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Hidden hotel costs mount

Ever blink when the hotel clerk hands you a bill that has inflated charges for the things that make your room hospitable, such as a telephone and a minibar? Those amenities spell profit for most hotels.

A typical set of add-ons might go like this:

Local calls made from your room cost $1 each, including toll-free 800 numbers. There is a 30 percent surcharge on long-distance calls or a $1 charge if you call collect. The minibar automatically charges items to your bill when they are removed from their slots, even if the items were put back. A can of soda from the minibar might go for $2, a beer for $3.50.

Conveniences you take for granted at home can be real budget busters on the road. When traveling abroad, for example, excessive telephone fees are difficult to avoid. From Mexico City to Monte Carlo, hotels charge $5 to $10 just to connect a guest to a long-distance operator.

If you must call home but can't get to local telephone company offices, pay the connection fee but reverse the charges. That should save you about 25 percent on the call. The cheapest way to make a call is from a pay phone.

Brian Honan, marketing director at the Essex House, says phone surcharges defray the hotel's cost of providing the service.

"At home, you pay base rates for utilities," he says. "Consider this the same. We pay for phone lines into the hotel, for equipment and maintenance _ and commissions to telephone service wholesalers who handle our system _ and we have to pass along the charges. We don't make money on phone service."

However, Honan says there's money in the minibars.

"These are another food and beverage outlet for the hotel, similar to a restaurant," he says.

If you know you can't resist temptation, refuse to take the minibar key from the check-in clerk. Stock up at the convenience store, instead.

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