Slate asked our readers to assign us stories, and more than 1,000 of you wanted me to explain why hotels are so expensive. As a reader noted, “The cheapest hotel room in my city’s downtown is $90/night, while apartments run about $700-1000/month—closer to $30/night,” a huge difference.
There’s not a single reason why hotel rooms are so much more expensive on a per night basis than ordinary housing. But one place to start is taxes. Local tax codes tend to treat homeowners relatively favorably. There are some ideological and substantive reasons for this, and also crass politics. Homeowners, as a class, are more likely to be stable long-term members of their community who vote in city council elections. A hotel guest is just the reverse—a transient who can’t vote. So in addition to the underlying commercial real estate taxes that are probably higher than what’s levied on residences, hotel guests need to pay sales taxes and special excise taxes.
In New York City, for example, a hotel room is subject to 8.875 percent worth of state and local sales taxes, plus a Hotel Occupa