by Dewey Hill
What are resort fees? Resort fees are per night mandatory charges added to your hotel bill and collected by the hotel/casino. Ostensibly, for certain amenities, most of which traditionally have come free with any paid hotel, like free parking, or pool use. Sometimes there are some new amenities like free wifi, access to the fitness center, free water bottles in the room, a free daily newspaper, or a VIP line pass to avoid crowds at the buffet.
Generally, if resort fees appear in advertisements at all, they are hidden in the fine print. Websites that let us name our own room price do not include the resort fee in the mathematics of their comparative search.
Sometimes a property will impose resort fees on their less expensive options, but not on the upscale room or suite. Unlike sales taxes, resort fees work like a flat tax; they might add a mere 10-20% to the nightly charges of expensive hotels, but as much as 50% to inexpensive hotels.
Are these like the extra fees airlines charge? No, because those fees for extra baggage or a blanket and pillow are not mandatory. We do not have to check bags or use a blanket to fly; when those amenities are not used, we pay no additional fee. Casino resort fees are universally applied to every hotel bill whether we choose to use the amenities or not.
What about comped rooms? Policies vary. Some casinos automatically waive resort fees for comped rooms, some require that we ask them to be waived, and for others it depends upon how the room is comped. Many will use resort fees as another incentive for higher levels of play. Others charge everyone the same fee even if the room is comped.
Station Casinos and Boyd Casinos generally charge no resort fee on any comped room and do not limit amenities. This past year resort fees stopped being added to Mlife comped rooms at MGM Resorts properties. Some places allow us to pay the resort fee with Player’s Card points.
Are there ways to book and avoid resort fees? Often there are. Booking Boyd casinos using the B-Connected website available to Player’s Club card holders will often not incur a resort fee even when the booking paperwork says one will be charged. Some convention bookings negotiate a waive of resort fee. SEMA and AAPEX which attracts 120,000 participants annually in November negotiates waived fees for members booking through their site.
Condos at Signature MGM that are rented out directly by the condo owners, or through third-party companies they hire, can be booked without the usual resort fee.
Some casinos, like Tropicana, periodically drop resort fees as a come-on in advertised room rate specials. Call and ask if any such deal is available.
Caesars’ Entertainment casinos, The Cosmopolitan and the Hilton openly advertise NO RESORT FEES as part of their marketing. Stay for more than five nights at the Stratosphere and the resort fee caps at $37.50, and yet you, and everyone in your room, will get free amenities like access to the Tower for your entire stay. Some folks I know from Scotland always book two weeks. So they pay $2.67 a night for their stay, or the lowest resort fee in Vegas. 28 days is the maximum single booking.
The El Cortez has no official resort fee in place with amenities and such. They decided to try a new kind of fee. If you call the desk or go on their site, no 8 day booking will be allowed. If you found a way to book more days in that month, then you would have to pay $25 a night for any night over the 7 nights books.
At a discouter you might book a stay longer than 7 nights, but you would often find that the rate included $25 for each night of the booking, including the first 7 nights.
So the Stratosphere wants you to stay as long as you can. The El Cortez wants you in and out again.
Why would a casino use a resort fee rather than put all charges up front? Casinos charging resort fees appear less expensive until the fine print is examined, so that helps in advertisements. It also might trick the inexperienced Vegas traveler, or those who don’t attend to the details of their bills, into believing that what they will be charged is much less than it actually is. And since most reporting of hotel room charges ignore resort fee numbers, media tends to be complicit in this bait and switch tactic. My experience with savvy travelers suggests that even they are often tricked. While in theory the resort fee could easily be mentally added to the posted hotel charge, in practice it is often mentally ignored, even by veteran visitors.
Discount brokers typically have search engines that arrange the hotels according to price, so that the customer can enter trip dates and make easy comparison based on cost. Because resort fees are not included in the programmed rankings of those searches, the casino hotel will see their rooms disingenuously ranked as cheaper than they actually are.
Resort fees also help casinos when discount brokers discount any rooms they have been unable to sell in order to liquidate an overstock. In a real sense, a discount broker, when selling any room in a casino hotel that charges a resort fee, can only sell or discount a percentage of that room. The casino still collects the resort fee.
Resort fees may attract customers who have been paying higher a la carte fees for fitness centers or in-room wifi. A resort fee charges every customer for these amenities. Few use them, but those who do are then subsidized by those who don’t. If the resort fee itself is used as a comp for well bankrolled players, the cost of providing amenities is paid for by lower bankrolled guests. In some cases, however, comped rooms may not incur mandatory resort fees, but will also not provide resort fee amenities, unless customers opt to pay the fee.
