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Hotels on track to take in nearly $2 billion in surcharges

If you’ve found yourself fuming over fees and surcharges on your recent hotel bills, there’s good news and bad news.

The bad news is that fees for Internet access, fitness centers and other amenities continue to rise. According to Bjorn Hanson, who tracks hotel fees as divisional dean at the Tisch Center at New York University, U.S. hotels are set to take in an estimated $1.95 billion in 2012, an increase of 5.4 percent over last year.

The good news? They may not go much higher as hotels run out of new things to charge for — at least for now.

“The list of fees now being charged is pretty long,” said Hanson, “so there aren’t a lot of opportunities to create new fees and surcharges.”

Instead, says Hanson, the bulk of this year’s $100-million increase is a natural consequence of more people traveling — average occupancies at U.S. hotels are up 3.5 percent over last year — and more hotels are climbing aboard the fee and surcharge gravy train.

The latter development is borne out by the latest data from the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA). According to the trade group’s 2012 survey of more than 52,000 hotel properties, 23 percent now charge for in-room Internet access, compared to 19 percent in 2010. During the same period, the number of hotels charging a fee to use fitness facilities climbed from 21 to 25 percent.

(On a happier note, the survey also notes that fewer hotels are charging for pets or assessing resort fees.)

Not surprisingly, perhaps, guests find fees for Internet access among the most infuriating. “Expectations over Internet access are being set by other industries,” said Jessica McGregor, senior account manager at J.D. Power and Associates. “You go to a coffee shop or restaurant and, oftentimes, the Wi-Fi is free. Paying for it at a hotel goes against what people have come to expect.”

And they’re none too happy about it. According to the company’s latest survey on hotel guest satisfaction, released in July, guests who received complimentary Internet access reported an average score of 764 (on a 1,000-point scale) versus 688 for those who were charged a fee.

The 76-point gap isn’t surprising, perhaps, but as McGregor notes, it’s up 16 basis points (26 percent) from the year before. Even so, and despite that rising ire, hotels are likely to continue charging such fees, she says, viewing them as “a necessary evil” that helps them stay profitable.

In fact, says Hanson, the industry’s current profitability may be exactly what’s stopping hotels from implementing more new fees. 

“The industry is achieving very favorable average daily rate increases,” he told NBC News. “When that becomes a challenge, then they might turn to increasing fees and surcharges.”

Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him on Twitter.

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