillac Jacks in Deadwood showed that a guest paid 25.4 percent in taxes and fees — 19.9 percent of that from an $8.95 fee that used to be called an "historic maintenance fee" but was recently renamed the "Cadillac Experience" fee. 

Rapid City’s Hotel Alex Johnson charges about the same amount per night as a "historic maintenance fee." Both companies are owned by Isis Hospitality; ISIS CEO Caleb Arceneaux did not return multiple calls for comment. 

The additional fee at Cadillac Jacks bothered resident and former Deadwood Commissioner Mark Speirs, who called the Consumer Protection Division of the South Dakota Attorney General’s Office in March after he became aware of the fee. However, no formal complaint was ever filed with the Consumer Protection Division in that matter, said Sara Rabern, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's office.

Other local and national examples abound. The Deadwood Gulch Gaming Resort, for example, charges a $5 per night resort fee. The Excalibur Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas advertised an average room cost of $29 per night for a two-day stay on June 11 and June 12 on Vegas.com. But just before you click to confirm a reservation, a note appears indicating the that hotel charges a $20.16 "resort fee" each day; including taxes, the $29 per night room actually costs more than $50 per night.

The fee at the Excalibur is supposedly used to cover internet service, daily newspaper delivery, use of the fitness center and the hotel telephone. However, the full fee is charged to guests whether or not the services are used.

According to independenttraveler.com, hotels nationwide are coming up with new fees to add cash to their bottom line. Energy surcharge, a grounds-keeping fee and even a fee for having a safe in a room, even if it's never opened, are being added to hotels across the country.

To fight back against surprise fees, Fodor's suggests arguing to have them removed at check-out or at the ticket window. Federal law requires fees be outlined "clearly and conspicuously," and if not, that you can demand they be removed. Finally, Fodor's suggest you "vote with your wallet," meaning that if you don't like additional fees, simply don't book with that company again.

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Contact Scott Feldman at 394-8337 or scott.feldman@rapidcityjournal.com

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