MONEY TV

Even for Cable TV, These Customer Satisfaction Ratings are Horrible

Time Warner Cable retail store in New York
Richard Levine—Alamy Time Warner Cable retail store in New York

Nearly all providers earned the lowest scores possible for value.

It seems like every customer satisfaction survey about pay TV and Internet providers has become, de facto, a study in dissatisfaction. High, consistently rising monthly bills, combined with poor customer service and little flexibility in packages, have resulted in abysmal satisfaction ratings for Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and the rest of the field.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that these services scored poorly in the new Consumer Reports survey. But man, this is bad!

“Along with death and taxes, lousy cable service seems to be one of life’s certainties,” the report states. The survey asked consumers to rate TV, Internet, and phone services, as well as bundled packages including two or all three of the above. Ratings for the value provided in the TV and Internet components were especially awful: 38 out of the 39 Internet services, and 20 out of the 24 TV providers, received the lowest scores possible. What’s more, 19 out of the 20 bundles rated in the survey earned poor scores as well in terms of value.

Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications—which are in the process of merging—were near the bottom of ratings for TV service and bundles. Comcast, which until very recently looked like it was going to buy Time Warner Cable, was also rated among the worst of the worst. As for whether such loathed services will improve or get even worse by expanding via mergers and acquisitions, it’s anyone’s guess. Let’s just say it’s unwise to get your hopes up.

The one clear-cut practical takeaway from the survey is that it’s absolutely in your best interest to call your provider and complain. The business model of pay TV-Internet providers is one in which new customers are drawn in with low introductory rates, which escalate higher and higher the longer you’re a subscriber. It’s a much-criticized system that puts subscribers at odds with the “retention specialists” whose job it is to keep customers from canceling. These customer service agents might otherwise be providing, you know, actual customer service, but instead they focus on negotiating with subscribers who call to complain about rising monthly bills. As the CR report shows, there are rewards for customers who take the time to hound their providers for better terms:

Among the 42 percent who said they tried to negotiate a better deal, 45 percent reported that the provider dropped the bundle price by up to $50 per month, 30 percent got a new promotional rate, and 26 percent received additional premium channels.

Based on results like this, pay TV and Internet providers should anticipate the continued steady stream of subscribers calling up with gripes about monthly rates. After all, instead of tweaking the structure to eliminate complaints about pricing, the system all but encourages subscribers to complain, haggle, and threaten to drop the service in order to be treated fairly.

What emerges is two categories of subscribers. One routinely complains and, amid lengthy, frustrating phone calls, is rewarded with monthly rates that are lower than they otherwise would have been. The other sits back and pays whatever bills arrive each month, without complaint. Essentially, if you don’t want to deal with hassles, you’ll be ripped off.

It’s no surprise, then, that both of these categories of subscribers would give their providers extremely low satisfaction ratings and say that they are poor values.

MONEY Travel

9 Vacation Spots That Are Better (and Cheaper) Than the Places You Want to Go

These less-traveled locales offer many of the perks of the big-name hotspots with fewer tourists. Even better, because they're less popular, they're often more affordable.

  • La Paz, Mexico

    Design Pics Inc / Alamy On the water off Espiritu Santo Island.

    INSTEAD OF: Los Cabos

    WHY HERE? La Paz is located on the Sea of Cortez on the Baja Peninsula, and it has the same laid-back vibe as California’s West Coast beach cities. The landscape is spectacular, from the marine-mammal-rich waters to a desert worthy of an Ansel Adams photo. The culinary scene is growing too, with enough upscale restaurants to rival those in Los Cabos, 87 miles (and a $25 shuttle ride) away. One caveat: Go before mid-July. Even the locals flee the August heat.

    Average summer hotel rate: $117 vs. $257 in Los Cabos

  • La Paz, Mexico: Where to Stay & What to Do

    Aurora Photos / Alamy Fruit for sale on Tecelote Beach.

    STAY: A simple room at Hotel Perla, a 1940s landmark with bay views on the Malecón (boardwalk), goes for $75 a night. If you want amenities such as daily room service and an infinity pool, try the Costa Baja Resort & Spa (from $243), which runs 45%-off specials when you book more than 90 days in advance. Overall, the average double-occupancy hotel room in La Paz is $117, less than half what it costs in Los Cabos.

    DO: Sign up for a day dive with PADI diving center Cortez Club ($140). Nearby Los Islotes is known for its sea lion colony; you might even spot schools of hammerhead sharks at Marisla Seamount. If snorkeling is more your speed, bring your gear to the turquoise waters and sandy coves of Balandra, 15 minutes from downtown.

    La Paz offers an increasingly diverse menu of restaurants, from daring fusion to old-school Mexican street food, says editor Tomas Zyber of BajaInsider.com. Get a table for two at Las Tres Vírgenes, where dinner—wood-fire-grilled octopus and expertly prepared steaks—paired with wine costs under $100, Zyber notes. For cheap eats, line up with locals at Chino Tacos (dinner, $4 per person) on Antonio Navarro Street at the corner of Belisario Dominguez. Try the tacos al pastor (spit-grilled pork with cilantro, onions, and pineapple), carne asada, or spicy chorizo.

  • Dublin

    Mikel Bilbao/Firstlight The Temple Bar in the city's cultural corner.

