What you should know about the New York Destination Fee Scam

What you need to know about the New York Destination Fee - Travel for a Living

Have you ever come across the New York Destination fee? Or New York amenity fee? Or resort fee? No? Well, me neither. Until our recent NYC trip. Seems this kid has many names. And is common practice in quite a few US cities (Las Vegas being a really notorious one apparently). Until about two years ago, this wasn’t a big topic in New York. But things change. To save you the same nasty surprise we had checking in, let me tell all you need to know about the New York destination fee. What you get for it (or not), how much it is per night and if there is a way to avoid it.

Mr T and I have been to New York many times over the years. And we had been to this particular hotel twice before and never ever had any issues. Far from it. I would have happily recommended the Intercontinental New York Barclay to anyone asking. Which made it even more of a surprise when we checked in, to be told that there would be a 35$ per room New York amenity fee for every night we stayed. Seems I had been silly and didn’t check all the small print when booking my hotel. Maybe naïve, I grant you that. But I had been to that hotel before, I had always booked it as a package via British Airways together with my flights. And it wasn’t the first time the hotel came up with a really good price when booking early. So, nothing raised any suspicions. And it wasn’t like British Airways had a big pop up notifying you that on top of the good room rate you would be charged through the nose with a silly made up charge. In which case I would have probably noticed before booking.

Enough of the rant, let’s get back to the actual topic.

Need to know about the New York destination fee: Who charges it?

OK, here’s some good news. Not all New York hotels charge this amenity fee. So, it is not really something that is endorsed by New York City itself. Far from it. When checking Google on the topic, it very quickly showed that the New York amenity fee could be considered a bit of a scam. For hotel guests it is misleading, as the hotel advertises lower room rates, yet charges massive extras once you check in. On the other side, it means less revenue for the city. As the New York destination fee seems to have a lower tax rate than the actual room fee. So, by charging less for the room and more for the fee, the hotels seem to avoid some taxes. All perfectly legal, I guess. But very annoying.

It appears that (for now) it is only some of the hotel chains with hotels in the city centre charge this New York amenity fee. The Intercontinental for sure (as this is the one, we stayed in), but also Marriot and Hilton seem to charge. I cannot say for sure though if they ‘only’ charge it in their Manhattan city centre locations or if the resort fee applies to all their hotels in all five boroughs.

Things to know about the New York destination fee: What does it include?

OK, so when we checked in, the lady at reception informed us about the mandatory 35$ per night amenity fee. And she detailed what it would include. I guess this might vary from hotel to hotel. But to give you an idea of what amenities you could expect for this exorbitant (and in my opinion totally made up and unnecessary) charge, here is the run-down of what the 35$ New York amenity fee at the Intercontinental New York Barclay included:

  • A 30$ per day food & beverage credit
  • A $15 laundry / dry cleaning credit per stay
  • 15% discount on CitySightseeing bus tours
  • High-speed internet
  • Free local and international calls
  • Discount passes at Bloomingdale’s and the shops at Columbia Circle
  • $20 off a 60-minute in-room massage

At first, I misheard and thought we could accumulate the food & beverage credit over the days and use it for a nice meal on our last evening. Obviously not, what was I thinking. The credit needed to be used every day or it would expire.

Which ‘benefits’ did we actually use from the New York amenity fee?

Looking at the list of ‘benefits’ we would get out of the New York destination fee, it was quickly clear that quite a few of them were just there to make up the numbers and we were unlikely to use them.

Complimentary Wi-Fi

Rubbish. We had complimentary Wi-Fi last time we stayed, so not really any added benefit here (plus we can actually use our UK allowance for free with the mobile contract we have, so worst case scenario we wouldn’t need the hotel Wi-Fi at all).

Free local and international calls

Rather pointless in my opinion. How many calls do I need to make whilst on holiday? And again, we can use the free minutes on our mobiles when calling home to the UK. So, another ‘benefit’ we did not need. In hindsight, maybe we should have called home for hours, just to make it worth our money?

A 15% discount for sightseeing busses

Thanks, but no thanks. Well, maybe if you are visiting New York for the very first time, this sounds like a great deal. But even then, I can think of many things I’d rather do than take the Hop On Hop Off bus. And a 15% discount on the regular ticket price of 59$ saves you a whopping 8.85$. Well worth the 35$ charge per day… or not. Not quite sure I’d call that a good investment. If you really wanted to do the bus tour, you could simply sign up to the CitySightseeing newsletter and bag a 10% discount for that.

Daily 30$ Food & Beverage Credit

Yes, we did actually use the food & beverage credit. But only because this was the one thing that was a little too big to waste.

However, it soon turned out that spending our credit wasn’t as easy as it sounded at first. Yes, we headed down to the bar in the evening to grab a drink. But were soon reminded that 30$ credit wouldn’t necessarily buy you 30 dollars’ worth of drinks. Let’s not forget to add the New York sales tax (just under 9%). In addition, the hotel charged a 15% service fee. So, to stay under 30$ in total, the drinks would have needed to stay below 24$. Which barely bought you two drinks at all (unless you fancied two soft drinks or two cups of coffee or at the very most two beers).

