Hotel fees, the in-room safe

Of all the hidden hotel fees designed to nickel-and-dime the business traveler, the in-room safe charge has to be one of the most irritating.

Of all the hidden hotel fees designed to nickel-and-dime the business and leisure traveler, the in-room safe charge has to be one of the most irritating.

Hotels that engage in this practice automatically add a “nominal charge” to your bill for the “valuable convenience” of having a safe—much like the one pictured above—in your room. Then the responsibility is on you, the guest, to advise the hotel that you don’t wish to be charged for this so-called convenience. (In legal parlance this is known as negative option billing.)

Of course, most hotels that add a safe fee aren’t transparent about it; they simply add the charge to your account and hope you don’t notice. Typically there will be a small sign at check-in (and another on the in-room safe), both designed to get around the legal issue of “failure to disclose.” Never mind that the signs aren’t likely to be noticed, especially by those least likely to use the safe.

One hotel group that is particularly devious about this practice is Choice Hotels International, which includes such brands as Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Quality Inn, Sleep Inn, Clarion, Cambria Suites, MainStay Suites, EconoLodge and Rodeway Inn. In part this is because Choice hotels often don’t provide itemized bills; they simply add the extra dollar or two to the “tax,” which ensures that the money will be collected from all but the most savvy and vigilant travelers. And since the bills are not itemized, it becomes almost impossible to contest these charges after-the-fact. (In case you're wondering, 65 percent of the money goes to corporate; the hotel pockets the other 35 percent.)

I encourage members of Choice Privileges (Choice’s frequent guest program) to protest this practice, even though it’s doubtful that Choice Hotels will put an end to it anytime soon. An Internet search reveals that the group has been charging hotel safe fees—at all its chains—for years. Even the specter of class action lawsuits hasn't been enough to deter the company. And why would they? Even a successful class action suit would recoup only a small fraction of the money Choice has been raking in.