Marriott rolled out its new home rental platform called Homes and Villas late last week, a direct challenge to rental sites like Airbnb and HomeAway. But it's becoming clear that there's one area where Marriott just can't compete: price.
For starters, Marriott is contracting mostly with large vacation home rentals managed by companies rather than individual homeowners so you won't find many cheap one-bedroom apartments on the new platform. But we're also seeing massive cleaning fees that can drastically inflate the total cost, tacking on an extra 14% to a whopping 55% of the list rental cost to a reservation.
There's nothing in Marriott's frequently asked questions on this new service about cleaning fees. For comparison, Airbnb doesn't have a published ceiling for cleaning fees on bookings, though it typically ranges from 6% to 15% of the bill.
Asked to comment on how Marriott sets or oversees these fees, a Marriott spokesman simply said that “cleaning prices vary by property, duration of stay, and market.”
Needless to say, these fees raise more questions than answers. Adding a 55% fee to the total cost of a booking is akin to bait-and-switch pricing.
The Scope of Marriott's Cleaning Fees
Extra fees have become almost unavoidable when paying for a place to stay, whether you're paying “resort fees” for a hotel or extra cleaning and service fees for an Airbnb.
I looked at over 20 different properties around the U.S. – no international properties are available yet – to get a feel for what Marriott was charging for the Homes and Villas cleaning fees. And after looking at a long weekend in late July, it became clear that there's little rhyme or reason behind these additional fees.
They appear to be one-time, flat fees – and sometimes, they're as high as $305 for even a two-night stay. With a flat fee regardless of the length of your stay, that means a longer stay feels the sting of the fee a bit less. Shorter stays get crushed.
By adding a minimum of 14% to the upfront cost, they're considerable. As high as 55%, it's egregious.
Look at this mid-century modern bungalow in Palm Springs, California. It appears at first glance to be a great deal, at $213 a night for the dates I selected. But once you click through to the property and see that there is a flat $282 cleaning fee added to the cost of the booking. That's 44% of the upfront rental cost, adding another $94 to the overall daily rate.
Moving north to Bend, Oregon, we come across a lovely 3-bedroom home with a backyard hot tub listed for $307.67 a night. That's until you tack on the cleaning fee of $290 for the stay, which is 31% of the list price. It adds another $96.66 to the cost of the rental each night.
Check out this 2 bedroom, 2 bath condo in Keystone, Colorado. For the same July dates, it can be booked for the seemingly reasonable rate of $216 a night. Once you click into the property, you see the additional $268 cleaning fee charge which adds $89.33 to your cost per night. This fee accounts for just over 41% of the listed cost of the booking.
But the worst offender of all is a 3 bedroom 2 bathroom house on a golf course in Charleston, South Carolina. It's listed for a very reasonable $182 a night during our July dates. But then there's a cleaning fee of more than $100, inflating the cost by adding another 55% to your total bill. That $182 a night cost for the property quickly turns into $283.66 a night after factoring in the fee.
Cleaning fees might be necessary in the wild world of home rentals. But to charge as much as 55% of the total booking price to clean up is absolutely egregious. Even on the low end, 14% is questionable.
To charge close to $100 or more per night for cleaning is far more than the cost of cleaning after a rental. Whether it's the fault of the rental companies or Marriott itself, this is simply hiding the true rental cost in the cleaning fee.
Let's think about the psychology of this.
You find a seemingly cheap rental property that works for your dates and the size of your party and budget. But by the time you're ready to check out, you get hit with a gigantic fee for cleaning services. By that time, it would appear Marriott is making a bet that you are already committed with the rental and will go forward with it anyway.
Again, these kinds of fees are unavoidable – even with other services like Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeAway. On those more established rental platforms, the cleaning fees can change considerably from place to place. There are also local taxes and fees, which can vary greatly depending on what city you're staying in.
And Airbnb is guilty of hiding the true cost of properties, too. Most Airbnb listings have a mix of cleaning fees and Airbnbs's own service fees on each rental.
But still, they generally pale in comparison to these absurd cleaning fees with Marriott.
It seems certain that Marriott hasn't set any limits on what owners and rental management companies can charge in cleaning fees. And because this platform is brand new, there aren't enough homes and villas listed for rent to control those costs. Once more homes are listed, they would likely drop as the power of competition kicks in.
But the lack of transparency behind these fees after Home and Villas' launch leaves Marriott with a lot of questions.
Cleaning fees, much like hotel resort fees, can be a nuisance for travelers. Charging them is one thing, but providing zero transparency when they can cost as much as 55% of the listed booking price leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It is hard to imagine these Marriott cleaning fees are anything other than a bait and switch.
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