    INSTEAD OF: London

    WHY HERE? Looking for some foreign culture but don’t want to brave a second language? There’s always London. But since it’s the most visited city in Europe, you’ll also find some of the continent’s most expensive hotels there (average cost: $268 a night). And then there’s Dublin. With its small-city feel and Irish charm, the capital is as easy to drink in as a smooth pint of Guinness. Best of all: The dollar is even stronger against the euro (up 23%) in the past year than it is vs. the pound (13%).

     

  • Dublin: Where to Stay & What to Do

    Firstlight The perfect Irish pairing: shellfish and Guiness.

    STAY: The hip new Dean Hotel (from $138), located downtown, is capped by a beautiful rooftop restaurant. If you don’t mind a 20-minute walk or a cab ride to the city center, opt for a private room ($80) at the Generato Dublin, a design-forward hostel housed in a former Irish folk-dancing hall, located across the River Liffey in Smithfield.

    DO: The Irish will tell you that their literary legacy is every bit as distinguished as the Brits’, and they’ve got the names (Yeats, Beckett, Wilde) to make a case. If you’re in Dublin on June 16, you’ll be lucky enough to see the entire city celebrate native son James Joyce, who set his classic novel Ulysses here on that day.

    You can celebrate a different kind of artistry in the Creative Quarter—South William, Drury, Wicklow, and Exchequer streets—home to many boutiques and a great place to find authentic keepsakes. “Try the Irish Design Shop for tea towels and porcelain birdhouses or, 10 minutes away, Jam Art Factory, where you’ll find prints, artwork, and pottery,” says Emily Westbrooks, author of Delightful Dublin.

    When you’ve worn yourself out, you can rest your feet and your shopping bags at the recently opened Woollen Mills Eating House, serving Roaring Bay mussels and Howth cod (lunch, $25). If you’re looking to splurge, Dublin also has five Michelin-starred restaurants. Jonathan Epstein, president of travel company Celebrated Experiences, suggests Chapter One, where chef Ross Lewis serves up rabbit with Parma ham and cured salmon with Atlantic crab. A four-course dinner is $75. A year ago you’d have paid $97 for the same feast.

     

  • Palm Springs

    Hal Bergman/Getty A classic vista.

    INSTEAD OF: Los Angeles

    WHY HERE? During the winter this city serves as Los Angeles’ playground, filled with weekenders taking advantage of the posh resorts and haute design scene. At this time of year you can have it almost to yourself. Summer in this desert oasis isn’t for everyone: The average June temperature is 87° F and highs can hit 110° (115° in August, when you really don’t want to visit). But there are plenty of ways to beat the heat, says Françoise Rhodes of TravelingwithFrancoise.com, whether it’s a morning hike through the nearby canyons or a lazy day by the pool.

    Summer hotel rate: $105 vs. $156 in Los Angeles

  • Palm Springs: Where to Stay & What to Do

    Lisa Corson/Gallerystock Cabazon Dinosaurs Park.

    STAY: At the Triada Palm Springs, a Spanish-hacienda-style property with a cabana-lined pool, rooms start at $109 a night, 48% less than in high season. The Avalon Hotel Palm Springs, fresh from a major renovation, is set amid palm-dotted courtyards, burbling fountains, and three swimming pools, and has a top-notch spa. Rooms start at $150; at the hotel’s sister property, Avalon Beverly Hills, they start at $279 for the same dates.

    DO: The Indian Canyons, known for their stunning rock formations, make for a great morning hike, says Katy Carrier, founder of Palm Springs Style magazine. For shopping, head to the Uptown Design District, where you’ll find furniture and home decor items. Bon Vivant is known for its vintage glassware, while Just Modern has a large selection of mid-century-inspired furnishings and artwork, Carrier says. Palm Springs has also established its own film scene. The main film festival is in January, but from June 16 to 22 is the International ShortFest, which showcases more than 300 short films from more than 50 countries. When you’re ready for dinner, try the lobster ravioli at the decades-old Johnny Costa’s Ristorante (dinner, $50), says Rhodes. If you’re hungry for some true California roadside kitsch, pack a picnic and head to Cabazon Dinosaurs, about 20 miles west of the city.

  • Naxos, Greece

    Age Fotostock/Alamy The Temple of Apollo arch on Palatia Islet.

    INSTEAD OF: Santorini or Mykonos

    WHY HERE? Naxos is anchored in the Aegean about halfway between Santorini and Mykonos, but it might as well be on another planet. The biggest of Greece’s Cycladic islands, Naxos is studded with lush mountains and valleys polka-dotted by white-washed homes, all surrounded by a ribbon of gorgeous beaches. It’s the kind of place that’s still rural enough to spot the occasional donkey trotting down a cobblestone street, not to mention acres of tiered vineyards and olive groves. Of course that means that just about every restaurant you find has a legitimate claim as a farm-to-table outpost.

    Cruise-ship dockings a year: 16 vs. 512 in Santorini

  • Naxos, Greece: Where to Stay & What to Do

    Kartouchken/Alamy A local pottery store in the town of Apiranthos.

