The Dirty Truth About Cleaning Fees: Travelers Complain as Charges Soar
If you hate paying cleaning fees on top of a hotel or vacation rental rate, then you have a lot in common with Laurel Barton.
Cleaning fees are Barton’s pet peeve. “Nothing annoys me more,” she says.
She recently had to pay a $150 cleaning fee for a seven-night stay in a one-bedroom apartment in the mountain village of Pontresina, Switzerland, in addition to the $1,230 rental fee.
“I pay very little more than that amount to have my 2,100-square-foot house with three bathrooms cleaned,” says Barton, a travel guidebook author who lives in Portland, Oregon.
I’m also irritated by cleaning fees. When I rented a home in Sedona, Arizona, last summer, the real estate agency added a surprise $375 cleaning fee after it quoted my monthly rate.
Here’s what I’ve discovered about cleaning fees: While they can vary, the actual cost to the hotel or vacation rental owner is usually low. The difference can add up to a tidy profit, but you can also negotiate your way out of some cleaning fees.
Why are cleaning fees an issue now? Because more hotels and vacation rentals are breaking out these expenses from their initial price quote. Doing that makes the property look more affordable, at least at first. Quoting a room rate minus a mandatory cleaning fee is a severe irritation to travelers, although it can make a property more profitable – at least in the short term.
How much does it cost to clean a room or vacation rental?
Cleaning a room isn’t that expensive. Hotels spend about $10 per room for cleaning, according to Emma Atanasoska, a former hotel manager who publishes the industry blog HotelReader.com. That includes the cost of hiring a housekeeper and the equipment and supplies.
“It really doesn’t matter what kind of property you manage,” she says. “The math and the expenses will always be the same.”
For vacation rentals, which are larger, the cleaning cost is also surprisingly low. Mashvisor, a real estate data analytics company, crunched the numbers and found that it costs about $50 per stay.
“Of course, cleaning costs will vary depending on your location and the size of your property,” says Daniela Andreevska, a spokeswoman for Mashvisor.
That makes you wonder why people are paying $150 or, ahem, $375 in cleaning fees for their homes. The actual cost appears to be dramatically lower.
The lodging industry denies it’s trying to profit from cleaning fees. Veronica Hanson, who runs an Airbnb rental out of her primary home in Lake Oswego, Oregon, charges $300 for a cleaning fee.
“We pay $150 of that directly to the house cleaning service, and the other $150 goes to a professional laundry service who takes care of bedding and towels,” she says. “Sometimes the laundry service is a little more and sometimes a little less, depending on the weight of the linens upon pickup.”
Can someone profit from a cleaning fee?
“From my experience, no,” says Greg Shepard, a landlord and an owner of Dallas Maids home cleaning company. “If anything, short-term leases are more apt to take a loss from cleaning costs unless they have hired their own housekeepers.”
Others say cleaning fees can be profitable. Sandra Bennett owned an ocean-view, two-bedroom condo in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for the past six years. Her cleaners charged her $50. “In turn, I charged renters a $75 cleaning fee,” she says. But, she hastens to add, her rental rates were considerably lower than the standard for the area.
Telling you about the cleaning fee
Disclosure of cleaning fees varies. Airbnb, for example, displays a low “nightly” rate initially but then adds taxes and cleaning fees. For example, a condo advertised at $66 a night on the first screen of your reservation will later display as $97 a night, after adding cleaning fees and taxes. VRBO operates in much the same way. Guests don’t like those kinds of price quotes.
“Of course the property has to be cleaned,” says frequent renter Anne Woodyard. “So why not include that in your rates? I detest finding out, after choosing a rental property, that there are more fees beyond the rental price. It’s ridiculous.”
Ridiculous, but alas, the way of the industry. It shouldn’t be. In Australia, businesses have to “clearly” disclose a full price at the beginning of the online purchasing process. Consumers can report violations to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the country’s consumer-protection and competition agency, which can lead to enforcement action. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission could require an all-in price, but so far it hasn’t.
It’s only a matter of time before a hotel or vacation rental comes up with a clever $100-per-night “cleaning” fee to pad its profits.
How to handle a cleaning fee
• Click to find it. If you’re booking online, don’t pay attention to the “per night” charge. Instead, scroll down to the “total.” That’s the amount you actually will pay. Now, look up. If there’s a cleaning fee, you’ll see it there. If you’re booking by phone, always ask about the cleaning fee – and never assume there isn’t one.
• You can negotiate a cleaning fee. I spoke with several owners and guests who said that cleaning fees are negotiable, particularly for extended stays. If the host balks, you can at least ask for a cleaning halfway through your stay. (On stays of longer than two weeks, a cleaning halfway through your stay is fairly standard.)
• If it isn’t disclosed, dispute it. Save your screenshots and confirmations, because if the cleaning fee isn’t disclosed – and if you paid by credit card – you may be able to dispute it with your credit card company. But that’s a last resort. Try asking politely to remove the fee. Remember, all cleaning fees should be included in the initial room rate. Anything else is deceptive