Hotel resort fees, hidden charges bemoaned by travelers, are climbing higher than ever

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By | September 4th, 2017

Tamara Myers thought that her hotel bill at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino would come to $415. At least that’s what Otel.com, the website through which she booked the room, promised her.

But the site glossed over a small detail: a mandatory daily “resort fee” payable at checkout, which added $306 to the folio.

Gotcha.

“I did my due diligence,” insists Myers, who lives in Indianapolis and works for the military. She’d made the reservation for her 88-year-old mother, who was caring for her brother in Las Vegas. “The fee was listed nowhere on Otel.com.”

Mandatory resort fees, tacked onto a hotel bill after an initial price quote — and sometimes even later, as with Myers — are on the rise again. A total of 1,026 domestic hotels charged a resort fee for the first half of 2017, a 14 percent increase from just six months ago, according to new research from Resortfeechecker.com, a site that allows travelers to look up resort fees at hotels worldwide. The average resort fee, which covers everything from “free” WiFi to access to exercise facilities, now stands at almost $21, a jump of 8.7 percent from last December.

The biggest increases came in large metropolitan cities, including New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, where resort fees are up by a whopping 70 percent in six months. “Until recently, most hotels in these cities didn’t charge a fee,” says Randy Greencorn, publisher of Resortfeechecker.com.

No wonder, then, that frustration with resort fees is reaching a boiling point. They’re difficult to fight once they’ve been added to a bill. Government action on the fees, once thought to be inevitable, has stalled.

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Resort fees are classic travel industry sleight-of-hand — you’re quoted one price, you pay another — yet for now they remain perfectly legal. How so? Hotels are only required to disclose the fee before the booking is made, but not when the initial price quote is made. The Westgate’s site warns that a resort fee of $29.95 plus tax a night “may” apply. A search for a weekly room rate in August shows a price of $781 for a standard “Signature” room. The next screen downplays the final room rate, which, after taxes and resort fees, comes to $1,192, a 53 percent increase. You have to click an arrow to get a price breakdown.

Otel.com shows an asterisk and refers to resort fees under “Hotel Information” on its booking page. “Some hotels do charge a resort fee which must be paid to the hotel directly,” it warns. “Otel.com is not responsible for resort fee charges and has no control over their implementation.”

A Westgate representative said that the hotel does not contract directly with Otel.com. “All of our direct booking partners and our corporate websites clearly mark the presence of our resort fee, consistent with nearly every other major resort in Las Vegas,” said Jeff Klein, a resort spokesman. Klein says it has contacted Otel.com and asked it to “make this right with the customer.” I did, too, but received no response.


That’s how it goes with most attempts to claw back a resort fee. Apparently, hotels and their intermediaries feel as if asterisks and hard-to-find disclosures are adequate, and they are interpreting the government’s silence on the matter as a tacit endorsement of their practices.

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Only a few months ago, resort fees were headed for extinction. The Federal Trade Commission signaled that the fees as they are currently advertised by most hotels were “unfair and deceptive.” The agency was poised to announce a policy shift that would require resort fees to be included in the initial price quote, according to multiple sources.

But after the presidential election, the federal government cooled on further regulating the hotel industry. A national investigation of resort fees, led by the attorney general for the District with participation of 46 state attorneys general, is underway. In June, the D.C. attorney general sent a subpoena to Marriott, requiring it to produce documents related to its investigation into whether its practice of charging “undisclosed or poorly disclosed” resort fees violates the District’s consumer protection laws.

Marriott says it “fully” discloses resort fees to consumers before they complete their booking on any of its direct channels. “We have been cooperating with the District of Columbia’s request for information in accordance with their investigation into industry resort fee disclosure practices,” says John Wolf, a spokesman for Marriott.

But until a state, the FTC or a court declares these fees illegal, they’re bound to continue multiplying, industry observers say. It’s a source of frustration for travelers and embarrassment for tourism officials. I contacted representatives in the top three cities for resort fees — Orlando, Miami and Las Vegas — after the Resortfeechecker.com data was released. Officials in Orlando and Las Vegas declined to comment, and Miami did not respond.

There are a few quick fixes. The first is obvious: Review the fine print, especially if you’re booking through a third party. Discount hotel sites may intentionally conceal resort fees, or they may not have access to the most current resort fee information from the property. You owe it to yourself to check with the hotel before you make your reservation.

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In some cases, resort fees can be avoided by joining hotel loyalty programs, Greencorn says. “Sign-up takes only a couple of minutes and can be done online. Before booking, travelers should check with their hotel directly to see if they provide this benefit to its members.”

These are only stopgap measures, but they should help you avoid unpleasant surprises until the long arm of the law catches up with hotels that charge resort fees. It’s only a matter of time.



  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    It’s all driven by the need to appear at the top of comparison web sites. All firms offer the lowest possible top line rates to do this, but they can’t actually make a profit selling at that price, so they have to make the difference up with baggage and other fees (airlines) scam charges for phantom damage and insurance (car rentals) or resort fees (hotels). Wait for BestBuy or to start offering $50 65″ TV’s on their website, then you find there is a $750 delivery charge.