    STAY: Accommodations start at $25 a night, topping out around $360, whereas Santorini’s prices start at $90 and skyrocket to over $1,000, on Expedia.com. Rooms at the Pension Sofi, a cheerful blue-and-white guesthouse draped in bougainvillea vines, cost only $39 per person (two-night minimum). The 30 spacious rooms at the four-star Lagos Mare Hotel, with a pool, bar, and sea views, are a steal at $120, says Mina Agnos, a Greek travel expert with Travelive.

    DO: The best way to explore Naxos is on foot. Agnos can set up a Naxian Apollo walking tour (from $38), which tracks the island’s history from ancient times to the present and includes town visits, archaeological sites, and a trip to the island’s collection of kouros statues, which date back to the 8th century B.C. Afterward, grab a waterfront table at Geomilo, which serves traditional Naxian dishes such as Kleftiko of Za, made with local lamb, and cod with a garlic puree (dinner, $20).

     

  • Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

    Aaron Peterson/Alamy Kayaking under one of the park's famous arches.

    INSTEAD OF: Traverse City, Mich.

    WHY HERE? There are 407 national parks, and while it’s not the most celebrated, Michigan’s Pictured Rocks was the country’s first National Lakeshore. The park sits on 42 jaw-dropping miles of Lake Superior coastline that’s studded with eerie sand dunes, romantic waterfalls, and a stately lighthouse. But it’s the multicolored sandstone cliffs, which seem to change color with every flicker of sunshine, that are the main attraction. That and the price of admission: It’s free.

  • Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Where to Stay & What to Do

    Terry Donnelly/Alamy The Au Sable Light Station is still in use.

    STAY: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is rugged territory; enjoy the park by roughing it. Pictured Rocks has three main camping grounds. Twelvemile Beach ($16), the most popular, features lake views through the trees. If you’d rather rest your head in a room with four walls, Munising, Mich., is about two miles away and features several family-owned properties. The Sunset Motel on the Bay (from $89) has free Wi-Fi and rooms with kitchenettes. In Traverse City hotels average over $150 a night.

    DO: Get your bearings on one of Pictured Rocks’ iconic hikes, suggests Susan Reece, the park’s chief of interpretation and education. On the Chapel Falls trek, you’ll weave through beech and maple trees en route to cascading waterfalls and Chapel Rock, which looks like an open-air temple (albeit one with a pine tree growing out of the roof). You can also follow the 1½-mile hike to the Au Sable Light Station, on the edge of a picnic-worthy beach. Keep an eye out for deer, beaver, and other critters. The best way to see the park’s dramatic coastline is from the water: On a three-hour tour with Pictured Rocks Cruises ($37), a local park ranger will explain the area’s geology and history as you pass stunning formations such as the Painted Coves and Lover’s Leap.

     

  • Hanoi

    Kaaarel/Getty One of the city's many ancient temples.

    INSTEAD OF: Bangkok

    WHY HERE? At a time when so many Southeast Asian capitals are banking on what’s new, Hanoi still embraces its rich history and communist roots. True, the bustling city has its share of skyscrapers and mopeds, but you’ll also find French-inspired architecture and food—bonjour, bánh mì baguettes!—in its large Old Quarter. This year also marks the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, making a visit to Ho Chi Minh’s stilt house or the National Museum of Vietnamese History especially timely.

    Annual tourists to Vietnam: 7.8 million vs. 16 million in Bangkok

  • Hanoi: Where to Stay & What to Do

    Jonathan Siegel/Getty Preparing CafÉ NÂu DA, traditional Vietnamese coffee.

    STAY: Rooms at the recently renovated 80-room Boss Legend Hotel start at $82. The five-star Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi (from $225), housed in a sumptuous 1901 French colonial–style building, has hosted Charlie Chaplin, Graham Greene, and “Hanoi Jane” herself—Jane Fonda.

    DO: Make the city’s Old Quarter, which dates back to the 11th century, your home base. At Q Cafe—or one of the hundreds of other coffee shops—you’ll find locals sitting on squat stools sipping café phe da, or Vietnamese iced coffee ($1) made with espresso and condensed milk. From there you can window-shop along the bustling city streets, where vendors sell anything from hardware supplies and birdcages to fine art. Stop in Ginkgo for graphic-printed T-shirts before slurping down a northern Vietnam staple, beef-based pho, at Tuyen Pho Cam ($3).

    When you’re ready to see a bit of the coastline, head to Ha Long Bay, three hours east of the city. Ha Long means “descending dragon,” and the 1,600 islets jutting out of the Gulf of Tonkin do look like the moss-covered spikes on a submerged water beast. Most hotels offer day or overnight excursions; Boss Legend’s day trip (from $45) includes lunch and kayaking.

  • Salt Lake City

    John Pulsipher/Firstlight Downtown, framed by the Wasatch Mountains.

    INSTEAD OF: Denver

    WHY HERE? Salt Lake isn’t just a jumping-off point for skiers. Those snowcapped Wasatch Mountains also frame an urban playground that’s become home to a lively art, restaurant, and cocktail scene.

    Daily rental car rates: from $28 vs. $45 in Denver

     

  • Salt Lake City: Where to Stay & What to Do

    150528_TRA_SLC_FlyFishing
    A. Barber Fly fishing near Salt Lake City, Utah.

