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Wake-Up Call

The hospitality industry fleeces customers with hidden phone charges
Shandana A. Durrani
From the Print Edition:
Air Sick, Jul/Aug 02

For business travelers, keeping in touch with their employers and loved ones is crucial when they are away from the office and home. And no line of communication is as vital as the telephone. Business travelers spend millions of dollars a year on hotel telephone charges alone.

Hotels charge guests anywhere from 50 cents to $1.50 per minute for local calls. If you make a long distance call, a base rate of $3 per minute is normal. Add surcharges (around 50 percent!) and taxes, and your one-minute call could exceed $6! Even incomplete calls, toll-free numbers and calling cards are not exempt. The hospitality industry has tapped into a gold mine.

"It can be bothersome and darned expensive," says Pat Funk, vice president of operations at the Consumer Travel Rights Center, a national travel advocacy group based in Lexington, Kentucky. "You pay for every single call you make." Funk suggests travelers use calling cards when overseas and cell phones while in domestic hotels. "Many people travel with cell phones, and hotels are now losing money on [hotel phone calls], so they are making it through in-room Internet connections. The average rate for 24 hours of Internet usage is $9.95. And even though the hotels say it's a high-speed connection, it's not."

Cigar Aficionado examined several economy, midpriced and luxury hotels in various regions of the United States. The economy hotels charged 75 cents per minute on average for local calls. Midpriced hotels charged between $1 and $1.25 on average and the luxury hotels sometimes exceeded $1.50 per minute for local calls. Long distance charges followed the same pattern. An average base rate of $3 was normal for economy hotels, $4 for midpriced and $6 for the high-end hotels.

Many guests are justifiably angry and have found ways to counter these charges. Some use pay phones in hotel lobbies to make local or calling card calls. Others communicate via electronic organizers and computers. Still others use their cell phones.

Cell phone companies normally charge 10 cents or less per minute. And many consumers have free long distance in their month-to-month or yearlong plans, so they avoid those troublesome roaming charges. Using a cell phone instead of the hotel phone can save a savvy business traveler approximately 90 cents per call. Best of all, you can have it on you at all times, whether you are in your hotel room or at a business meeting.

So the next time you decide to pick up the phone in a hotel and dial, think again. That five-minute call could cost more than that $20 burger you ordered from room service.

 

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