In short, the resort fee structure adds an element of flexibility to room charges that the casino hotel can use to their advantage in renting rooms in a highly competitive market to a variety of customers. While customers lose the transparency and dependability of an agreed upon cost that is determined upfront at the time of booking, casino hotels are able to raise prices after the booking and to more fluidly flex the price of the hotel room to match the variegated profile of their customer.
How much are these fees? Fees change often. Ask what they are before you book. Further confusing cost comparisons is that some charge a tax on the fee. Red Rock advertises a fee of $24.99, but 12 % tax on that $25 adds $3 so the full amount presents the consumer with two levels of hidden fees.
Here is an overview (as of January 2012):
Station Casinos all have resort fees from about $13 to the high rates of $28 at Red Rock and Green Valley Ranch. Wynn and Encore are $25 plus tax which comes to $28 and takes the cake for highest resort fee in Vegas. The Palazzo is $19.04.
Treasure Island and MGM Grand Signature ($22.40 each) are high as well.
Mandalay Bay is $20.46.
The Rumor suites across from the Hard Rock charge an untaxed fee of $9.95.
Boyd casinos, which were some of the first to try out this idea, are some of the cheapest: Orleans – $6; Gold Coast – $3; Sam’s Town – $4.50; and Suncoast – $5.
All MGM properties installed a resort fee in 2010. Bellagio is $22.40
Orleans raised their resort fee from $5 to $6. Palms raised last year’s token $1 fee to $12 and has the prize for the most unusual amenity: $20 in bar credit for each $12 resort fee. Aria now charges $22.40.
Harrah’s, Cosmopolitan, and Hilton have announced that they will NOT charge a resort fee.
Las Vegas Hilton gets the prize for the best reverse resort fee promotion. They charge no resort fee; however, using the “Go Green” promotion, hotel guests can get a $10 daily voucher for food in the casino for each day that they hang a “Go Green” sign on the door to decline housekeeping. Environmentally conscious guests by declining one amenity, levy a fee on the resort.
Super 8 next to Ellis Island gets the prize for the most free amenities and NO resort fee: wifi in the room, parking, 24-hour heated pool, free airport pickup/delivery, a guest laundromat and television with twice the number of channels, including TCM and three HBO channels.
Downtown, only the Gold Spike charges a resort fee ($8.98) which often adds a huge percentage to room rates as low as $12 per night.
However, at $21 total with free wifi and a dawn to dusk pool, after the mathematics the Gold Spike still is generally the best downtown bargain.
Booking Gold Spike using Hotels.com wins the prize for the most confusing. They collect the amount of the resort fee, but call it a “service fee” and bundle it with sales tax. The Gold Spike says that they will not collect a resort fee on any rooms charged that “service fee” by Hotels.com. However, in the fine print and in letters asking for clarification, the hotels.com site says the “resort fee” is still owed and collected by the hotel.
On the Boulder Strip, Sam’s Town and Boulder Station have fees, while Eastside Cannery and Arizona Charlie’s do not.
First time visitors who wish to avoid resort fees might look in the area of Flamingo and Las Vegas Boulevard for a great Strip location and many fee-free options: Paris, Planet Hollywood, Bill’s, Caesars, Bally’s, Super 8(Ellis Island,) Terribles, Rio. And the Gold Coast at $3 has the lowest resort fee in Vegas. In contrast, almost all Strip hotels on and near the corner of NYNY and Las Vegas Boulevard and South to Mandalay Bay, or North of Harrah’s charge resort fees.
Resort fees can change any day. To be certain of accurate, up to date information, call the casino hotel and ask before booking any location. Ask the amount of the resort fee and also ask if taxes are charged on the fee, or just on the room charge. Ask how it can be waived.
After booking, ask for an emailed, detailed description of your charges, and bring a printout to the hotel. If resort fees are implemented, or raised, after your booking, but before your check-in, a printout of the original booking will often save you the new costs.
Remember that the resort fees generally will not appear on a printout from a discount broker, except as a courtesy in fine print, because resort fees are collected directly by the casino hotel.
As often as you can, book directly with hotels rather than using a discount broker. Resort fees can then be made clear as you book.
In addition, cancellation or alteration of a reservation will not incur discount broker fees,(i4Vegas for example charges $15 for changes or cancellations) and paperwork will not get lost or misinterpreted. Many discount broker phone contacts are talking to you from far away in an English new to them. Only when booking directly with the hotel, rather with a broker, can you reduce the length of a booking without losing the original sale rate. Hotel discount brokers must cancel the entire first booking and rebook at newer, and generally higher, rates.
