Restaurant surcharges and hotel resort fees – disingenuity in action

[Your author Robert here… I was pondering whether this was more soft topics for my tech blog, or travel. I’ll crosspost, since I think it applies to both. And it sat around in my draft folder for about six months, but it’s still valid today.]

I recently dined with my honey at a local chain steakhouse. I’ve been going there as often as weekly for over a decade. We’ve gone less frequently in the last couple of years thanks to Nom Burger, but still once a month give or take.

Their prices have been sneaking up over the years. The dinner for two combo they have has gone from under $40 to $65 as I recall, although coupons still bring it down. Some of the choices have become added-cost items, so if you want a wedge salad, that’s an extra buck, and if you’re lucky it won’t be smaller than it was last month.

But the thing that annoyed me was the 3% “minimum wage surcharge” that was stickered onto the menu and was slapped on the bill.

Slapping customers with your cost of doing business?

The surcharge was annoying. The Chocolate-Orange Layer Cake was pretty good.

When I see a “minimum wage surcharge” or a “health insurance surcharge” on a restaurant bill, it rubs me the wrong way in a big way. It tells me the restaurant would really rather not pay a reasonable (legal) wage, or would rather not provide health insurance (maybe they’d rather have sick employees serving and cooking for customers?).

And a separate item could lead to lower tips as well. If you look at the subtotal to calculate the bill, 3% of that amount which is actually part of the cost of business is not included, so you may not think to tip for it. I didn’t think to look at whether the surcharge was taxed… is tax avoidance part of the consideration as well?

It wouldn’t be too hard to add 3% to the menu items themselves. If you were able to reprint the menus for the 5-10% price hike on certain items, you could easily add the 3% in rather than adding a sticker.

You’d also see a bit more money going to the employees you are hesitant to pay fairly or insure too. Sure, 20% of 3% isn’t a lot per cover, but over time it adds up.

It can’t just be surcharges bugging you…

As I pondered this particular sticker, I thought about parallels with fuel surcharges (for shipping and airline tickets) and resort fees (for hotels and, well, resorts).

The fuel surcharges seem similar; given the dynamic nature of pricing for airline tickets, it should be easy to adjust in a close-to-realtime fashion based on actual costs of fuel (or even to buy fuel more than a gallon at a time to absorb market shifts, which I think they do anyway). Shipping costs could be more complicated due to contracts with shippers and agencies.

Resort fees make them all look friendly and nice, of course; $30+/night for wifi and printing boarding passes is a bargain if you’re printing a thousand boarding passes, but more often it’s a great way to fleece customers and get away with false advertising. (Read some thoughts from The Points Guy and KillResortFees.com here.)

If you travel a lot, especially to Las Vegas, you’re accustomed to the resort fees, which as TPG above notes can be more than the room rate itself at cheaper hotels. But first-time travelers, especially those not on company expense accounts, may be disappointed and/or inconvenienced when their $30/night hotel room turns out to be $65+tax. Make it $100 if you have to park a car.

If you as a hotel operator believe that the resort fees reflect anything of actual value, why not either include them in the room rate, or make them optional? Surely all the people who find those services valuable will be happy to pay for them. Myself, I haven’t needed a notary or fax receiving at a Las Vegas hotel, well, ever… and based on Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts credits at several hotels, I know the wifi is worth $5 a day, and I’d pay that happily.

There’s a good read at the Federal Trade Commission’s website on their investigation into resort fees. The tl;dr summary (emphasis added):

 The analysis in the paper finds that separating mandatory resort fees from posted room rates without first disclosing the total price is likely to harm consumers by increasing the search costs and cognitive costs of finding and choosing hotel accommodations. The analysis finds that separating resort fees from the room rate without first disclosing the total price is unlikely to result in benefits that offset the likely harm to consumers.

However, to date not much has been done to address this, and resort fees continue to go up.

There are ways to get around some resort fees, of course. Caesars Entertainment does not automatically charge resort fees for Diamond and Seven Stars Total Rewards members, for example, and if you’re a high roller/have a host at other resorts and chains in Las Vegas, you might be able to get special treatment. But most visitors to Las Vegas will get slapped with a resort fee (and parking fees too!) that they get little or no benefit out of and no option to decline.

How do you feel about surcharges and fees? Do they affect your choice of destination? Or do you just consider them “part and parcel” of traveling and dining out? Share your feedback in the comments.

 

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Breaking even on Founders Card in one week

We’ve written a bit here on rsts11travel about FoundersCard, a membership program for entrepreneurs and small/medium business operators that provides lots of travel, business, and lifestyle benefits for an annual fee of $295-595 (usually $395). We’ve also answered questions on various travel forums about it. But we haven’t really given a detailed review.

