Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

5% UK hotel service charges seem to be spreading

Links on Head for Points may pay us an affiliate commission. A list of partners is here.

18 months ago, we wrote about an annoying new habit turning up at high-end London hotels – an ‘optional’ 5% service charge.

With London’s top hotels now selling for over £1,500 per night (for basic rooms) over the Summer on peak dates, you might consider this a little greedy. It is, of course, optional because it isn’t disclosed in the headline price you are shown when you book.

A friend flagged that the habit has now spread to Four Seasons Hampshire, probably the best luxury weekend break option for families near London.

UK hotel service charges are spreading

This is, to be honest, a bit underhand for a brand like Four Seasons.

They don’t even pretend that the ‘service charge’ goes directly to the staff. To quote:

A discretionary Service Charge of 5% of room rate (inclusive of applicable taxes) will be applied to all reservations. This charge is in addition to the room rate per night. This charge is intended to cover a portion of costs associated with our employees.

I think you can happily say ‘No’ to this one without much ill feeling.

(PS. If you are booking a stay at Four Seasons Hampshire, you should use our luxury hotel booking partner Emyr Thomas who is a Four Seasons Preferred Partner. He can usually match any offer on the website, include ‘4-4-3’ or similar deals, you pay on departure as usual and you’ll get free breakfast, $100 of hotel credit, an upgrade if available and other benefits. You can contact Emyr via this form.)

Hotel offers update – September 2023:

Want to earn more hotel points?  Click here to see our complete list of promotions from the major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Offers’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.

Want to buy hotel points?

  • World of Hyatt is offering a 25% discount, equivalent to a 33% bonus, when you buy points by 10th October. Click here.

Comments (145)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Paul says:

    I am in HNL at the moment and here hotel and restaurants should be wearing masks. Resort fees are not avoidable and don’t appear on the headline price, but it’s the tipping culture that is totally out of control. It starts at an exorbitant 15% with 20% and 25% options on every receipt. This is on top of extraordinary high prices for everything. (not helped by the pitiful value of the £. If it were 1.5 to the $ it would be expensive but understandable.)
    The roof top eatery has a tasting menu at $295 per person without wine. Last night a single entree and two drinks was $85 dollars in a chain. It is insane. Fortunately a lot is expensed as it a business trip but next week we are staying in Big Island for 7 days. Out go to haunt was always around £150/ night for a two bed condo. Now you won’t get that for less than $400.
    Not coming back to the US any time soon!

    • Vit says:

      I was in Canada earlier this year and first time back in the north America since my uni time. Have to admit I was still a bit shocked by this tipping culture. As you said 15% starting as an option. I didn’t care too much as all is on company expenses but still a tough one to get used to.

    • Mike says:

      “I am in HNL at the moment and here hotel and restaurants should be wearing masks. ”

      On the masks, now we have decent real world evidence that masks didn’t work, so don’t worry about it.

      “Unmasking the mask: a time-series analysis of nosocomial COVID- 19 rates before and after removal”

      ECCMID 2023, abstract 5979

      Reports and Proceedings


      B. Patterson , R. Mehra , A. Breathnach

      St George’s Hospital – London

      “Conclusions, Utilising a robust quasi-experimental approach, we found no evidence that a mask policy significantly impacts the rate of nosocomial SARS-CoV-2 infection (with the Omicron variant)”

      • Mike says:

        Mike, a very comprehensive reply but, and I may be wrong here, I think Paul was referring to the Dick Turpin mask scenario.

      • SamG says:

        I think he means bank robber masks!

      • Jon says:

        @Mike, I fear you’re taking that study out of context, to try to say there’s no need to wear masks? (Though I appreciate you may have been just trolling for amusement 😉 You omitted to mention that the study concerned infection rates within a hospital, and involved surgical masks rather than, say, fitted N95 respirator types.

        What the authors actually said:

        “Our study found no evidence that mandatory masking of staff impacts the rate of hospital SARS-CoV-2 infection with the Omicron variant,” commented Dr Ben Patterson, from the St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in London and lead author. “That doesn’t mean masks are worthless against Omicron,” he said, “but their real-world benefit in isolation appears to be, at best, modest in a healthcare setting”.

