NEW YORK – The next time you book a hotel room, read the fine print first.
New fees and novel freebies continue to pop up on hotel bills. Knowing what's included — and what you're willing to pay for — can make a big difference when it comes time to settle the bill.
More hotels are now charging for in-room internet access while others are providing free computers in the lobby, coffee in the room and even breakfast. Some downtown hotels have gone so far as to add airport shuttles, aiming to steal business from properties closer to the terminal.
Often, budget hotels include more freebies while higher-end lodgings offer fewer.
Five-star lodgings "feel their customers can pay for it. They're either on an expense account or have the wherewithal with disposable income," says Joseph A. McInerney, president of the American Hotel and Lodging Association, the industry's trade group.
The findings are part of a survey by travel research firm STR on behalf of the lodging association. STR contacted the 52,155 hotels in America and heard back from 23 percent.
One of the biggest growth areas in fees is in-room internet access: 23 percent of hotels now charge for the service, up from just 15 percent four years ago.
If you don't want to pay for internet, go to the lobby. That's where a whopping 78 percent of hotels — mostly upscale ones — offer complimentary internet access on computers. This trend started in 2008 with Sheraton hotels, part of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., and has spread to most competitors, says McInerney.
There's no such thing as a free lunch, but breakfast is another matter. Some 79 percent of hotels now offer complimentary breakfast. At midscale chains, that number jumps to 97 percent.
Vegetarians, however, are out of luck. Only 35 percent of hotels offer meat-free menu choices, down from 48 percent in 2008.
Want to work off that breakfast? Most hotels have some type of fitness room — 84 percent overall and 95 percent for midscale hotels and higher. However, while gyms are increasingly common, more properties charge for their use. About 25 percent now assess some type of fee.
Other findings from the hotel survey include:
— 33 percent have at least one employee dedicated to managing social media.
— 45 percent have high-definition TVs in rooms, down from 50 percent in 2010.
— 73 percent offer a microwave in rooms.
— 96 percent offer in-room coffee makers.
— 31 percent have a safe in the room but that jumps to 88 percent in the luxury market.
— 63 percent have designated all of their rooms as non-smoking. In the economy bracket, that falls to 39 percent.
— 23 percent offer a mobile app. But don't expect to do much more than book a room with your phone. Only 3 percent said they allow the use of mobile devices to check-in. Barely any hotels — 1 percent — said guests can use phones as room keys.
— 61 percent allow pets, mostly in the midscale and economy properties. There was a drop in fees for keeping a pet. Only 42 percent charge for it, down from 46 percent two years ago.
— 76 percent offer a free newspaper to guests. That's an 8 percent increase from 2010.