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CARROLL: Please, Please Stop the Junk Fees
David Carroll
David Carroll - photo by Special Photo

This may come as a shock, but despite my glamorous profession, I don’t have a vacation home on an exotic isle. Nope, we save up each year for a five-day stay on the Gulf Coast.

We began doing this decades ago, thanks to friends who owned a condo. They gave us a discounted price and we had a great time, but we did not want to intrude on them year after year.

This was at the dawn of the internet era, so we found some good deals from other condo owners. Soon, a group called VRBO emerged (Vacation Rentals By Owner). Various realty companies also got into the act, offering competitive prices.

Back then, we could book a condo for around $300 a night, plus a reasonable tax. This year, we felt lucky to find one for $550 a night, plus 14 percent tax. Yes, the tax rate has skyrocketed, but every destination city does it. Local residents oppose sales tax hikes, so they stick it to visitors. After all, we clog up their highways they refuse to widen with our tax dollars.

So while inflation has surely taken its toll, it pales in comparison to a word that makes rental management companies jump with glee: fees.

First came the cleaning fee, which had long been included in the price of any rental unit. If you paid 50 bucks a night for a hotel room, part of that went to the housekeeper. You could leave a tip if you like.

Then as big companies like Expedia bought out small ones like VRBO, greed quickly overwhelmed customer service. This year the cleaning fee was part of a $290 “host fee,” which also included a parking fee and a property fee. The owners were unable to provide enough parking spaces on site, so I paid for the privilege of crossing a busy five-lane highway to park my vehicle. As for the property fee, I salute whoever dreamed this one up. Evidently I’m paying extra for landscaping, trash pickup, and maintenance to insure that the elevators work most of the time. You know, things that property owners once considered their responsibility.

That brings us to my favorite fee, the mysterious “service fee.” In my case, it was a whopping $389. I have to admit, that one got my attention. What services had been performed on my behalf, without my knowledge? Let’s see, I booked the unit on my computer. No one helped me with that. I unloaded and carried my own luggage, stocked the pantry with several days’ worth of groceries, kept the unit as clean as possible, followed all the checkout instructions, ran the dishwasher, and left everything in its rightful place. So what exactly were the services I received for that $389?

I decided to ask a VRBO customer service agent. One eventually answered the phone, which was apparently part of my elite $389 service payment. However, she was unable to explain the service fee, so she said she would e-mail me later. She kept her word in a sincere effort to earn the $389. She copied, pasted, and sent me the company line: “The service fee helps cover the cost of secure transactions, product development, and 24/7 customer service.” (Wow, for only $389! Lucky me. But there’s more!) “These fees are common for websites like ours, and our fees are comparable to our competition.”

I think that was supposed to make me feel better. “Thank you,” I wanted to say. “Now I feel guilty for even asking. Are you sure I shouldn’t pitch in a little more?”

I also had to pay a $1500 “refundable damage deposit” several months in advance. I figured they found out I used to play rock music on the radio, so I might possibly trash the condo. In the end, all those extra charges almost equaled the total cost of the condo itself.

In two weeks, I am supposed to get that $1500 back. Yes, that takes TWO WEEKS. I suppose it takes their customer service agents 14 days to make sure it will be a secure transaction.

Of course, I will never do this again. Until next year.

David Carroll is a Chattanooga news anchor, and his new book “I Won’t Be Your Escape Goat” is available on his website, You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405, or at