The short summary I’d give would be that, if you run a business or work for a small business where you manage your own travel, or if you find yourself in Las Vegas or Lake Tahoe or Atlantic City more than once a year, it’s pretty easy to make up the value of the membership fee without too much effort. If you travel more, use business and lifestyle services (more on that shortly), or buy technology for your business, it truly becomes a no-brainer. If you are limited to corporate travel or no travel and don’t use business services, it’s probably not for you.

We’ve been members for about three years now, with Robert (the site owner) having the annual membership and his partner having the spouse membership (which is a one-time fee for life). The first year we saw about $1,000 in value, and the second year at least half that (which exceeded the total cost of membership). The third year was looking a bit light due to less travel, but in one week in Las Vegas we recouped this year’s cost and then some.

A caveat for anyone considering membership: If you are choosing to apply because of one benefit, keep in mind that there’s no guarantee that any particular benefit will be renewed from year to year, or will remain the same from year to year. Think about a range of benefits that may be of use to you before putting the money down, to minimize the disappointment if your one sacred benefit goes away in a few months or a year.

The Roman Emperor In The Room

Many FoundersCard fans consider the Caesars Entertainment benefit, Total Rewards Diamond status, to be worth the price of membership on its own. Continue reading “Breaking even on Founders Card in one week”

Newsflash: Caesars Total Rewards Diamond changes and devaluations for 2018

Update 2018-02-01: The FoundersCard/Total Rewards partnership has been renewed. See below for details.

It looks like the news has been filtering out for two months, but somehow we just learned of this today. Caesars Entertainment has made some notable adjustments to the Total Rewards tier benefits for 2018.

For many Diamond members, and most Seven Stars members, this won’t be a severe downgrade. If you stay at Caesars properties regularly and leave a lot of money in the casino, you’ll probably be okay. But for people barely squeaking in to Diamond (or getting in through tier matching or FoundersCard), you’re going to notice some differences.

Links: Current (2017) benefits, New (2018) benefits

See also: Happy holidays from rsts11travel, and a quick offer from FoundersCard

What’s changing?

Continue reading “Newsflash: Caesars Total Rewards Diamond changes and devaluations for 2018”

Quick Take: Amex Locks Down Centurion Lounge Access For Some Cardmembers

[Note: This is slightly older news; the announcement was a couple of weeks ago and the changes took effect a week before this posting.]

American Express offers a number of proprietary lounges in about a dozen airports around the world under the Centurion Lounge brand. With complimentary buffet-style dining, a premium bar, facilities for business travelers as well as families, and usually-better-than-general-airport-WiFi, the Centurion Lounges can be a welcome respite before hopping on a plane.

Platinum charge card cardmembers (but not platinum credit card holders, like those with the Delta American Express Platinum cards) have long had access and the ability to bring family and friends along with them. Other American Express cardholders could purchase a day pass for $50, much as some airline-specific lounges also allow.

Unfortunately, this has led to crowding in some of the lounges, and dissatisfied customers (many of whom now pay an additional premium in the form of a $550 annual fee, vs the former $450 fee), and Amex believes they have found a way to attempt to address this.

As of October 2, 2017, American Express has eliminated the option for other American Express cardmembers to purchase guest passes.

Platinum cardmember access remains unchanged, with members allowed up to two guests, and additional guest passes being $50 per day per guest. Centurion Card holders can bring two guests or their immediate family along, with the same guest pass option. This is actually unchanged from the previous policy.

Guest passes are valid all day, so if you’re bringing extra guests along through multiple airports with Centurion Lounges, you only need to buy one pass per day.

What does it all really mean?

If you are a Platinum charge cardmember, there’s no change. Personal Platinum cardmembers will see the $550 annual fee take effect in the next cycle, if your fee hasn’t come up since May 2017, along with the other benefits we covered when the fee hike was announced.

If you are an American Express cardmember who had used the $50 day pass option, you lose that option, but of course you could apply for (or upgrade to) a Platinum card if you use the lounges enough.

With free food and alcohol available in the lounge, as well as a relatively quiet place (until the super-important business person has a shouting match on speakerphone by the window, of course), I find it easy to consider the lounge worth $50 a visit if I have more than an hour to wait, or if I’m traveling with my family. Two premium drinks and a modest meal would easily come to that much outside the lounge, even for a solo traveler.

So you’d have to do the math, considering how often you travel through a Centurion Lounge airport. Today that includes DFW, LAS, LGA, SFO, MIA, SEA, HOU, and soon Hong Kong and PHL. You’d also take into account which other benefits of the card you use, such as Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts and the $200/year Uber credit, if travel is your primary benefit from Platinum.

Amex does have Priority Pass Select, Airspace, Delta Club (when flying on Delta), and Escape Lounges in addition to the Centurion and Amex International Lounges. However, some of those options are available through other means, including airline fee rebates or other cards offering Priority Pass variants.

My math has worked out the last couple of years, in that I can use Uber for personal transport during business trips, and I visited Las Vegas about 8 times in the past year. I can’t be sure if that will be the case in the next year, but we’ll see.