Also, your play may reduce the cost of your stay if you book directly. Hosts can rarely comp discount broker charges; they can, however, comp direct bookings.
However you make your reservation, be sure to make a confirmation phone call directly to the hotel a few days before you arrive. Carefully recheck dates and charges and resort fees. Reconfirm any changes or cancellations. This will save you any surprises at check-in when you are overtired from air travel, anxious to enjoy Vegas, and forced to stand in repeated lines between phone calls to a discounter, or while waiting for misinformation to be corrected.
Also pay attention to what you sign when you check in. Hotels with resort fees generally have you agree to the fees when you arrive, but sometimes that is in the fine print.
If you take advantage of Internet name-your-own-price offers or air-hotel package deals, resort fees will not be included in quoted charges, but added on by the hotel afterwards. This is especially frustrating when a discounter searches for a hotel using your set price, but will not tell you the name until you make the reservation, so you can’t check on resort fees before booking. When naming your own price, it may be wise to just assume you will pay an additional $15 or so in resort fees.
For those of us who might like to splurge for a stay at some upscale suite or tower room, or who negotiate an upgrade, it is important in the mathematics of cost comparison that we consider the possibility of no resort fee on the upscale choice. The cost of the splurge may not be as high as it looks at first glance.
What methods are there of protest? Complain at the front desk in a calm, reasoned manner. Ask for a manager and be prepared to wait.
If you have been caught with an unexpected new fee, or a raised fee, argue that your original contract should be honored.
If you encounter resistance, tell the casino you will dispute the entire bill with your credit card. It is often more bother for them to go through that process than to waive the fee.
Actually dispute all charges when your credit card bill comes due, mentioning the fine print fee as your reason. The casino may waive it at that point.
Complain in writing to the casino, even if you lost the argument at the front desk. Casinos pay attention to letters. You may find you get an offer for a free upgrade or a future stay free of the resort fee.
Express your opinion here: http://forum.americancasinoguide.com. Casino representatives read this board to sample the feelings of the public. Encourage others to complain directly to the hotels and on American Casino Guide discussion boards. Also, check in to this forum when you are booking for news of resort fee changes, angles, as well as other Vegas tips and information.
Whenever you cancel a reservation, include the resort fee as one of the reasons for cancellation.
If you feel that the casino did not clearly inform you of this fee in enough time for you to change your reservation, and yet they are unwilling to waive the fee when you ask at check in, try this approach: “Fine, I’ll pay this tricky resort fee that I feel has trapped me, but I’ll not wager a dime in this casino. I’ll go next door or down the street. While I’m here, I’ll enjoy the amenities included in this mandatory fee. I’ll go on the Internet in my room, use the fitness center, read the free newspaper. I’ll enjoy the pool, and use up my current points on free food, but I won’t gamble here this trip. That will more than save me the resort fee and give me a bankroll I can use to establish myself as a good customer in a casino free of resort fees, one who respects transparent booking rather than small print trickery. If you want me to treat you as a resort rather than a casino, I can do that.”
Actually use a comped visit at a resort fee casino hotel to seed future offers with play in a nearby casino that does not charge a resort fee, and explain your decision in writing to both casinos.
Write to any casino that does not charge a resort fee. Thank them, and tell them you have decided to move your business to their casino.
Write or call to encourage casinos that charge exceptionally low and untaxed resort fees not to raise that expense. Each time we write to a casino and mention resort fees, we remind them that this issue is important to us.
Will it do any good? Customer complaints always are noted, even if they are not answered. Regular customers may expect an answer and perhaps, if the letter touches the right nerve, the answer may include a waived fee or a free room upgrade on your next visit.
M casino responded to customer complaints by dropping the practice altogether.
Cosmopolitan decided not to charge resort fees so as not to “irritate customers.”
Harrah’s responded to customers by promising to no longer impose resort fees on any of their properties in Las Vegas.
Even when the fees do not get dropped, your complaints may keep them from rising.
Casinos are balancing the extra money they might receive against the amount of anger the fees may incur. They like charging more than they are required to advertise, but they can’t afford to lose their steady customers.
Hopefully, they will get the message that consumers like upfront charges and dislike being tricked.
You have probably heard the old expression, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”
Our hope is that this American Casino Guide information has precluded even the initial deception.
Dewey Hill retired from teaching English to travel in the most frugal ways, play poker at the lowest limits, and fish bluegills. His love of Vegas, as well as his disdain for resort fees, keeps him on discussion boards and blogging daily. He collects Vegas experiences at vegasbirthdaybash.blogspot.com.