    STAY: Downtown has the best hotel selection. The Inn on the Hill (from $150) features 12 unique rooms and serves a complimentary hot breakfast. The Marriott Courtyard doesn’t have the same boutique charm, but it was just renovated this year and rates start at $99. Hotels in Salt Lake are a bargain in general: $106 a night vs. $136 a night in Denver.

    DO: To sip your way through the city, head to the up-and-coming Sugar House neighborhood, full of early-1900s cottages and bungalows. The Sugar House Distillery, which makes small-batch vodkas and rums, offers free tours. Shades of Pale, a popular Utah Brewery, also opened a new facility three miles west in SoDo (South Downtown). If you’re looking to do some shopping, the Local Colors of Utah gallery is a co-op where you’ll find pottery, photography, jewelry, and paintings from area artists. When you’ve worked up an appetite, try the Fresco Italian Cafe (dinner, $35), where dishes such as seared polenta and sun-choke agnolotti are complemented by a spot-on Italian wine list, says Josh Rosenthal of TheSLCFoodie.com.

    There are also plenty of worthy day trips. New or expert anglers can sign up with Western Rivers Fly Fisher (from $315 for two), on the Provo River, about 50 miles to the southeast. The drive through the Wasatch Mountains alone is well worth it, especially when the wildflowers are in bloom. On Kayak.com cars rent for $28 a day in Salt Lake. In Denver, the average is $45 a day.

  • Cape Breton, Canada

    Alamy One of the residents of Highlands National Park.

    INSTEAD OF: New England

    WHY HERE? Cape Breton, a 4,000-square-mile island that juts out into the Atlantic about 650 miles northeast of Portland, Maine, is known for its untamed coastline, charming inns, and deeply rooted Celtic culture. The island receives about 365,000 visitors annually; Cape Cod alone squeezes in more than 4 million. Just crossing the Canadian border will fatten your wallet, as loons have dropped 14% in value against the U.S. dollar over the past year.

    Average hotel rate: $89 vs. $192 on Cape Cod

  • Cape Breton, Canada: Where to Stay & What to Do

    Barrett & MacKay/Corbis It's easy to see how the Bras d'Or (arms of gold) lake got its name.

    STAY: The waterfront town of Baddeck makes a great launching point for the surrounding countryside. Hospitality options include cottages—from $67 a night on NovaScotia.com—and cozy family-owned properties such as the Baddeck Heritage House (from $91), built in the 1860s.

    DO: Get out on the water. On half-day trips (from $55) with North River Kayak Tours, you’ll paddle alongside the giant sugar maples and peer up to scout for American bald eagle nests. If you’d prefer to stay on land, drive the cliff-hugging Cabot Trail, the 185-mile road that makes a loop around the island’s northwestern region and offers prime whale-watching pit stops. Want to get even closer to a great ocean mammal? Sign up for a snorkeling trip with Captain Zodiac (from $40) in Cheticamp, located on the island’s northwestern border, to bob alongside minke, pilot, and fin whales.

    For dinner, Angelo Spinazzola of North River Kayak suggests the Bitehouse, a 12-seat restaurant located in a converted farmhouse that serves seasonal dishes such as scallops with caramelized cauliflower and grilled zucchini with local cheese ($40).

    Average hotel rate: $89 vs. $192 on Cape Cod

  • Aruba

    Courtesy of boardwalk small hotel Aruba Boardwalk Small Hotel Aruba.

    INSTEAD OF: Cayman Islands

    WHY HERE? While Aruba has long been on Caribbean travelers’ radars, its 66% hotel occupancy rate (in summer) is much lower than the rates for St. Lucia (84%) and the Caymans (76%). The island is also undergoing an impressive $1 billion investment in new hotels, public works, and an energy plan to be fossil fuel–free by 2020. Aruba is increasingly accessible too, with Houston recently becoming the 12th North American city to introduce a direct flight to the island.

    Average summer hotel cost: $197 vs. $257 in the Caymans

  • Aruba: What to See & What to Do

    Courtesy of Boardwalk Small Hotel Aruba Boardwalk Small Hotel Aruba

    STAY: Aruba’s range of accommodations means you don’t need to break the bank to stay in a lovely place, though an ocean view might cost you. You could opt for the Tamarijn Aruba (all-inclusive from $450 for two; three- night minimum) on Divi Beach, a waterfront property that also has a spa and a golf course. Further inland, at the charming Boardwalk Aruba, located in a coconut grove, casita rates start at $195 a night, says Susan Campbell, a senior writer for Aruba Nights. Guests also have free access to Moomba club on Palm Beach, as well as free lounge chairs and snorkeling equipment.

    DO: In capital city Oranjestad, you can fuel up on empanadas stuffed with Gouda and ham at Mi Boca Dushi (lunch, $5) before renting bikes from Aruba Active Vacations ($25 per day). Cycle along the waterfront’s new 10-mile boardwalk or, if you’re looking for an empty stretch of sand, pedal to windswept Arashi Beach, close to the California Lighthouse.

    On the island’s south side, you can pair sunset views with the catch of the day at Zee Rover’s ($20), a fisherman’s hangout turned restaurant, suggests Matt Boland, the executive chef of Aruba’s Divi Resorts. Specialties include red snapper and wahoo served with plantains, pan bati (a cornmeal pancake), and hot sauce made with papaya and peppers.