We wrote about changes to the American Express personal platinum card in March.

Photo credit: Featured photo from American Express

Travel Quickie: Status Match for Wyndham Rewards and Caesars Total Rewards

We saw this mentioned on Doctor of Credit over the weekend… while Starwood Preferred is no longer a Caesars Entertainment partner, you now have the option to pair up Wyndham Rewards with Total Rewards, getting a status match in whichever direction makes the most sense for you.

It wasn’t entirely clear where to set this up, in Total Rewards or in Wyndham Rewards, but a quick Google site search found the www.wyndhamrewards.com/caesars/ portal page. From here you can see what benefits and matches apply today, and start the status match in whichever direction you choose.

Continue reading “Travel Quickie: Status Match for Wyndham Rewards and Caesars Total Rewards”

Eight days in Burger-town with Gordon Ramsay Burger, Michael Mina Pub 1842, Fleur by Hubert Keller, Nom Burger, and more

In the past eight days we’ve dined on burgers six times. This is about four more than our usual weekly burger quota, but a week in Las Vegas warrants some exploration. Let’s take a look around the week of burgers.

In This Post:

  • Gordon Ramsay Burger, Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas (Total Rewards)
  • Michael Mina Pub 1842, MGM Grand, Las Vegas (MLife Rewards)
  • Fleur by Hubert Keller, Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas (MLife Rewards)
  • Gordon Ramsay Burger, again
  • Nom Burger, Downtown Sunnyvale, California
  • Jack In The Box, San Jose, California

Prices listed are modest estimates; you can spend a bit less or a whole lot more at any of the venues.

Continue reading “Eight days in Burger-town with Gordon Ramsay Burger, Michael Mina Pub 1842, Fleur by Hubert Keller, Nom Burger, and more”

Quick take: World of Hyatt (and MLife Rewards) promo opportunity

Update below (2017-05-05): Stays that crossed the April 1 boundary count!

Hyatt Gold Passport turned into World of Hyatt in March 2017. The first big promo for World of Hyatt launched recently, offering double base points for your *second* stay and beyond, through June 30, 2017.

Sign up for the “Double Points For Being You” promo here at hyatt.com. You need to be a World of Hyatt member of course (Hyatt Gold Passport members were cut over March 1st).

Continue reading “Quick take: World of Hyatt (and MLife Rewards) promo opportunity”

Travel tips for Cisco Live (and other summer Las Vegas conferences)

[See disclosure/disclaimer at the end if you’re into those things.]

Many of our readers will be headed to Las Vegas over the next couple of months. Whether it’s InteropITX, Cisco Live, VMworld, or something else, you may be curious about the quickest way to optimize your rewards and your stay while you’re there.

While reading all the other posts on rsts11travel would be the most thorough way to learn your way around Vegas, we figured we’d put together a unified list of things to do and think about as you head to what will be Tech City for much of the summer.

Continue reading “Travel tips for Cisco Live (and other summer Las Vegas conferences)”

Travelogue: Quick updates from Las Vegas, featuring Jimmy Buffett, Gordon Ramsay, and Uber

Welcome back to rsts11travel. Jimmy Buffett enticed us back to Las Vegas last weekend–no April foolin’ here–for a long weekend at Signature at MGM Grand. With Signature’s proximity both to the MGM Grand Garden Arena and the Las Vegas Monorail station, it’s an ideal and affordable option to enjoy relative quiet and little to no smoke. You still have the ease of access through the District to MGM Grand proper, and the entire strip is accessible one way or another, including the Harmon Ave sneaky path to Planet Hollywood.

Continue reading “Travelogue: Quick updates from Las Vegas, featuring Jimmy Buffett, Gordon Ramsay, and Uber”

A second look at Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts at Delano Las Vegas

It took a couple of weeks, but the rsts11travel review of Aria Las Vegas’s Aria Sky Suites property finally came out this week. One of the prods to stop editing and just post it was that we were booking another stay for this summer that was somewhat related. Not everyone will celebrate a birthday and aim for MLife Gold in one weekend, but about anyone with the right charge card can take advantage of these benefits.

Delano’s all-suite plan makes it a very comfortable place for longer-term stays on the Las Vegas strip

We’ve written briefly about Delano Las Vegas in our Hidden Gems piece earlier this year. It’s one of our favorite properties on the strip, especially when attending an event being held in Mandalay Bay Convention Center. With its small lounge and bar, coffee shop with pastries and snacks, and Della’s Kitchen breakfast/lunch venue, you can get a lot done without passing Michael Jackson, and with Delano itself being a non-smoking, non-casino hotel with a separate entrance, those with sensitivity to noise or smoke can escape those discomforts in their “home” hotel. But you’re a few hundred feet from Cirque du Soleil, the Mandalay Bay casino, their dining options from fast counter service to posh sit-down service, and of course the rest of the strip.

Continue reading “A second look at Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts at Delano Las Vegas”