Las Vegas’ resort-fee game gets interesting

Like it or not, resort fees are in Las Vegas to stay.

After gaining traction in the years since the 2001-02 travel slowdown, these fees are commonly derided as just another way for hotels to extract revenues from their customers. Today it’s estimated that as many as 10 percent of all hotels nationwide charge their guests some sort of fee—from $10 to $30—on top of the standard room rate.

These extra costs seem to be especially galling to Las Vegas visitors. In the past few months, guests upset at having up to $25 tacked onto their bill per night (sometimes even when the room has been comped) have taken to blogs and message boards to register their disgust.

Nearly half of Strip properties now charge a fee, as do 10 of our 18 suburban hotel-casinos. These fees include amenities that run from the useful, such as wi-fi access, to the ridiculous—imagine being charged for “access to the hotel facilities” and to have wake-up calls? So if you don’t use the Internet or hit the weights, the mandatory resort fee only means a bigger bill at the end of your stay with no added value in return.

You’ll find the fees at a mix of properties here, from low-end (Circus Circus) to high-end (the Palazzo). There are battle lines forming across the corporate front, with Station Casinos, Las Vegas Sands and MGM Mirage assessing the fees (though MGM skips them at Aria and Bellagio), and Wynn and Harrah’s Entertainment Properties proudly not charging them.

Those who charge do so in the name of convenience. MGM Mirage spokeswoman Yvette Monet explains that the feedback from guests has been largely positive: “Before, if guests wanted a bottle of water, they had to take it out of their mini-bar and pay for it. If they wanted a newspaper, they had to go downstairs and pay for it. Now those services and amenities are already part of the experience they paid for.”

She’s right: Some visitors really don’t mind the fees—at least not enough to get worked up about it.

“Basically I come to Vegas to relax, unwind, blow off some steam and have fun,” “donnymac66” wrote on a recent thread. “I’m not going to let what is essentially a pass line with full odds bet ruin my enjoyment of my stay.”

But others aren’t so forgiving. “They’re what made me not want to stay at the Venetian,” wrote “rockchickx51” on the same thread. “For a week’s stay, the resort fee was going to tack on about $140 of my total for nothing.”

This is why Harrah’s Entertainment began the year with an ad campaign that boasts “no resort fees” on several Internet booking sites. It even sent out a press release touting the policy.

“We believe that customers should be well aware of what they’re buying,” says Marilyn Winn, president of the Rio, Bally’s and Paris hotels. “We should charge the customers for the things they want and not let them be deterred by an extra added fee.”

Harrah’s strategy has started to pay off. “Rockchickx51” ended up spending her week at Caesars Palace, in part because it had no resort fee. And she wrote that she had a great time, even though the hotel charges $14.99 a day for wireless Internet.

The city is at an interesting crossroads with this issue. Some casinos, such as the M Resort, have dropped their fees. Others are holding their ground. Station Casinos, in fact, will increase its fees at several properties starting in April.

Ultimately, the customers will determine if the fees stay or go. Right now this is a buyer’s market for hotel rooms, and few resorts can afford to give guests another reason to stay somewhere else. Those that charge fees had best deliver real value to their guests, or they may find fewer of them arriving for check-in in the future.

David G. Schwartz is the
director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research.