        The authors acknowledged limitations of the study, including that it was an observational study so can’t prove causation, staff adherence to the mask-wearing policy was not assessed, and that the researchers were unable to determine staff infection rates.

        On the other hand::

        “the evidence suggests that all types of face coverings are, to some extent, effective in reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in both healthcare and public, community settings – this is through a combination of source control and protection to the wearer” –

        • Mike says:

          A couple of things, some of the most hysterical mask advocates tend to wear the worst masks in my experience (obviously anecdotal).

          On the mask adherence, because this was temporal in nature the mask wearing cohort were those that wanted to continue wearing mask out of their preference. The non-maskers because they didn’t want to. So, adherence is a variable but not as bad as in other situations.

          On your other links, the masking or not has been so politicised that little good research has been available until now. There has been other research suggesting mask wearing is actually a negative including n95. I’m not saying that masks may not be useful in the next pandemic but in the one we just had, not so much, it seems.

      • rob keane says:

        Wow, someone sees masks and their covid induced myopia gets them to give a counter-argument against mask wearing vis-a-vis Covid spread, whereas the OP was obviously (at least for anyone that has long sinced moved on) talking about the hotel being a bunch of robbers.

    • Nate1309 says:

      Hope you are having fun at least Paul. I don’t know your plans for Big Island, but one of the best experiences I ever had was hiring a kayak and taking it out to the Captain Cook memorial. Ended up swimming with over 200 spinner dolphins.

    • Harry T says:

      This is entirely expected in Hawaii…

    • Numpty says:

      After seeing how expensive SFO and NYC were, along with 20% tip, it’s going to be many years before I go back. Lots of friends and colleagues all saying same thing.

      • Matty says:

        I was in New York last month. My $18 bagel turned out to be nearer $32 when the bill arrived, with the tax, the tip and SERVICE CHARGE…

        • Julia says:

          Not just NY, at Monkey Island in Brey we were asked for a service charge whether we had drinks bought to our table or we collected them ourselves. Blinking cheek really when breakfast was £62 pounds p.p.

      • PhatGit says:

        That and the stink of dope everywhere in NY since the legalisation, will be a while until we return

        • Sussex bantam says:

          That smell is utterly awful.

        • Gordon says:

          Same in Las Vegas and walking along Venice beach in Los Angeles last week there were cannabis dispensaries selling cakes etc with it in?

  • Niall Blunden says:

    Yep – I experienced the Four Seasons Hampshire charge over the Easter weekend. One correction: It’s 5% of the ex-VAT rack rate (not the inc-VAT one). I was in a suite as well, so you may imagine that it seemed a bit bizarre to think that the amount of margin already built in to the headline figure isn’t sufficient for the establishment’s staff wages! I actually wasn’t clued into the trend and had to ask what it was (simply appearing as “accommodation service charge” for each night in the folio, without further explanation or breakdown). I’d already been tipping in cash for service I liked (mainly valet who were really courteous), so declined on that basis; I didn’t want to say anything else. Seems the hotel is participating in a number of US-targeted campaigns, as we noted lots of Americans who were on tour and had made their way down from London for a stop in the English countryside.

    As an aside, I think FSH is rather weak to only have one full service restaurant (Wild Carrot) and the F&B offering is generally subpar (although I know the current Exec Chef from a previous rotation of his). I also thought that Sharkie’s Reef was a little claustrophobic for seated adults, with the humidity and all! Made it a point to check out Coworth Park next time around…granted, different people will have different views and criteria!

    • Tony Hart says:

      I live close to the FS Hampshire and occasionally walk through the bottom of their grounds on a dog walk. As it’s on my doorstep I’ve never felt compelled to stay but I did take my Mum for an afternoon tea there a few years back. I found the whole experience exceedingly underwhelming and didn’t hold a candle to The Dorchester (where we’d been for tea a few years previously).

