Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information and offers.
If there’s one thing most travelers can agree on, it’s that resort fees stink.
We’ve all been there — you think you found an OK price for a hotel, and by the time you get to the final checkout page, that original price you saw is long gone. In its place is a much higher total marred with taxes and mandatory fees.
While this isn’t a new problem, it’s one that’s gotten worse over time. Unlike airline change fees, resort fees made it through the pandemic as strong as ever.
Where did resort fees come from?
It’s hard to remember a world where resort fees weren’t around, but they weren’t always a traveler’s nemesis. As told by the site Kill Resort Fees, these extra charges had humble beginnings, were much lower ($5-$10), were often optional and reserved only for those who wanted to use the resort’s amenities beyond the base room and rate. Nowadays, resort fees can cost more than $100 per night, might be higher than the room rate itself and are seldom optional.
For example, the nightly resort fee at Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve property in Puerto Rico, is $150 — more than many hotel rooms cost.
Out in Las Vegas, it’s common to find inexpensive rooms for as little as $35 per night at places like Excalibur. Unfortunately, the nightly resort fee is likely to cost more than the room on those inexpensive nights, more than doubling your actual price paid.
In the last few years, online booking sites and even an attorney general have tried fighting against resort fees in various ways. While legal battles — and potentially fines — are being waged against hotel brands that aren’t making it easy to know the full price of lodging, travelers are still far from winning the war on resort fees.
But you can win your own personal war against resort fees, at least sometimes, with some strategic, careful booking techniques. Here’s how.
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How to spot resort fees
To beat a resort fee, you must know how to spot one. That sounds simple enough but it can be tough, especially now that even non-resorts tack on “destination fees” and other ambiguous names that often provide little to no value to most travelers. While many brands are decent at prominently disclosing resort fees when pricing out rooms online, others can be sneakier.
For example, resorts like Great Wolf Lodge don’t always display the resort fee until you get to the checkout page. That’s actually an improvement over a few years ago, when the resort fee wasn’t broken out at all but instead just lumped with a suspiciously large taxes and fees total. But even now, it’s easy to miss if you don’t know to expect it at the end of the browsing and booking process.
In Las Vegas, some properties — such as Circa Resort & Casino — still try to lump resort fees in with taxes and surcharges. You only see the word “resort fee” if you click to expand that section when checking out.
We recommend not assuming the displayed price is the total price until you reach that final checkout screen. You shouldn’t have to get that far in the process to know the true price of your stay, but for now, that’s one of the best defenses against being surprised.
Also, while most properties charge a flat resort fee (or destination fee) per room per night, others charge a percentage of the room rate or a per-person resort fee.
Related: Make sure you’re getting the most out of your Marriott resort fees
Ways to avoid resort fees
Book an award stay
One of the easiest ways to avoid a resort fee is to book a room using hotel points.
Multiple hotel loyalty programs waive resort fees on award stays made purely with points (as opposed to cash-and-points bookings that may have added fees). As an example, per program rules, Hilton Honors and World of Hyatt consistently waive resort fees on award stays.
Wyndham Rewards is also known for waiving resort fees on award stays, though we’ve heard more issues with spotty implementation with that program than the first two. Choice Privileges has also been known to waive resort fees on some award stays.
Marriott Bonvoy, notably, does not waive resort fees on award stays. In fact, that can cost you well more than $100 at some resort properties per night, even when you use points.
To avoid resort fees, focus on Hilton and Hyatt. There are lots of good ways to dive into those programs and get some points to start using to save on future travel.
You can earn Hilton points with a plethora of cobranded credit cards:
The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
World of Hyatt points transfer at a ratio of 1:1 from both Chase Ultimate Rewards and Bilt Rewards. So, if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Bilt Mastercard®(see rates and fees), you can easily transfer those points to your Hyatt account. Right now, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is offering an increased bonus of 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. This would be a nice jump on having some points at the ready.
You can also pick up the World of Hyatt Credit Card. It’s awarding 30,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening. It’ll also provide up to 30,000 more bonus points by earning 2 bonus points total on purchases that normally earn 1 bonus point, on up to $15,000, in the first six months of account opening, with a $95 annual fee.
