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5% UK hotel service charges seem to be spreading

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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.)

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Comments (145)

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

  • Notmyrealname says:

    From Simon Calders weekly email

    “The National Express coach to Stansted airport now has a polite notice inviting passengers to tip the driver”


    • Matarredonda says:

      Pretty sure been the case for several years as coach operated by Galloway’s part of Stephenson”s.

  • Simonbr says:

    Booking through Emyr Thomas/ Bin Vivant is a joy, the extras are very welcome and we’ve felt it sometimes has an additional benefit at hotel reception/management level.

  • ExpatInBerlin says:

    Disappointed about the Loganair Dundee flight move to LHR, the LCY flight was so much more convenient if you were in central London both in terms of travel time to the airport and the speed/reduced faf of security and boarding. Will be interesting to see if/how the flight pricing is affected.

    • George K says:

      Funnily enough we were excited about the Derry flights out of Stansted, which were BA codeshares and helped those coming in from the north/east… meh

  • r* says:

    Restaurants have been pulling this for years in the uk with the ‘a discretionary service charge will be added to the bill’ stuff.

    The whole concept of tipping is absolute nonsense, but US citizens are indoctrinated into it so countries that get US tourists play in to it.

  • Matarredonda says:

    Another annoying habit creeping into Hotels is asking you to pay before giving you the invoice to check.

    • Rob says:

      Had this in Boston last week. Charged my card before I got to the desk on last day. Bill was a complete fabrication. Hotel unable to process a refund because no-one with the authority was there. Had to walk out with a promise I’d get $300 back at some point (to be fair, I did).

      • Michael C says:

        Yes, our Hilton Orlando final-day invoice arrived v early a.m. so hadn’t included our $30 daily vouchers for that day.

        • pauls1 says:

          Same problem here for a recent stay at a Hilton in Fort Lauderdale, the invoice arrived overnight on the final night, card had already been charged and didn’t include the $30 per night food & bev credit for each night we had stayed. I have submitted an invoice dispute with Hilton customer services to try and get it resolved as the queue at check out was so long and slow moving that I didn’t have time to manually check out and challenge it there and then.

          • Paul says:

            Charge back on credit card, especially Amex pushes the problem back on the hotel. I find it works really well

      • Simonbr says:

        I had that at the IC Boston last year. It’s unsettling but like you I did receive refund after a few days.

      • rob keane says:

        And of course as per some comments up thread at lot of this stuff is “expensed” so is the stayer really bothered that the bill was fabricated, or that there was a 5% on top. It’s taking advantage of the fact that the stayer is not the payer, and also grabbing money from americans that know no better because of their domestic culture.

        • Paul says:

          Yes actually I do. This may not be my money but I have a responsibility to my employer/ own business to ensure that what money is spent is spent correctly.
          I appreciate however that not all individuals feel the same way, particularly Tory ministers!

  • Man of Kent says:

    We are staying at a city centre hotel in the US later this year who are including their equivalent of a “Resort Fee” which they have decided to call an “Urban Fee”

    • S says:

      Happened to me in Chicago last month, and they didn’t give me a single bit of info about it on checkin. I disputed the charge on checkout and succesfully had it removed on the grounds there’s no way I could have taken advantage of the ‘benefits’ if they didn’t tell me what they are!

  • jj says:

    If you stay in a hotel that stiffs consumers with these charges, you are the problem.

    Refusing to pay the charge does nothing, as they will still profit from the 95% who don’t. Nothing short of a refusal to give them any business at all will do.

    I, for one, will absolutely refuse to stay in any UK hotel that I know adds a hidden service charge in this way. So I will never stay in the Four Seasons Hampshire. Other options are available.

    • NorthernLass says:

      This is why we need my aforementioned list of shame. If deciding between 2 properties, this would tip (sorry!) the scales for me.

      • Ed_fly says:

        This is the point, so many of these charges are so hidden, you only realise at check out

  • Julia says:

    We were given given a bill after dinner with a hotel service charge included at Courtyard by Marriott Heathrow. The bill then tried for another tip for our server. We sent it back and had both tips removed. Once you have sent the bill back a few times it becomes easy. It is irritating though.

    • TGLoyalty says:

      The extra tip space is if you want to give more than 10%. some people do.

      its easy to just put a line through it!

      • Julia says:

        It was two separate lines on the bill, one for the hotel tip and one for our server. I had to go to the reception desk to have the hotel charge taken off as our waitress said she was not allowed to remove it. Also there was nothing on the bill to say either charges were discrepancy payments.

        These are not *charges* in anyway, a word which gives people the false impression they are legitimate costs and outside the hotels control. It is precisely the hotel who are responsible.

        • Andrew. says:

          If the Waitress claims that they cannot be removed, then it’s time to write to HMRC and the local trading standards and notify them that the “discretionary payments” are not discretionary.

      • Londonsteve says:

        My instinct is to refuse all ‘discretionary’ charges unless it’s clear that 100% of the charge goes to the staff. I prefer to tip with cash in any case. A service charge that fully goes to staff is the better solution because it gets fairly divided up between front and back of house, but if a grabby hotel or restaurant is going to keep most or all of it for themselves, it’s better to leave a tenner for the waiter or waitress directly.

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