MONEY Leisure

Charter Bids for Time Warner Cable After Comcast Deal Dies

Charter has announced a $55.1 billion deal for Time Warner Cable, one month after Comcast walked away from its $45 billion offer.

MONEY Travel

5 Ways to Save on a Trip to Paris

150523_EM_Paris
Chris Sorensen—Gallery Stock Louvre pyramid, Paris, France.

The City of Light is more affordable than you think

Piles of pastel macaron at Laduree. The steep steps of Montmartre. Masterworks at the Louvre. A long stroll along the Seine.

Paris is a city that many travelers pine for, dream about, plan a once-in-a-lifetime trip to. But with so much love comes plenty of high prices. In fact, Paris is one of the most expensive European cities to fly to: Hopper found that the average airfare to the City of Light comes in at just under $1,000 round trip.

Lucky for you, we found some easy ways to save money while planning a trip to Paris. From buying the right flight to staying in the right place, you can save some serious euro just by being smart.

Compare Arrival Airports

Charles de Gaulle is the main airport for Paris arrivals (and, since it’s the eighth busiest airport in the world, it’s the arrival and departure point for many visitors to Europe). However, it may not actually be the cheapest airport for you to fly into. Compare the cost of flights from your departure airport to both Charles de Gaulle and Orly, Paris’ secondary airport. You may find surprising savings.

Don’t Forget Budget Airlines

When looking for flights to Paris, you may skip the legacy airlines unless you find a great deal. At Hopper, we’ve consistently found the best savings on flights from the United States to Paris with airlines like WOW and XL Airways France. On the latter, we found flights from New York City to Paris from just $537 this fall.

Also consider Turkish Airlines: Our research uncovered flights from Boston to Paris from $712. They come with a free stopover in Istanbul and are certainly longer than Air France’s non-stop option — but they’re also at least $400 cheaper. Turkish Airlines is gaining steam as a surprisingly low-cost carrier with plenty of amenities, from luxe airport lounges to in-flight Turkish delight.

Watch Flight Prices

You could spend all day, every day, checking flight prices to Paris, waiting with baited breath for that flight price to drop. Unfortunately, flight prices nearly always increase in the last few weeks as your departure date approaches. So it’s important to keep track of price trends and know exactly when you’re getting a good deal. Also know the average flight price from your departure airport; the national average for a flight from the U.S. to France is $996, but depending on your location, it could be much higher or lower.

Comparison-shopping for flights is difficult, but you do have some tools at your disposal. Look into an airfare-prediction app (Hopper is one; Yapta is another that’s great for corporate or group travel) and set up a fare alert to Paris.

Find Alternative Accommodations

While you’re likely to spend the biggest portion of your budget on your flight to Paris, accommodations can be heart-stoppingly expensive. (A moderate three-star hotel can be as pricy as $389 per night.) So don’t overlook alternative accommodation options. Here are some favorites:

Airbnb seems to be the last name in vacation rentals, and its young, hip brand is perfect for Paris, where the average rental rate for an entire home is a wonderfully cheap $108. Another vacation-rental option is long-time favorite HomeAway, which has a roster of some 7,000 properties in and around Paris.

Other options include a bed and breakfast (we recommend BedandBreakfast.com, which lists 68 quaint B&Bs and inns in the metro area) or, surprisingly, hostels. No longer the smelly, smoky college-student-on-spring-break hangouts, you can find decent properties with amazing prices. Check them out on HostelWorld.

Buy a City or Museum Pass

Finally, if sightseeing is your number-one goal in Paris, look into the Paris Pass. While it doesn’t include entry to the Eiffel Tower, it does include admission to 60 attractions and tours. See the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Centre Pompidou, the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral, and even Versailles nearby. Two-day pass prices start at about $138 for adults and $47.50 for children, which offers a great savings opportunity if you plan to hit up a handful of sights.

This article originally appeared on Hopper.com. Hopper is a travel app that tracks and predicts airfare prices.

More From Hopper:

MONEY Travel

Hidden Resort Fees Can Add Up Fast

150523_EM_ResortFees
Monica & Michael Sweet—Getty Images

Up to $30 a night -- or more!

As you shop for vacation destinations, be on the lookout for costly resort fees. Resort fees are separate fees added on top of your nightly rate to cover certain amenities that the hotel provides. Resort fees are typically automatically added onto your bill, whether or not you use the amenities that the resort fee covers. Fees can range from a few dollars per night to over $30 per night. They may be optional, but most are not.

Resort fees are primarily added in tourist destinations such as Las Vegas, Florida, Hawaii, and various Caribbean destinations, but they can apply anywhere and they are not necessarily limited to resorts. If that is the case, how can you tell if a resort fee will be tacked onto your bill?

Thanks to actions by the Federal Trade Commission in 2012, hotels and resorts must disclose the booking fees in a reasonably open fashion. However, the fees are still not always obvious.

When booking direct, hotels generally include the resort fee and the amount somewhere on the booking page at or prior to confirmation. However, when booking through Priceline, Expedia, or similar third parties, the fee structures are not always as easy to spot and may be buried in fine print such as “the quoted rate does not include resort fees and any applicable taxes.” The fee should be disclosed at some point prior to the booking confirmation page, but it is not guaranteed to be.

