Nickel and Dimed
Publication: National Geographic Traveler, May/June 2000
Date Published: 4/22/2004
SMART TRAVELER (MAY/JUNE)
By John Rosenthal
Plunk down $300 for a hotel room and you shouldn’t have to worry about nickel-and-dime charges for local phone calls, a cup of coffee, or the newspaper delivered to your room, right?
Not necessarily. At an increasing number of luxury resorts and hotels, the room rate covers just that: the room. If you want to use the phone, the coffeemaker, or other amenities, you’ll have to pay—often through the nose.
At London’s Ritz hotel, for example, local phone calls are charged at approximately 65 cents per minute, access calls to phone card or credit card call numbers are assessed a $4 fee, a two-ounce bottle of Dewar’s scotch from the minibar costs $11, and coffee must be ordered from room service for $6.50 (not including tip).
“The room price is based on the room and the service that goes with that,” says Ruth Jones, director of sales and marketing for the Ritz. “If you don’t choose to use the minibar or make telephone calls, you might feel entitled to a reduction in the rate, so charging for each individual item seems like the fairest way to do it.”
Diane Naiztat, a New York architect who recently returned from a trip throughout France, doesn’t agree. She fumed about having to pay incidental charges for local calls and coffee in several hotels on her trip. “When you pay hundreds of dollars for a hotel room, some things should be complimentary,” says Naiztat.
At the $280-a-night (and up) Westin Maui, a daily $8 “resort fee” covers “free” local phone calls, “free” use of the fitness center, “complimentary” in-room coffee, “free” parking, and “free” local paper. The $350-a-night La Quinta Resort in La Quinta, California imposes a similar $9 per day “convenience fee.”
“Apparently the 300 bucks a night you’re already shelling out isn’t enough,” notes Cheryl Farr Leas, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Hawaii. “Why don't they just raise their rates by $8 across the board?
Not every luxury hotel is so calculating. Kona Village, on the Big Island of Hawaii, charges $450 a night, but includes three meals daily (including a Friday night luau), airport transfers, local and 800-number calls, children’s programs, and unlimited use of towels, water-sports equipment, chaise longues, and tennis courts. Each room boasts a refrigerator filled with bottled water, juice, soda, and Kona coffee, replenished every day for free.
The Ventana Inn and Spa in Big Sur, California, (room rates from $340 to $850 a night) also believes it is in the hospitality industry, not the nickel-and-dime business. It offers free coffee in the lobby at all times, along with a bowl of apples, oranges, or bananas, and a nightly wine and cheese reception. Breakfast and newspapers are included in the room rate, and calls to 800-numbers are free, says Gabriela Knubis, the Inn’s public relations representaive. Local calls, however, are charged 75 cents each.
Ironically, these kinds of amenities are much more likely to be free at moderately priced hotels, where travelers are more concerned about value for their money. Georges Le Mener, president and C.E.O. of theMotel 6 chain, griped about having to shell out $2.50 for coffee during a recent stay at a Ritz-Carlton. “At Motel 6, we don’t have any charges for coffee, local phone calls, or access to 800-numbers. Now, if we can do those things when we’re the lowest-priced hotel in the market, the highest-priced hotels should be able to do it, too.”