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BY ELLEN CREAGER
Detroit Free Press
The Mirage hotel in Las Vegas seemed like an amazing summer deal on Expedia: $74.35 for the room and $7.18 in taxes. However, the smug traveler likely did not notice the fine print caveat: an additional $25 per-night "resort fee" would be charged when you checked in.
What did the fee cover? "Complimentary" in-room Wi-Fi and use of the pool and facilities, even if you did not use them.
The resort fee did not cover snacks in the room, where a 3.75-oz mini bag of trail mix was $12. A bottle of Dasani water was $5. Pick up the phone to make even a local call and it was $1 for the first 30 minutes and 15 cents a minute after that.
At the pool, a small can of beer was $7.50. It cost $16.95 to see two dolphins in the "secret garden."
I do not mean to imply that Mirage is alone in its creative ways of separating customers from their money. It's just doing what other hotels across America are doing these days: "unbundling" services the way airlines do, nickel-and-diming customers with mysterious, made-up fees.
Often called "resort charges" or just "service fees," they are vague and usually are not charged until the customer arrives at the hotel. Because most customers tend to be 1) interested only in the base rate; 2) impatient with fine print; 3) in a hurry, and 4) not too bright, they work.
Hotel websites and online travel booking sites note the fact these resort fees exist--in small print below the big, exciting bold-faced price of the room.
Expedia, for example, states "some properties have extra fees for amenities or services that may apply even if you don't use them." Expedia clearly lists the $25 resort fee--but how many people read that far.
Is there anything the customer can do to avoid these fees? Yes. Book hotels that don't have them. Or factor fees into the true total cost of the stay. It still may be a deal; even with the fee, the Mirage room was only $106.53 a night. Just know that resort fees are out there.
Meanwhile, I am flying the yellow caution flag for booking car rentals and airline tickets, too. Here are a couple new twists: