(NerdWallet) – You know how you book a room that’s initially advertised at under $100 per night and then it has suddenly ballooned to more than $150? That’s partially because of taxes, but another huge chunk is likely from resort fees.
Some hotels have more offensive resort fees than others, and — while resort fees tend to run between $20 and $50 among hotels that charge them — they can vary dramatically in price (especially as a percentage of overall trip cost).
Here’s a breakdown of how resort fees work, what they cost and insider tips for how to avoid paying these fees and a ranking of the brands with the highest resort fees.
Why resort fees are so annoying
Sometimes referred to as amenity fees, destination fees, facility fees or resort charges, these semi-hidden fees are one of the most brutal — and increasingly common — aspects of travel.
The first known resort fees sprung up as early as 1997, according to the Federal Trade Commission. It didn’t take long for customers to begin complaining, and in 2012, the FTC sent warnings to 22 hotels that resort fees were not adequately disclosed on their hotel reservation websites. Though resorts have since modified how they disclose resort fees, many complaints still exist.
Much of that is due to what fees actually cover. Back in the day, resort fees were charged to justify luxury amenities associated with the room. More frequently now, though, hotels tack them on to rooms that aren’t resort-like in any way.
Resort fees are a significant portion of your vacation budget
NerdWallet analyzed more than 100 hotels around the U.S. with January 2023 check-in dates. Among the hotels that charge resort fees, the average resort fee was $42.41. Relative to the room rate, resort fees averaged 11% of the overall cost to stay at the hotel each night.
But especially at lower-cost hotels, resort fees can represent a bigger chunk of your lodging expenses than that. Take, for example, the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Alana on Waikiki Beach. At the initial booking page, you’re presented with a one-night stay in October 2023 for $235. But then you’re hit with an additional $49 in taxes and $35 for a resort fee, bringing your total cost to about $320. That’s a 35% increase over the price you were presented with. And depending on the price of your room, resort fees can sometimes amount to far more than 35% of your room rate (and sometimes the combined taxes and fees amount to even more than the room rate itself).
For example, the Excalibur in Las Vegas costs $35 per night on certain weeknights in September 2023. But you’ll owe about $5 in taxes plus $35 in resort fees — bringing what seemed like a $35 room to more than twice that.
Resort fees cover bizarre expenses
Sure, some hotels charge resort fees that are arguably worth it. The $48 resort fee at Hyatt’s Andaz Maui in Hawaii gets you a welcome basket of local snacks including Maui Brewing Co. root beer, guava juice and macadamia nuts, free snorkel equipment and GoPro rentals, and free lessons in ukulele, hula, stand-up paddleboarding and cocktail making. There are also free outrigger canoe rides, among other benefits. At The Ritz-Carlton Bacara in Santa Barbara, California, the $50 resort fee includes fitness classes, tennis racket and electric bike rentals and guided hiking tours.
But at many other hotels, resort fees cover extras that are hardly extras at all.
At the Excalibur in Las Vegas, the $35 daily fee includes gym access and Wi-Fi (even though most nonresort hotels offer free Wi-Fi and gym usage anyway), plus unlimited calls from the room. Additionally, it covers free boarding pass printing (in case you still prefer them to mobile boarding passes).
Resort fees are mandatory
In most scenarios, you can’t just refuse to pay a resort fee, even if you never set foot in the hotel gym.
Unlike baggage fees on an airline, which are avoidable by not checking luggage, there is no (easy) way to avoid resort fees. Instead, these fees are simply tacked on at the final step of checkout.
Why do hotels charge fees?
Hotels charge fees for a few reasons. A lower base rate might pique a customer’s interest in a hotel they might not otherwise have considered. Hotels then make up the difference in revenue by charging a resort fee rather than one higher, singular base rate.
But it’s not just about getting customers in the door. Some hotels say resort fees allow them to reduce the commissions paid to online travel agents. If a hotel promises to pay, say, 5% of base rates to travel agents, then it would owe $5 on a $100 nightly room. If the room is $50 plus a $50 resort fee, the hotel gets the same amount of money, but it would have to give only $2.50 to the agent.
Even the U.S. government agrees resort fees are no good.
“Studies of drip pricing and partitioned pricing suggest that separating mandatory resort fees from posted room rates without first disclosing the total price is likely to harm consumers,” according to a 2017 report from the FTC.
The report cited “forcing consumers to click through additional webpages to see a hotel’s resort fee” as being a complicated extra step that either makes the consumer do more work or worse forces them “to make an incomplete, less informed decision that may result in a more costly room.”
How to avoid resort fees
Because resort fees are required on rooms that charge them, avoiding them requires effort.
Book resort stays with hotel points (at some brands) or with elite status
When you book rooms on some points, some resorts still tack on resort fees, which you must pay in cash on top of the points rate. But at Hilton Honors and World of Hyatt, resort fees are waived on award bookings. This is a win-win because you won’t be paying cash for the room — or the annoying fee.
Owning a Hilton-branded credit card is one of the best ways to quickly earn Hilton points. Likewise, the World of Hyatt Credit Card can be an excellent way to earn Hyatt points. Hyatt is also one of the best Chase transfer partners, which can be appealing for owners of Chase travel credit cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards® points.
The best hotel elite status programs don’t charge resort fees to their most loyal members. Hyatt doesn’t charge such fees to Globalist members, which is the highest elite status level in the program. Because Hyatt charges some of the highest fees in the industry, this is an especially valuable perk (though realistically, it’s not one that many travelers can reasonably consider).