What do you get for your resort fees? You can usually get an explanation — and most of the amenities are pretty pedestrian. WiFi, in-room phones, pools, fitness centers, and delivered newspapers can be found on the list of some resort fees. You might argue that these items should be included. The hotel would simply raise the cost of the room in response.

To avoid resort fees, you must be preemptive. Include the resort fee as well as applicable taxes when evaluating your options, and call up the hotel to verify how much the fees are and what they are for. You may get a better deal by booking direct in any case. You can try to negotiate for a better room rate by arguing that you will not use those amenities, but without being part of a loyalty program that is likely to fail.

If you are traveling to Las Vegas, check out the 2015 guide to resort fees at this address. This guide lists the resort fees and included amenities for almost all of the main Vegas hotels and casinos, and notes the few that charge no resort fees.

A searchable list of resort fees at other destinations (as well as Vegas) may be found at Resort Fee Checker. However, neither list is comprehensive or guaranteed to be up to date, so it is best to verify all fees with your hotel before booking. That may require making a separate call to check out options if you plan to book with a third party.

What happens if you did not realize there was a resort fee included? Most likely you are out of luck. There have been class action lawsuits filed, including a recent one against the Venetian and Palazzo in Las Vegas, claiming that the fees were not disclosed or poorly disclosed until after booking and confirmation. So far, hotels have prevailed in these lawsuits and as long as the fee disclosure truly is available somewhere prior to confirmation, they probably will continue to do so.

In short, resort fees are just a way for some hotels to pass some of their operating costs along to guests without making it obvious in the nightly rate. The best way to look at them is to consider them as part of the overall price, and assume there is a resort fee unless you confirm with the hotel that there is not one. Then you can accurately evaluate your lodging options for your trip, and make the best choice for your stay.

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MONEY Travel

How to Negotiate a Killer Deal on Your Summer Vacation Rental

summer vacation cottages
William Britten—Getty Images

Because everything's negotiable.

Are you considering bypassing the hotel or resort experience for your summer vacation and opting for a summer home rental instead? Home rental networks are on the rise and have never been easier to use, thanks to the increased web presence and sites like VacationHomeRentals.com, Airbnb, VRBO, and VacationRentals.com.

However, just because travel agents and middlemen are being squeezed out does not mean that you are getting the best deal possible. You can negotiate with a vacation rental owner to receive an even better deal by following these steps:

  • Outline Your Goals – Know what you are negotiating for, and what you are willing to give up in return, if anything. Are you willing to stay longer or at different times for an improved nightly rate? Are certain amenities important to you? Can you handle a larger up-front deposit for a rate discount? Have all of your negotiating points and strategy planned out in advance, and you will know when you should walk away from a deal.
  • Do Your Homework – Research your rental options in the area, and make a list of your preferred choices. Get the best understanding you can of the booking market during your preferred time — is it peak season, are there festivals or events drawing unusual crowds, or are there other hurdles to occupancy? Keep your vacation times flexible if possible. If you can offer a stay that is complementary to the rental’s typical business, you have tremendous leverage. Do not be afraid to use that leverage, but do not lead with it. Give the rental owner the impression that you are doing them a favor by altering your plans.
  • Be Courteous – Nobody likes doing business with an obnoxious negotiator. Say that the offering does not exactly fit your time and budget needs, and you were wondering if a certain counteroffer could be met. Keep your counteroffers reasonable, and do not mention that you have other options. Rental owners already know that, and they do not like to be reminded of it.
  • Book Early or Book Late – As strange as it may sound, you can have leverage on both ends of the timeline. Booking early can give you the best combination of price and selection. However, if you are willing to gamble on availability, last-minute deals can be found for most destinations. They may not be in the exact location you want or have all the amenities you want, but the savings are significant. Check the rental sites for last-minute offers — one example is VacationHomeRentals.com, but there are others available. However, if you go this route, be prepared to find a hotel if you have to, and realize when it is too late to do anything based on an area you are visiting (part of your “homework” above).
  • Sell Yourself as an “Easy” Customer – Rental owners love “easy” customers who simply enjoy their time, are respectful of their rental property, throw no parties, and cause no problems. If you fit into that category, find subtle ways to let them know that you are low maintenance.

On the other hand, if your family really does not fit that mold, don’t misrepresent yourself. Rowdy kids or uncontrolled pets will earn you a reputation you do not want for future rentals. Find a rental that is a bit more tolerant, and be prepared to pay extra.
Congratulations! You have successfully negotiated a great deal for your vacation rental. Now it is up to you to follow through.

Be a good and respectful guest, follow all the house rules, and leave everything in the same condition you found it in, if not better. If you had an excellent experience, do not forget to refer others to the rental — and let your host know that you will be referring them to others. You may receive a similarly good deal, or even a better one, the next time you stay there.

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MONEY Leisure

Summer is Coming: Memorial Day by the Numbers

More than 37 million Americans will hit the road to celebrate the start of summer and hot dog-eating season.

MONEY

Top 10 Things That Got Great Free Publicity from David Letterman

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He's done quite a few Top Ten lists. So we've done one in his honor.

With David Letterman’s final show set to air this week, we thought it would be appropriate to celebrate an oddball assortment of products, places, businesses, and brands that somehow benefited from their association with Letterman and his program—even when Dave was making fun of them.

