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A pillow? It's extra

Maybe newspapers would be in better financial shape if we took a tip from hotels.

How about a penny surcharge for that nifty plastic bag that keeps your paper dry? An extra nickel for the weather page? Don't forget the 3-cent ink-on-paper fee. Just routine.

Little irritates hotel guests more than getting a bill with a laundry list of fees for stuff that ought to be included in their room rate. High-end hotels are the worst offenders.

Every frequent traveler has an outrage story.

Donna Allen still simmers over the Daytona Beach hotel that charged a $1-a-night security fee to pay for a guard to patrol the property.

"At midnight, there was a brawl in the parking lot but no security guard broke it up,'' says Allen, marketing director at Hillsborough Community College. "I told them he must have been on the other side of the building.'' The hotel removed the fee from her bill.

Terrence Rice works in the business as sales and marketing director at the Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk Hotel. Still, her eyes popped at fees charged by a New York hotel: $35 each to accept packages delivered for her and $10 for a one-page fax.

But fees for high-speed Internet connections at full-service hotels are the No. 1 gripe among business travelers. Why pay $9.95 a night at an Embassy Suites, they ask, when it's free at a Holiday Inn that charges a lower room rate?

The simple answer is that hotels think business people staying at a fancier place - and traveling on their company's dime - don't mind an extra fee on their bills.

"For a guy staying at a Hyatt paying top dollar, $9.95 for Internet is like water off a duck's back,'' says George Glover of BayStar Hotel Group, which owns a handful of limited-service hotels in Florida.

The Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club in St. Petersburg charges $10.95 per day for an Internet package that also includes unlimited local and long-distance phone calls.

The hotel needs to recoup the tens of thousands of dollars that owners invested in Internet access hardware, says general manager Russ Bond. But he still hears complaints and sees a time not too far off when his hotel and others won't charge any more.

A close second among business travelers' pet peeves is the "resort fee.'' Maybe vacationers lounging at the pool or working out at the health club should pay to keep up the facilities

But not people like Michael Matthews, a hotel consultant and columnist from Tucson, Ariz.

He recently flew to Puerto Rico one evening, delivered a speech the next morning and promptly checked out. His bill carried the $33 resort fee. "I couldn't even tell you where the pool is,'' he says.

His advice is challenge any fees you consider unreasonable, especially if they aren't disclosed when you make your reservation.

"Most people don't scream,'' says Matthews, who got the resort tax taken of his tab. "They should.''

* * *

Picking up a rental car could get a lot quicker. Alamo Rent-a-Car now has self-service kiosks at its Tampa International Airport location.

Alamo tested the machines in Dallas, Las Vegas and Jacksonville and found the average check-in time was two minutes, compared to between six and 10 minutes at the counter.

Tampa is one of the first airports to get the kiosks. Alamo says its machines are a first for the rental car industry. Airlines have used kiosks to speed up check-in - and cut counter staff - for years.

What took the rental car guys so long to figure it out?

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

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