Will consumer-friendly initiatives fizzle under Trump?

American travelers fear they’ll be left to fend for themselves when they hit the road this year — and for good reason.

The incoming presidential administration has signaled that it intends to undo a wide range of federal regulations, many of which protect consumers. Although it hasn’t yet targeted any rules that affect tourism, Donald Trump’s campaign trail pledge to require that for every new federal regulation, two existing ones must be eliminated, has spread uncertainty among travelers. Federal regulation touches every aspect of the travel industry — some more than others. Removing even one rule could have lasting negative consequences.

“I suspect you’re going to see regulations disappear,” says Bonnie Salt, a travel agent from Newburyport, Mass. “I don’t think it will take long.”

Travelers, consumer advocates and industry insiders are also worried about the fate of several initiatives started during the Obama administration. Those include efforts to eliminate hotel resort fees and improve price disclosures on airline tickets.

During the waning days of the last administration, government officials sent a number of unambiguous messages about the need for increased traveler protections. In December, a report by the National Economic Council detailed what it termed a “growing trend” of hidden fees and their effect on the economy, including travelers.

“The real prices of things are now being hidden or muddied by the addition of mandatory fees,” noted Charlie Anderson, senior adviser to the director of the National Economic Council, in a blog post on the White House site. “Quoted prices don’t reflect what things actually cost — the real prices are hidden by fees.”

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Just a few days later, the Federal Trade Commission took an important step toward eliminating one of those hidden charges: resort fees charged on top of a hotel room rate after an initial price quote.

A research paper, written by an FTC staff economist and released this month, concluded that the hotel industry practice of disclosing resort fees separately from room rates without first showing the total price is “likely to harm consumers.”

The hotel and gambling industries, which could lose billions of dollars if resort fees become illegal, have doubled down on their opposition to regulatory action. Some industry observers say that the likelihood of phasing out resort fees, which looked like a real possibility this fall, decreased after the election.

FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez issued a statement saying that she hopes the findings will prompt the hotel industry to change the way it prices its rooms. But acting on the findings will be up to the agency’s next chair.

Other such works in progress are new rules being considered by the Transportation Department, most notably a regulation that would require airlines to give customers a full and inclusive ticket price at the time a fare is initially quoted. Today, many services or products that airlines previously included in the price of a ticket, such as checked baggage, advance seat assignments and priority boarding, are sold separately.

If these rules take effect, it will be easier for airline passengers to make an apples-to-apples comparisons between ticket prices. At the same time, discount airlines that strip away these extras could be put at a competitive disadvantage, because they would have to quote the price of their tickets with luggage and seat reservations included.

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“For a Republican administration — Trump’s included — regulation is a dirty word,” says Anthony DeMaio, a former airline lobbyist who now works for the Washington lobbying firm O’Neill and Associates. “The increasingly powerful airline industry will not accept more fare-transparency regulation.”

With the future of these initiatives uncertain, consumers must learn to be their own advocates.

“Be vigilant,” says Randy Greencorn, publisher of the site Resortfeechecker.com. “Look for resort fees and other hidden costs before reserving a hotel room, or simply call the hotel directly to ask about fees.”

Laurie Sherwood, a partner in the California law firm Walsworth LLP, says knowledge is the key to protecting your rights. “Travelers should fully educate themselves about their destinations, the companies with which they’re traveling, travel requirements and the potential risks of their travel,” she says.

Perhaps the only certainty is that nothing is likely to happen in the near term. There are other legislative and regulatory priorities, so travelers will just have to take a back seat and wait.

And that’s okay — we’re used to it.


Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • MarkKelling

    The “real” price of anything is what I have to pay for it. That includes all the fees, taxes, and whatever else is added into the price that cannot be left off. It doesn’t matter if a company advertises a product at $99 if I can’t pay just $99 and receive that product. If I have to pay $999 for that item after all the extra costs are added in, then that is the “real” price. As long as any price advertising rule put in place requires the total final price to be what is advertised then I am for it.

    Getting rid of resort fees and similar types of add on costs would be a good thing. If this means the actual base price goes up, then that is fine since if fees are mandatory then they are part of the base price anyway.

    As far as what the current administration will do to direct its resources on this topic, who knows.

  • Alan Gore

    Living in Arizona, I know a lot of Trump voters, and the travel problems we have been discussing here will be a key test of his commitment to the populist sentiment of his base. He attracted many votes from people who did not see him as a conventional Republican, rubber-stamping every corporate edict coming from the party donor base. Now let’s see if he really does care about the little people milling around at the airline gate.

  • JewelEyed

    I think we’ve already gotten our answer on that one.

  • LonnieC

    I’m sorry, but I can’t see anything consumer-friendly coming out of this administration. Trump has appointed businessmen to head pretty much every federal agency, and they are much more likely to side with business than with consumers. We lost momentum, and a real chance for improvement in the travel industry. “Sad.”

  • John McDonald

    the USA should start with including taxes on everything that’s advertised.
    Crazy that unlike Australia, you see a price in USA & you pay extra for taxes.
    The only time in OZ where you can advertise a price without the 10% GST is business to business, not business to consumer.

  • John McDonald

    USA needs Trump badly. In Australia we have a hung federal parliament, so nothing gets done (that is, the so called government, who controls the house of representatives, does not control the senate & most things have to be approved by our senate for change)
    We’re in as big a mess as the USA was with Obama.

  • Michael__K

    I agree in principle, but one complication in the USA is that sales taxes vary by city and state — there are about 10,000(!) different sales tax jurisdictions….

  • John McDonald

    SO WHAT ? Just include the tax in price. If a national advert in a magazine, just simply say minimum price in such & such state, max in other state. If a TV ad that can be seen in various states, just say $x in one state & $y in other, or again max & min.
    Luckily states in Australia can’t impose taxes(only fed govt can), only govt charges which are 100%. We have far too many govts in Australia for our small population which is now about 23 million for a land area similar to mainland USA.

  • Michael__K

    If businesses advertised a range then consumers would have even less of an idea of what price THEY would actually pay. Consumers generally know their local tax rate(s) very well, but not necessarily everywhere else.

    And to make things even more confusing, if you buy something outside your home state and pay lower sales tax, in theory in most cases you are supposed to declare the purchase and pay “use tax” — which represents the difference between the sales tax you actually paid and what you would have paid according to your local sales tax… In practice, people rarely declare their out-of-state purchases and pay “use tax” but that is another reason why advertising prices based on the point-of-purchase jurisdiction would be misleading.

  • John McDonald

    then just advertise the local price. It’s not that hard.

  • Michael__K

    Which local price? You mean show hundreds (or thousands) of prices on an ad?

  • John McDonald

    no just one price for the state or city where ad appears(TV or press) For online adverts, you could simply click on the state or city.
    It’s not that hard.

  • Michael__K

    What one price? Ads (TV or publications) normally appear in many tax jurisdictions at the same time. If you must enter an address to see prices online then most visitors won’t see any price at all.

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