10. Alka-Seltzer
In one classic bit from 1984, Dave put on a tank with compressed air and a suit covered in 3,400 Alka-Seltzer tablets. He was then hoisted into the air and dipped head-deep into a glass enclosure filled with water, which bubbled and fizzed excitedly. It was pure stupidity—and made for great, memorable TV. Letterman has also done silly tricks wearing suits covered in sponges and Velcro. He frequently warned the audience, “Don’t try this at home.”

9. Ham, Meats in General
The #1 item on David Letterman’s very first Top Ten List—”Top Ten Words That Almost Rhyme With ‘Peas,'” recorded in 1985—was “Meats.” It’s fitting because Letterman shows seem to have quite the love affair with meat, ham in particular. Dave has worn a meat helmet to entice a hawk into landing on his head, and there were meat-themed Top Ten lists and a running “Know Your Cuts of Meat” segment on the show. Canned hams were often awarded to audience members as prizes of quizzes and other contests.

8. Cabin Boy
Though some insist it’s a cult classic, the 1994 film Cabin Boy received horrible reviews and was a flop at the box office. It would have likely been forgotten entirely were it not for a short cameo by David Letterman, who played the “Old Salt in the Fishing Village” and tried to sell a monkey to the title character, played by longstanding Letterman pal, writer and actor Chris Elliott. Most memorably, Letterman mocked his performance in a funny bit from the 1995 Oscars, which he hosted.

7. Tahlequah, Oklahoma
It was big news in 1992 when the Letterman show relocated its home office way from Lebanon, Pa., to Tahlequah. The town put up a highway billboard and hosted a “Stupid Parade” in celebration. It mattered little that there is no Letterman home office outside of its New York City studio. Every city that’s served as the fictional home office—there have been 11 in total, including Milwaukee; Scottsdale; Oneonta, N.Y.; and current home office site Wahoo, Nebraska—has embraced the totally made-up honor.

6. Hello Deli
Tourists from all over know Manhattan’s Hello Deli and owner Rupert Jee from their regular appearances on the Letterman show, which is taped next door. Customers can also order sandwiches like the “Alan Kalter” (the Late Show’s announcer), the “Late Show Research,” and simply the “Letterman.” Here is Rupert Jee singing “Let It Go” from Frozen, the day after it won the Academy Award for Best Original Song:

5. Delaware
If there’s no such thing as bad publicity, then Delaware should be grateful for all the attention paid to it by David Letterman over the years. The state has served as a go-to punchline, featured in a mocking segment called “Get to Know Delaware” and on multiple Top Ten lists. Sample, from a Top Ten list of questions from the U.S. Citizenship Exam: “If all the good states are full, would you be willing to live in Delaware?”

4. Best Bagger Championship
Year after year, the winner of the National Grocery Association’s Best Bagger Championship won a $10,000 check plus, in all likelihood, the opportunity to compete in a grocery bagging challenge against David Letterman on his show. Here’s the 2015 champ’s appearance:

3. Indianapolis 500
OK, so this is one of the most famous Formula One auto races on the planet. So it isn’t exactly hurting for publicity. Still, the race, and Formula One racing in general, have benefited from an extra image boost thanks to the longstanding association with Indianapolis native Letterman, who was a goofball reporter at the Indy 500 in 1971 when he was just 24 years old and who has been a part owner of a race team for a decade. Countless racecar drivers have been on Letterman’s shows over the years as well.

2. Ball State University
A self-professed slacker as a student, Letterman has periodically plugged his Muncie, Ind., alma mater, Ball State, where a building is now named after the talk show host. Letterman credits one of his professors, Darren Wible, with changing his life and setting him on the path to great success. Letterman even managed to bring Oprah Winfrey to the Ball State campus for an interview/lecture in front an audience that lasted nearly two hours. Here is Letterman praising one of his alma mater’s recent successes:

1. Adidas
David Letterman will never be memorialized as a fashion icon. He may, however, be remembered as a guy who had quite a unique look. “His hair resembled an ill-fitting vintage leather motorcycle helmet. His front teeth had a massive gap that looked almost painted-on as a joke,” Conan O’Brien, another talk show host who doesn’t look the part of the traditional broadcaster, wrote recently for Entertainment Weekly. Perhaps most memorably, “He was wearing the requisite broadcaster’s tie, but khaki pants and Adidas sneakers.”

MONEY Leisure

These 10 Nightclubs Bring in the Biggest Bucks

Sam Edwards/Getty Images

Guess which party city dominates the list?

The Nightclub and Bar Media Group recently released the top hundred grossing nightclubs for 2014. To nobody’s surprise, the majority of the highest-grossing nightclubs are located in Las Vegas, which claims the top four nightspots and seven of the top ten. The first two nightclubs on the list are way ahead of the pack, each grossing over $100 million in 2014. To put that into perspective, the entire list of a hundred grossed only $1.36 billion.

Here are the top ten grossing nightclubs, in order. Get your dancing shoes ready….

1. XS Nightclub, Las Vegas – XS tops the list for a third consecutive year, bringing in between $103 million and $105 million.

2. Hakkasan, Las Vegas – Hakkasan at the MGM Grand shot up to the number two spot with $100 million-$103 million in revenue.

