Hotel charges come in addition to the room rate and can spoil a bargain.
Good budget travelers avoid paying "rack rate" for your motel rooms. They've used search engines to find a base price for rooms in your destination city. They have learned that Priceline can cut your bill in half, and can be a real money-saver in certain circumstances. Perhaps they take advantage of hotel promotions and find that places with empty rooms are ready to make deals.
But the hospitality industry makes lots of money from hotel charges that are completely independent of your room rate.
At least one unpleasant surprise at checkout is unavoidable: now matter how outrageous, you must pay the room taxes. In many places, those now exceed 13 percent of the room rate.
But there are other hotel charges that are easy to side-step if given some thought before departure.
Hands off the Honor Bar
Would you ever buy a $5 USD bottle of water in the store? How about a $6 bag of peanuts?
Not all honor bars are that expensive; a few are even more pricey. The point is to leave them alone.
A few travelers are tempted to take the expensive water and then replace it the next day with a reasonably-priced bottle purchased elsewhere. It usually doesn't work, because inventory is taken each day and some honor bars are equipped with motion sensors.
A lot of hotels without honor bars will put bottled water out on the desk or counter. Guests open it before realizing it has a price tag attached.
Buy your own bottled water and snacks elsewhere and leave the overpriced stuff for the next guest.
Skip the In-Room Movies
Say the phrase "in-room movie" and many people immediately assume the subject is motel porn. But those selections aren't the only overpriced offers on your screen. Frequently, any in-room movie is a bad idea.
For the price of some in-room movies, you can rent three or four titles at your hometown rental store when you get home, or buy the DVD and play it on your computer.
These costs add up quickly, but there's an even more compelling reason to tune out: in-room movies are often the source of billing mistakes. Order one movie, and guests sometimes are charged for two or three.
It's best to stay out of the motel movie database altogether.
Avoid the Hotel's Expensive Parking Services
My bargain two-star room in downtown Chicago was $48 USD/night. My car's accommodation was less expensive, but not much: $32 USD/day!
Suddenly, the bargain room is $80/night before the tax bill and other extras.
Some might argue that's still not too bad for The Magnificent Mile, but you can do better. My space at the Grant Park North garage about a mile away cost $13 USD/day. The parking space was in a well-lit, frequently patrolled area. Since I didn't plan to drive during my stay, it worked out well.
It won't always work out this well, but it's usually worth the effort to explore other parking alternatives before plunking down what the hotel wants you to pay.
Stay off the Phone
This one is less of a problem than in previous years, because many travelers now carry their own mobile phones. But the temptation still sits on your nightstand.
Hotels have a varied and bewildering array of surcharges and fees for using their phones. Some charge for local calls. Some put premium charges on long distance in addition to the standard rates.
If you don't have a mobile device, buy a pre-paid calling card for your long distance conversations. Ask about fees for calling the local pizza parlor or your in-town friends, too.
Keep Close Watch on other 'Extras'
We all know room service is usually overpriced, yet sometimes the convenience outweighs the cost. But if it becomes a habit, it will run your tab skyward.
Does your room have a safe? If so, check your final bill for a safe charge. Some hotels charge this fee whether or not you ever touch the safe.
If you're the type who settles in and opens the laptop, find out how much WiFi connections are going to cost. Sometimes, it's a better idea to skip the in-room connection and check your email in the business center. Strangely, budget hotels often offer WiFi for free, while the expensive places charge $10.99 USD/day.
Some hotel charges target other habits.
Those who work out while on the road may find a hotel charge for the privilege. If you must request a special key for the workout facility, it's best to ask if there is a fee involved.
If you tend to use a lot of towels, there are hotels who are adding a fee for replacements.
Hot water and wake-up calls are still free in most places...at least for now!