The only thing worse than hidden hotel fees is trying to figure out how they work. What are resort fees? How much do they cost? How much will it cost to bring a pet? Or park my car?
To help make sense of these complex policies, we compared fees at dozens of hotels across major U.S. hotel brands and ranked them from best to worst. Since these fees and their policies vary from property to property within the same brand, we used real-world bookings to determine these rankings.
We compared four fee categories:
- Resort fee frequency — the percentage of properties that carry any resort fee.
- Resort fee cost — the average cost of those fees.
- Pet fees.
- Parking fees.
We selected properties from each hotel program in the same cities, including tourist destinations known for their common resort fees (Las Vegas, Orlando, etc.). We totaled the fees from each category above to determine the overall nightly average.
As far as we know, no similar analysis of hotel fees is publicly available, so we didn’t know what to expect. Would budget-focused brands like Best Western make up for low room rates with high fees, similar to budget airlines? Would resort fees be spread evenly across brands?
Radisson hotels offered moderate resort fees at the few properties that carried them, along with very low pet and parking fees. Best Western, hot on Radisson’s tail, offered similar resort and parking fees, but higher pet fees. Which is to say: If you don’t plan on bringing a nonhuman companion, both of these brands offer exceptionally low fees.
Interestingly, this analysis clearly didn’t favor some of the “big name” programs like Hyatt, Marriott and Hilton. Yet it’s important to note that these fees were considered on their own, not as a percentage of overall price. So it makes sense that more luxurious brands, like Hyatt, would be dinged for higher fees.
Resort fee frequency
Resort fees represent a constant source of irritation for travelers. These fees were first introduced at high-end properties to justify some amenities they afforded. These days, resort fees are slapped on many properties near tourist destinations with thin justification.
Yet our analysis revealed that these fees are not applied consistently between brands. Over half of Hyatt hotels carried these dubious fees, while only one fifth of Radisson properties did. We compared both high-end and budget options from each brands’ portfolio, so this difference alone can’t explain the variation in resort fee frequency.
Resort fee cost
Winner: Best Western
The frequency of resort fees is one thing, while the actual price tag associated with these fees is another. We found a surprising range in the cost of these fees between and within programs.
On the one hand, it makes sense that programs with an emphasis on luxury would carry higher resort fees. On the other hand, these fees can be deceptive and misleading — tacking on extra costs that are not visible to travel search engines — and encourage savvy customers to avoid hotel brands that systematically inflate checkout prices this way.
Unlike airlines, which have sought “a la carte” pricing structures, these resort fees are not optional. That is, customers cannot book a room and forgo both the resort fee and the amenities they presumably provide. There is no good reason (other than to deceive customers) why these fees should not be included in the room base cost.
If you’ve ever traveled with pets, you know these hotel pet fees can be confusing and exorbitant. Some hotels let pets stay for free, while other hotels within the same brand will charge “pet fees,” “nonrefundable pet deposits” and “pet cleaning fees.” We rolled all these fees together (they are all the same thing, really) and averaged them, excluding properties that do not allow pets at all.
These fees further illustrate the gap between the big-name programs, such as Marriott and Hyatt, and others. These higher fees are largely driven by high-end properties (staying a night with your dog at Ritz Carlton Rancho Mirage will set you back an extra $250), yet are wildly inconsistent. Some budget properties in the Marriott portfolio, like the Element New York Times Square West, allow pets for free, while others, like the modest TownePlace Suites Tucson, will charge $100.
In other words, the best bet is to check each hotel policy individually before booking, rather than rely on (nonexistent) portfolio-wide policies.
Winner: Best Western
Nobody expects to park in Times Square for free. Yet hotels vary significantly in how much they charge for parking, even within similar neighborhoods. To determine which brands were overpricing parking the most, we compared hotels in similar locations.
The difference here is striking. Hilton’s average nightly parking rate is five times higher than Best Western’s, and no amount of “luxury” can explain this gulf — parking spots are parking spots.
We searched for room rates, resort fees, pet fees and parking fees across hotels in these destinations:
- New York City.
- Las Vegas.
- Orlando, Florida.
- Palm Springs, California.
- Tucson, Arizona.
For each hotel brand, we identified a high-end and low-end property close to the target ZIP code in each destination. That is, we wanted to capture both budget and luxury options, when available, for each brand.
For room rates and resort fees, we selected the lowest-priced, non-member-exclusive room, and proceeded to the checkout screen. For pet and parking fees, we checked the individual hotel website.
Pet fees were determined by the cost for a single night. That is, if a given property charged a $50 pet cleaning fee plus a $25 nightly pet fee, the fee would be $75.
The bottom line
We didn’t know what to expect going into this analysis. We knew that fees differed significantly and confusingly between individual hotels, but we were not sure if these fees were meaningfully different between brands. The answer was unambiguous.
The “Big 3” hotel brands of Hyatt, Marriott and Hilton charge consistently more and higher fees than other brands. The average nightly fees at a Hyatt property, when bringing a pet and a car, totaled $149 — the cost of a night at a modest hotel. The same fees at a Radisson property totaled only $45.
That’s not to say that staying at Radisson properties will save you $100 per night. In fact, there is so much variation between individual hotels in how and when these fees are applied and calculated that travelers are left with no better option than researching them individually. Still, when in doubt, we recommend starting your search with Radisson, Best Western and IHG hotels if you’re looking for the best chance of reducing your hotel fees.