  • Bill___A

    Resort fees need to be banned. I grew up thinking governments had regulations in place to keep things fair, but this is the most vivid example of the fact that they do not. In my mind, any hotel that charges resort fees is ethically challenged. The “ethical” problem being that they say it is for some things that are nonsensical, such as internet that many people would get for free, and other things you don’t use. Then they force you to pay it. How many people would pay this “fee” for the purported benefits if it were optional? I am guessing few, if any. Shame on the major chains for not making efforts to stamp this out and even more shame on the regulatory authorities for allowing this to happen.

  • deemery

    Rather than being banned, I think the legal requirement should be for full disclosure of all fees in any advertised price.

    That’s consistent with the notion that government should intervene as little as possible, but should intervene when markets can’t regulate themselves.

  • KanExplore

    The huge difference between airlines and hotels is that the baggage fee is not charged if you don’t have baggage. It’s an option. This hotel scam “resort fee” is simply a statement that “We don’t publish our full price up front,” since there is no way to avoid the fee for the customer. I agree with you completely that the main motive is to appear at the top of comparison websites. The insidious evil of this is that the practice penalizes any property that would want to quote its price honestly. The FTC definitely needs to act to regulate this scam. My way of dealing with it is that my booking or conversation ends right away when I see this “resort fee” nonsense. I absolutely refuse to patronize them. If they’ll lie to me about their prices, they’ll probably lie to me about everything else too.

  • “Resort Fees” are also exempt from hotel taxes that many municipalities impose. That is one reason they are “unbundled” from the actual room rate.

  • Beverly Walker

    I can understand Vegas hotels charging resort fees, but I quickly changed my mind about staying at an Indian casino in Oklahoma that is charging resort fees. I don’t go there to “resort,” I go to gamble! I can drive home in about an hour, so why would I stay overnight and pay a resort fee? Bad business practice!!!

  • Alan Gore

    There is no need to single out resort fees. Just stipulate that the advertised price has to include all fees that are not optional.

  • Bill___A

    Tax evasion, another reason to ban them. Commission evasion. The list goes on. Legislators not doing their jobs. Thanks for bringing this up though. I think it is immoral to have them all round.

  • Bill___A

    The problem is that they are mandatory fees for “things I don’t want” which is deceptive, and also, they charge them even if you are redeeming points. I think if they are going to “take care” of these things, the thing to do is to ban them completely. They are already disclosed, I know about them and I disagree with them.

  • PsyGuy

    My first issue with this practice is the wording that a resort fee “MAY apply” how do I know if it won’t or not, and in reality it should read WILL apply, because I’ve never seen it NOT apply.

    My second issue, why do travelers still use obscure websites to book anything, i already know the answer it’s to save a couple dollars (literally) but it’s simply not worth it, consider booking travel directly with the merchant as the cheapest travel insurance you will find.

    My third issue, is this idea that the US runs the world, whatever the FTC does will have no effect on properties outside the US, the practice will continue unabated outside the US, which means they aren’t going extinct.

  • PsyGuy

    Agreed

  • PsyGuy

    Maybe we need better search engines with more options that allow consumers to parse the full costs.
    I would have a HARD time booking desirable properties if I dismissed a property that had a resort fee.

  • PsyGuy

    I don’t see how many of them would get internet for free, at last high speed broadband. It’s one thing if a property is charging you $20 for a resort fee that includes some anemic internet speed around 256K and a property that unbundles the resort fee and charges $10 for actual high speed thats around 25M. I will pay for the latter and not the former.

  • PsyGuy

    They are for things you want though, you want to stay at the property. Your real issue is what they are choosing to call it, and the lack of transparency for what the real price is for staying at their property.

  • PsyGuy

    Not all though.

  • DChamp56

    “But after the presidential election, the federal government cooled on further regulating the hotel industry.”
    That says it all.

  • cscasi

    The previous administration did nothing to change/regulate the hotel industry either, so this is just a continuation of what has been happening for years; not just the “current administration”.

  • joycexyz

    Ethics??? We don’t need no stinkin’ ethics! And good luck getting any regulations through in this current government.

  • BubbaJoe123

    I’m generally not hugely critical of travel fees like airline baggage or seat assignment fees, but hotel resort fees are just a scam, unless very clearly disclosed upfront. Baggage or seat fees are optional, but a fee that isn’t optional in any way shape or form should be part of the room rate.

  • BubbaJoe123

    It’s pretty clear that the FTC was poised to declare resort fees an unfair business practice and ban them in early 2017, if the election had gone the other way. The Commission had gotten their ducks in a row by late 2016, including getting the research done so that the action could withstand a court challenge (regulatory actions need to have sufficient analytical grounding and can’t be arbitrary or capricious), but nothing happened, nor is it likely to.

  • Blamona

    I blame OTAs. They want their piece of pie without owning anything. So resorts have come up with clever ways to lower commissions paid to them, and to offset the 15-20% they have to pay them. So resort fees are breakaways– and when booking direct fees make up the % paid to these OTAs too

  • greg watson

    C’mon people !……………………………just say NO…………..My wife booked a hotel in Las Vegas for New Years Eve……………..I told her ‘google’ hotels without resort fees………….& we found one that would be comfortable for 3 nights……………….without that additional cost. Consumers help to determine prices………………resort fee ?……….stay somewhere else !!

  • Steve Rabin

    I agree. You will still get a seat somewhere on the plane if you don’t pay the seat assignment fee, but the hotel will still ding your credit card for the resort fee after you check out.

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