      This was pre-covid. Probs 2018 or 19. The service was nothing more than ‘ok’ and the tea/sandwiches etc were decent but not delightful. The bill was significantly more than at the Dorchester, which felt slightly comical considering the difference in standard, not to mention that there was a healthy bustle and sense of occasion in The Dorchester vs the FS which was dead. We were literally the only patrons in there. Totally get that one is a busy London location while the other is a country retreat but it made the afternoon tea experience a touch odd in truth.

      Can’t remember exactly what the bill came too but it was pretty vast and felt quite grabby. My Mum is one who loves to try and bill pinch and seeing as this was a birthday I got on with it quicker than I should. It was only after walking out that I spotted that where I thought I’d added a tip, was on the line marked gratuity, that sat beneath the printed optional service charge line. I am used to this sort of thing in The Maldives but it is simply not part of UK billing culture in my experience. At least it didn’t used to be. Long story short, I left feeling rather nickel and dimed for what was a frankly extortionate hour of afternoon tea. I expected to pay well, but the grand total was bonkers and the service + tip thing really pisses me off.

    • Rob says:

      Kid’s pool is badly designed, yes. If you sit next to it to watch your kids you get splashed every few seconds.

  • The Savage Squirrel says:

    Clearly a variation of the resort fee ploy by another name and needs stamping out. Perhaps The Independent could “query” this again just like they did with Turnberry’s resort fees…

  • The real Swiss Tony says:

    Note the Loganair Dundee – Heathrow flight actually starts further North in Orkney or Shetland

    As for the service charge game, presumably the other advantage hotels have here is that it falls out of the scope of VAT. The Andaz at Liverpool Street add this but desk staff seem embarrassed to charge it – i’ve said no both times I’ve stayed in the last year and they are very happy to waive it.

    • Ryan says:

      That’s one aspect of this service which hasn’t been made particularly clear in the local press or by Loganair.

      If DND-LHR is to replace DND-LCY, then the KOI-LHR service via DND can only be the afternoon service as DND-LHR also departs at 0700.

  • Thywillbedone says:

    Re the service charge: I understand the strategy of a hotel adding a resort fee or service charge where they are genuinely competing on price terms with a significant number of similar properties (thus trying to stay below a certain price point and remain an attractive proposition) …but is the FS Hampshire really competing with any hotels at that price point?? Just add in the 5% already and be done with it.

  • NorthernLass says:

    It is just bizarre that a hotel like Four Seasons has the front to ask for “a portion of costs associated with our employees”. Isn’t that what you’re paying for anyway?!

    • JDB says:

      Yes, you are right; it’s not a ‘service charge’ at all. It is however, quite symptomatic of the FS chain’s new found grabbiness.

    • StephD says:

      Totally agree, you are charged a portion of the employee costs in your room rate anyway.

  • JDB says:

    @Rob you say you are surprised that a brand like Four Seasons would do this, but it’s actually very consistent with their new ethos and extreme pressure on GM’s to increase revenue above all else, including guest satisfaction. There is also quietly cost cutting. We always found them to be a very generous and hospitable chain and enjoyed their hotels for 15+ years but the change and downward drift is now too marked; they have lowered quality and actually become sufficiently mean spirited that we would now avoid FS. It’s now very much all superficial smartness / quality with rather fake charm. Now well, well below the standards of Mandarin, Peninsula and good independents. There’s a lot going on within the company and all the fallings out they have had with owners – eg Terre Blanche, both Shanghai hotels (two different owners), Carmelo, New York, Biarritz that ultimately didn’t open as FS etc. should be a warning.

    • Ed_fly says:

      Found the FS Hampshire to be a little underwhelming in February considering the ‘price point’ and reputation. It was still a lovely stay, and lots was good. Hard product maintenance was lacking in places, especially pool area, and general service was also lacking and glacially slow at times.

  • Concerto says:

    Loganair is better off at LCY for it’s Dundee flight. LCY provides a much better experience in all respects. I not in a hurry to LHR to take this flight.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

The UK's biggest frequent flyer website uses cookies, which you can block via your browser settings. Continuing implies your consent to this policy. Our privacy policy is here.