Related: My new ‘trick’ for avoiding pesky resort and destination fees on last-minute stays
Use your elite status
Having elite status can also potentially help with avoiding resort fees. The best example is with the World of Hyatt program, as those with top-tier Hyatt Globalist status don’t have to pay resort fees, even on paid stays.
Applying this isn’t always smooth in practice, but the rules are clear that top-tier Hyatt elite members shouldn’t be charged resort fees on eligible paid rates. Note that having the World of Hyatt Credit Card helps you earn Hyatt Globalist status faster with spending on the card. And your savings here can be huge.
For example, my big 40th birthday stay at the Andaz Mayakoba in Mexico was in a pricey suite that would have cost a lot more if I had to pay a percentage of the stay as a resort fee. That’s exactly what would’ve happened without Globalist status.
In Las Vegas, resort fees are as rampant as massive buffets, but you can beat the house with those fees. For example, those with Diamond status and above within the Caesars Rewards program don’t pay resort (or parking) fees at casinos such as Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, Harrah’s and others.
There are plenty of ways to get status in the Caesars Rewards program without gambling and go from Vegas zero to hero in a flash. For example, you can sometimes match status from another casino program, such as MGM Rewards, to Caesars Rewards.
Because status matching is really just a fun game of virtual dominos, sometimes your MGM Rewards status can be earned by matching your World of Hyatt status.
While we are on the topic, MGM Rewards — the casino loyalty program for properties such as Bellagio, Aria, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, etc. — can help you avoid resort fees with Gold status and higher. Conveniently, World of Hyatt Explorist and Globalist status match to Gold in the MGM Rewards program.
Look for a hotel without resort fees
Some travelers refuse to pay resort fees and will not consider staying anywhere that charges them. In places like Las Vegas, Hawaii, Orlando and similar, there aren’t a lot of hotels that don’t charge resort fees, but there are often a few if you look hard enough.
Here’s a link to Las Vegas hotels without resort fees, but fair warning, the options aren’t that great. You sometimes have to get creative. For example, high resort fees are prolific in Hawaii, but if you stay at Disney’s Aulani, you will be resort fee-free. Not only that, but if you book your Aulani stay with rented Disney Vacation Club points, you also avoid the $37 daily self-parking charge. In other words — get creative!
If you can’t find a hotel you want to book without a resort fee, you can consider Airbnb or other home rental services.
However, even Airbnb hosts can charge a resort fee if they manage six or more listings, so book carefully there, too. There are also other fees charged by some vacation home renters that can add up to more than resort fees. Again, just read all the fine print and get an all-in price before deciding one path is better than another.
As an added tool, you can consult the website ResortFeeChecker.com to see if a given property is known for charging a resort fee or not.
Ask to not pay the resort fee
One strategy that sometimes works is to simply ask not to pay the resort fee, especially if you’re not going to use the included amenities or if something is unavailable for some reason. This “ask nicely” strategy obviously doesn’t always work — even when some elements that should be included in a resort fee are closed, missing or broken.
For example, during a stay in Las Vegas a couple of years ago, a TPG staffer attempted to avoid at least some of the $37-per-night resort fee when the safe he needed to use for his passport was broken. The safe was listed as a resort fee amenity, and the Wi-Fi didn’t always work during the stay. Even though some key elements were unavailable, the hotel insisted the resort fee be paid.
However, at a resort in Hawaii, a different TPG staffer was able to get a resort fee waived when the pool was closed during their stay. In other words, asking about waiving resort fees never hurts.
Related: The zero-cost vacation: All-inclusive resorts you can book with points
Resort fees have been a growing problem for travelers for a long time. While some airline change fees and even seat assignment fees have been eliminated or relaxed in recent years, the same is not generally true of resort fees. However, there’s some hope that calling out hotels’ lack of transparency will at least help make payments clearer in the future.
By whatever name they masquerade under, resort, destination or amenity fees are expensive, annoying and sometimes poorly disclosed. They also often don’t add any real value to most stays. Unfortunately, for now, they don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, so it’s best to take matters into your own hands and learn how to avoid them.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Amex card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass card, click here.
See Bilt Mastercard rates and fees here.
See Bilt Mastercard rewards and benefits here.