Use travel statement credits
Some travel credit cards offer statement credits that cover a broad definition of travel. Charge a covered expense to the card (which can often include ferries, buses, campgrounds and extra fees like luggage), and you can get a reimbursement. Typically, resort fees are also reimbursed under the travel statement credits.
The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card offers up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, while the Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers up to $300 in statement credits as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each anniversary year. Generally speaking, resort fees qualify.
Make your case in person
Sometimes asking an employee to waive your fee may do the trick. You cannot simply refuse to pay resort fees, but — just as some hotel employees are occasionally empowered to compensate you — the employee might have authority to remove your resort fee.
Just understand that this is the exception, not the norm. And while it doesn’t hurt to ask, it helps to ask nicely.
Hotels with the most and fewest resort fees
To better understand the best and worst hotels for resort fees, NerdWallet performed a comprehensive analysis of dozens of individual hotels within six of the biggest hotel brands to determine which charged the highest resort fees. The data homed in on hotels in destinations where resort fees are common — such as Las Vegas and Orlando, Florida — as well as major cities. The data, which is part of a broader effort to find the best airline and hotel rewards loyalty programs of 2023, was collected as part of NerdWallet’s Best-Of Awards 2023.
Wyndham properties had the highest average resort fees relative to room rates, with Hyatt coming in second for worst resort fees.
Technically, Best Western had the fewest resort fees, but that’s perhaps not surprising given its hotels generally lack resort amenities. Marriott had the second-lowest resort fees as a percentage of room price but is considered the winner because its properties are more likely to offer resort-style amenities.
Based on our analysis, we found that the overall average resort fee — including hotels that don’t charge them — is $10.40, while the median resort fee is $40. Among hotels that charge a resort fee, the average jumps to $42.41.
Because these fees track somewhat to the cost of the rooms themselves, winners were ranked according to the resort fees as a percentage of the overall room rate. After all, a $35 resort fee on a $1,000-per-night hotel room is likely small potatoes. A $35 resort fee on a $30 nightly rate is a hot potato.
The hotel brand with the highest resort fees: Wyndham
Wyndham’s resort fees average 6.5% of overall room rates, making it the hotel brand with the highest resort fees of all those analyzed by NerdWallet.
Wyndham resort fees typically run between $30 and $50 per night. But a big reason why Wyndham scored so low is because of how high the resort fees are relative to the room rates.
One Wyndham property, the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, often has among the cheapest nightly rates of any of the Las Vegas resorts. NerdWallet’s analysis found that, given the relatively low nightly rates, the $40 resort fee netted out to a painful 30% of the total cost. At that hotel (and many other Wyndham properties), resort fees are tricky to find — often not clearly presented until the final checkout page.
Another big resort fee offender: Hyatt
At Hyatt, resort fees average 5.4% of the overall room rate — an average rate that includes properties that don’t typically charge resort fees at all, such as the budget-minded Hyatt House and Hyatt Place brands.
Hyatt got dinged especially hard by one outlier brand in particular: Miraval. Miraval is an ultra-luxury, all-inclusive resort where you won’t pay a dime for most expenses, including shuttle transportation, meals, nonalcoholic drinks, classes and use of other amenities. The employees don’t even accept tips. Nightly room rates usually exceed $1,000 and sometimes well beyond that.
Miraval’s resort fees are unique in that they are 23% of the overall rate. With a rate of $1,000 per night, resort fees can cost about $250 nightly, and — unlike many other resorts — Miraval charges per person. Couples can expect to pay over $500 per room in resort fees alone. With Miraval, realize that a $2,275 nightly rate will likely shape up to be over $3,000.
Even at more accessible Hyatt properties, resort fees exceeded the average. Among Hyatt properties that charged resort fees, the average fee was $50.40, exceeding the overall average of $42.41.
Of course, NerdWallet’s analysis is based on averages, and there is no guarantee that a specific Hyatt hotel will charge a resort fee at all or that it will be higher than that of a competitor nearby. That said, this is a good place to start when looking for hotels that offer fewer or more moderate resort fees.
The hotel brand with the lowest resort fees: Marriott
In contrast to Hyatt’s high fees, resort fees were less common at Marriott properties — even at fancy brands like the JW Marriott. The average resort fee across all Marriott hotels in NerdWallet’s analysis was just 2.81%, the second lowest beyond Best Western, which rarely charges resort fees (but also typically lacks resort style amenities).
In 2021, Marriott made a consumer-friendly move when it committed to implementing a policy that would be upfront and transparent in the disclosure of mandatory fees, including resort fees, as part of the total price of a hotel stay. That means the total price of your hotel stay, including room rate and all other mandatory fees, appears on the first page of Marriott’s booking website — not after you’ve clicked through a bunch of buttons only to realize you’ve been hit with a resort fee at the checkout page.
Get out of paying a hotel’s resort fee
Perhaps the best way to get out of paying hotel resort fees is to not stay at hotels that charge them, period. According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, about 6% of hotels charge resort fees — and these are the properties that have far more available amenities than other lodging facilities.
Most hotels in popular tourist destinations like Las Vegas and Hawaii will charge them, but you can find some gems.
In Hawaii, you might stay at the Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore, where you’ll get access to standard amenities like Wi-Fi, a fitness center and a swimming pool (complete with waterfall) and can also experience ukulele and hula classes, plus activities like trivia — all with no resort fee.
If resort fees are your big hang-up, you might also find that vacation rentals like Airbnb are more cost-effective than hotels — especially for longer stays or trips with large groups.
Targeting hotel brands that charge fewer and less-frequent resort fees is a good start.