3. Marquee Nightclub, Las Vegas – Marquee is in a second tier all by itself, with $80 million-$85 million in revenue.

4. TAO, Las Vegas – TAO raked in $50 million-$55 million in 2014.

5. LIV, Miami Beach – LIV breaks the string of Vegas-based top grossing nightclubs with $40 million-$45 million.

6. Surrender Nightclub, Las Vegas – Surrender is listed as having the same gross revenue as LIV, but “surrendered” the fifth place spot, settling for sixth place on the list.

7. LAVO, New York City – The highest grossing nightclub in the city that never sleeps tops out at $30 million-$35 million.

8. Story, Miami Beach – The story here is $25 million-$30 million in gross revenue.

9. Hyde Bellagio, Las Vegas – A $25 million-$30 million gross is only good for sixth place in the Las Vegas market.

10. LAVO, Las Vegas – The Vegas competition kept LAVO Las Vegas from outpacing its sister club in New York City, but it still brought in a respectable $20 million-$25 million.

What if you find yourself in a different place such as L.A., Chicago… or Anchorage, Alaska? We’ve got you covered there as well. Here are the top grossing nightclubs in several other markets, along with their top 100 ranking.

  • Seacrets, Ocean City, MD (#11) – Located in the coastal resort area of Maryland near the border with Delaware, Seacrets brought in a respectable $20 million-$25 million.
  • LEVU, Dallas, TX (#13) – LEVU brought in $20 million-$25 million as well, around the range that Tony Romo will earn this year as the Dallas Cowboys quarterback.
  • The Pool After Dark, Atlantic City, NJ (#14) – Superstorm Sandy could not dent their revenues, estimated at $20 million-$25 million.
  • Create Nightclub, Los Angeles (#19) – Create created a gross of $15 million-$20 million in 2014.
  • Temple Nightclub, San Francisco (#24) – This top-grossing nightclub in the City by the Bay brought in $10 million-$15 million in 2014.

All of the following were the highest grossing nightclubs in their areas, bringing in $10 million-$15 million: FLUXX in San Diego, CA (#25); Roof on the Wit in Chicago, IL (#26); Maya Day + Nightclub, in Scottsdale, AZ in the Phoenix metro area (#32); Hurricane O’Reilly’s in Boston (#43); and Opera Nightclub in Atlanta (#45).

Through the casino connections, Mashantucket, CT, claims three of the top 100: Shrine (#44, $10 million-$15 million), High Rollers (#71, $5 million-$10 million), and The Scorpion Bar (#76, $5 million-$10 million).

Don’t worry; we did not forget about Anchorage, Alaska, the home of Chilcoot Charlie’s – #97 on the list at $3 million-$5 million gross in 2014.

If you cannot get into any of these, simply find a nightspot that you enjoy. Maybe you will help propel some place new into the top 100 for 2015. Just do not try to do it all by yourself.

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MONEY Travel

The Best Reason to Take a Summer Road Trip

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This big discount adds up fast

Time to break out the old nationwide atlas road map — it’s going to be a great summer for road trips, thanks to low gas prices. You might want to splurge on an app or GPS with up-to-date traffic information, too, because lots of other families will have the same idea.

Gas prices are about $1 a gallon lower for most drivers as the summer vacation season approaches, a better-than 25% discount over last year. If you’ve fantasized about hitting the open road and seeing America’s great national parks, cheap gas could help make those dreams come true. For example, when I drove from New York to Seattle last year with my golden retriever Rusty, I spent $492 on gas. The same trip this year would cost closer to $350 — a huge difference.

AAA says that difference is certain to send more drivers onto America’s highways. Road traffic for the fast-approaching Memorial Day holiday will be up 5.3% this year, AAA says, soaring to 33 million road-trippers — the most in 10 years. Gas will be the cheapest in at least five years, AAA says.

“Following a harsh winter, many Americans are trading in their snow boots for flip-flops and making plans to start the season with a vacation getaway,” said Marshall L. Doney, AAA President, in a statement. “AAA is expecting more Memorial Day travelers this year than any time in the past 10 years as confident consumers come out of hibernation ready to explore national parks, beach destinations and America’s great cities.”

Drivers might understandably be apprehensive that gas prices will rise during the road-trip season, as they often do. And in fact prices have ticked up since they hit bottom this March. But the Energy Department said this week that it expects average prices to hover roughly around $2.50 through September. That’s assuming no surprise shocks to supply, such as a terrible storm.

The cheapest gas starts is in the southeast, by the way, in states like South Carolina — extending all the way through Missouri to Kansas, Wyoming, and into Idaho. So if you are wondering where to go, that’s not a bad place to start.

Not all the road trip news is good, however. AAA expects hotel prices to be considerably higher this summer, thanks to the economic recovery. The average nightly stay in a Two Diamond hotel is 16% higher this year at $144, AAA says. So maybe it’s time to take that gas savings and invest in some camping gear.

Keep in mind that you can make your summer travel spending go further by using rewards credit cards specifically designed with travel rewards in mind (here are some of the best travel rewards credit cards on the market). Keep in mind that using any type of rewards credit card, including gas rewards cards, is best reserved for people who don’t carry a balance on their credit cards from month to month since interest charges can wipe out any rewards you’d earn. Also, rewards cards are hard to get approved for if your credit score is subpar.

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