Beware the Latest Minibar Scam at Las Vegas Hotels

We love Las Vegas. That doesn’t mean we love everything about it.

For the past decade, we’ve reported a slew of rip-offs and scams and downright shady practices at Las Vegas casinos.

The newest scam involves hotels tricking guests into thinking items in their rooms are free, then billing for those items, treating customers to an experience not unlike the one Vlad the Impaler gave his enemies. In case you’re not a history buff, Vlad often impaled people through the anus with a blunt pole (so his victims wouldn’t expire too quickly). The difference? Vlad had the decency to grease the pole.

On that happy note, let’s talk scams!

Thank you to A.I. for helping us illustrate this scam that’s likely to make you toss your cookies.

Here’s how this shady practice works.

A guest checked into Vdara, part of the MGM Resorts family of Las Vegas hotels. The guest entered their room and found a long table in the foyer with two bottles of Fiji water and a small bag of Vdara-branded cookies.

Nice move, Vdara! Welcoming guests with complimentary water and a snack. That’s the kind of hospitality Las Vegas visitors have come to expect!

Not. So. Fast.

Remember, the bottled water and cookies were nowhere near the room’s minibar (a small fridge with drinks and snacks for a charge). Even novice travelers know if you touch anything in the minibar, you’re likely to get sticker shock upon check-out.

Complimentary bottled water is a common amenity in hotels, often left on a desk or bedside table or somewhere else in the room.

So, the guest drank the water and ate the cookies.

To the surprise and dismay of the guest, upon check-out, there were charges for the items: $24.75 for each bottled water and $9.99 for the cookies.

In layperson’s terms: “Srsly, WTF?” There was no indication whatsoever there was a cost associated with these items.

Vdara seems to be preying on customer confusion to generate revenue. Otherwise known as “duping people.”

Is it shady a Strip hotel charges $24.75 for a liter bottle of Fiji water you can get online for $1.87 a bottle (a 1,300% mark-up)? Sort of. But if it’s in the minibar, you know what you’re getting into. If you want cheap water, schlep to CVS or Walgreens.

Is it reasonable to believe Vdara would provide guests with a couple of bottles of water given the hotel’s resort fee is $45 a night? You’d think so.

Is it a scam if items are presented as complimentary then a guest is charged afterward? Absolutely.

The guest called the front desk to inquire about the charges and the offending charges were removed. While a great resolution, this is a giant red flag. It indicates this “confusion” happens often, and the hotel is very familiar with the situation and simply doesn’t care. If it removes the charges from the bills of five percent of guests who bother to complain, that’s 95 percent who rack up the charges and pay them. This is “found” revenue, simply by merit of where the minibar items are placed in the room.

Many hotel guests are on vacation and don’t have time to quibble over a few bucks, others are attending conventions and aren’t as price sensitive because they’re using company credit cards.

“Our guests demand convenience, so we’re placing select minibar items in a more accessible location!” MGM Resorts will say.

To which we will respectfully reply, “Bullshit.”

This underhanded practice plays into growing concerns Las Vegas is no longer seen as a value destination. The trickle of complaints about nickel-and-diming has turned into a flood.

Resort fees, concession fees (CNF charges), venue fees, service charges, “convenience” fees, the list goes on and on. Now, MGM Resorts has instituted a “GOTCHA, SUCKER!” fee. You know we’re mad if we use all caps.

The cumulative effect of such practices is hurting Las Vegas, despite recent business levels (a temporary post-pandemic bump that has resulted in record casino revenue).

Visitors are incensed about resort fees, but this Vdara minibar scam resulted in a guest being dinged $60, more than the hotel’s resort fee.

It’s just gross and embarrassing.

Nobody begrudges casinos making money, but this is an unethical business practice and visitors to our town deserve better.