The first evening we opted for a cocktail (a whopping 19$) plus a soft drink (at the bargain price of 8.50$ for just over 250ml of Coke). Meaning we overspend by more than 5$. Which would then obviously be added to our final bill when we check out. Needless to say, that we very kindly refused to add a tip on top. I know it is custom in the US to add a tip for the staff. But honestly, if I am already forced to spend 30$ a night on drinks I didn’t want in the first place (and still have to spend yet more money to actually get two half decent drinks), I do not feel too generous. Yes, it seems the Intercontinental finds this a great way to milk their guests, but I am not a cash cow. Yes, I do feel sorry for the staff, but the hotels only have themselves to blame for this.

What you need to know about the New York Destination Fee - Travel for a Living

Spending our daily 30$ credit for the mini bar was even less of an option. As those prices were just as exorbitant, with an extra 20% administrative fee plus taxes. Not yet including any service fee, tips or anything else…

Similar thing for using room service. Anything ordered on room service would have had a whopping 23% service charge plus a 7.50$ delivery charge added on top. So again, not much actual spending money if you tried to stay within your 30$ / day credit.

Using the food & beverage credit for breakfast seemed a similarly pointless exercise, as the Barclays Breakfast costs 42$ / person. You see where this is heading, don’t you?

As we sat in the bar in the evenings, we would see plenty of people approach the bar, order two soft drinks (keep them closed, I don’t need glasses or ice with them) and take them up to their room. Not because they really fancied two drinks, but just because they didn’t want to waste the daily spending credit. Why else would anyone decide they wanted a small bottle of Coke for 8.50$? If you could buy it for a dollar (or maybe even less) in the shop around the corner. We did the same thing one evening. After we’ve been out for drinks with friends, last thing we wanted was another drink at the bar. Two soft drinks to go it was instead (that was the only night we actually stayed within our 30$ credit limit, small mercies).

A $15 laundry / dry cleaning credit per stay

Our first thought was to go ahead and have two shirts cleaned, just to spend the credit and make a point. Not that we actually needed any clothes cleaned. We were only staying five nights and we had both packed more than enough clothes to tie us over. Plus New York to me is a perfect shopping location, so chances are we would pick up a few additional bits over the course of our stay anyway.

The idea of having shirts cleaned quickly died when I checked the price list. 18$ to have a single shirt cleaned. Not being funny, Mr T. would probably buy a new shirt for that money (in fact, the two he bought during our trip were only marginally more expensive, despite being designer labels).

The one thing that we should have cleaned (and unfortunately that didn’t occur to me until I started packing our suitcases again) were the flight socks we wore during the flight to New York (and would obviously wear again for the flight back). At 5$ / pair of socks (at least I assume the price is for a pair and not per sock, but who knows), this would have actually been in budget for once. Oh well, maybe next time. This time the socks had to make do with a quick rinse in the basin instead.

Discount passes at Bloomingdale’s and the shops at Columbia Circle

Oh well, I do love shopping, especially when I am in New York City. So, getting a discount at Bloomingdale’s sounded at least a bit more promising than most of the other benefits. But in the end, I never used it. To be honest, I didn’t even go into Bloomingdale’s this time.

To receive the Bloomingdale’s discount, we needed to collect our VIP passes at the hotel’s concierge, then go and see the info counter at Bloomingdale’s, who would give us a 15% discount voucher. As I already mentioned, I did not use it. So, I cannot tell you, if this discount could be used on anything or just on specific items. Depending on your shopping habit and budget, this potentially could be an interesting perk of the New York City Destination Fee. At least if your shopping budget allows you to spend 200$ a day at Bloomingdale’s (which would then obviously result in a 30$ discount).

As for the discount pass for the ‘Shops at Columbia Circle’, I never quite worked out how to get that. When I went to check with the concierge, they gave me a leaflet for the shopping centre. Which I assumed would include the required information. Turned out that the leaflet was actually just a shop directory. But since I had no intentions of shopping at Columbia Circle, I did not enquire any further.

$20 off a 60-minute in-room massage

Having a relaxing massage in the comfort of my own room to recover from all the exploring and walking in New York City? Sounds perfect. And at first glance, 20$ off sounds like a good offer. Until you realise that the total cost for the 60-minute in-room massage is 185$ (plus tax and tip I guess). Thanks, but no thanks.

What you need to know about the New York Destination Fee - Travel for a Living

What you need to know about the New York City Destination Fee: Our summary

Apologies for this rather lengthy rant about the Intercontinental New York Barclay and their idea of the New York Amenity Fee. I guess, you’ve worked out that I was less than impressed by it. In my opinion, the destination fee did not actually provide any benefit to us whatsoever. Instead it added almost 200$ to our bill. Which we did not really budget for. Yes, I know I only have myself to blame for not noticing the small print on my booking. If I had known about the extra charge, I might have still considered booking the hotel (as it was a really good offer to start with), but I would have probably refrained from getting an upgrade on my flight back to London.

I don’t think the Intercontinental New York Barclay (or any of the other hotels charging the New York destination fee) are doing themselves any favours here. Had they advertised the higher rate and then included a 30$ food & drink credit, this would have felt much different from an additionally imposed fee. Even if the bottom line had stayed the same. After all, it is a question of perception.

Tell me. Am I the only one that fell for the silly New York destination fee scam? Or you as well? What were your experiences with amenity fees, New York or elsewhere?

What you need to know about the New York Destination Fee - Travel for a Living

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