Hyatt resorts to a fee refund without me even asking

Is a separate, mandatory hotel fee really a fee?

A popular Chesapeake Bay Hyatt in Cambridge, Md., claimed it was when the Good News Guy himself recently stayed there to participate in a hosted professional workshop.

Although their additional and unexpected $26 a day resort fee was disclosed after starting the reservation process, the total still remained (perhaps) an acceptable value.

But why separate it out from the room rate in the first place? Well, we all know why.

When Hyatt emailed me a survey later regarding my stay, my first thought was be careful of what you ask for … you might get it. Well, they did. Fairly and politely, and with no hope on my part of anyone caring.

Or so I thought.

Fees, fees, and more fees. Our forum is oozing with fee outrage and would make a good bad news guy column. But while the battle rages on, there may be hope.

Travel is expensive. No way around it. Things cost money and businesses need to profit while remaining competitive. And that leaves the advertised room rate as the hotel’s first line of marketing defense — or attack.

The Good News Guy continues his own streak of worthy experiences needing to be told, remembering also to be fair. To Hyatt’s credit, this particular stay was outstanding when they hosted a congress I attended offering an attractive discounted rate for event participants.

But the total daily rate was not the total daily rate.

Huh?

Hotel rooms with all their operational costs have an overhead determined by free market supply and demand generating whatever profit the market will bear — or whatever customers are willing to pay for the product. But some hotels, especially in “vacation-dense” destinations, levy an additional and mandatory resort fee separately from the daily room charge, which allows it to be advertised at a lower than actual rate.

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Wait, how can this be a fee if it is mandatory for all guests? A fee by definition is an optional cost incurred for an elective service or product. For example, not everyone arrives at a hotel by car, and for those who do, while it may be burdensome, one can stay at the hotel without parking there.

But what if I did not use the fitness center or pool? Too bad.

If a fee is mandatory, shouldn’t it simply be rolled into the total room cost? Yes, it should, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) agrees. While overly intrusive government may be a legitimate concern in some matters, in this case you go, FTC.

Being able to advertise deceptive room rates that tack on the mandatory fee after initiating the reservation process opens a whole new marketing strategy of endless unbundling when taken to its logical conclusion.

I once noticed an otherwise high-quality beach hotel sneak in a one dollar mandatory fee on my bill upon checkout for their in-room safe. I was directed to fine print on the check-in document that said I can initial the waiver to not use the safe.

Can you say slimy? One dollar. And why just the safe? Who even notices? That was the whole point, yet I bet it added up over time. They removed it immediately upon request.

Perhaps next a hotel can levy a mandatory fee for the TV, cable, or coffee maker. How about the ironing board or hairdryer? The principle is the same. In fact, some hotels unsuccessfully tried to do that with their internet access once.

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Gosh. Cynicism is unbecoming for the Good News Guy. I’m sorry. Let’s get back on a positive track.

Wouldn’t it be embarrassing if I, of all people, did not praise with the same vigor as complain? Yes, it would.

Among all the overly entitled teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing around us, a compliment is not that hard. And even big corporations can be starving for a kind word when deserved. So I let Hyatt know in my email survey response that my stay was exemplary and the total event cost was still a decent value.

I didn’t ask for anything. Rather, I politely added in their comments section how their questionable resort fee unbundling maneuver is not becoming of their caliber of hotel.

To my complete surprise, I was blown away to find a personal email from their corporate office next day expressing their regrets and refunding fully the total resort fees on the spot.

Wow. They actually listened to me and were really sorry.

The bigger message is they acknowledged in their own way it might be time for a change. We know nothing is free, whether internet, a safe, pool, or fitness center.

Even though their surcharge was disclosed and accepted, that does not offset an underhanded tactic of advertising misleading rates that perhaps cheapens their brand and backfires. If the room cost plus resort fee is their true total profit they desire, then simply put it in one room rate and let the informed customer choose.

In the end, Hyatt hung their head a bit but also discounted the net cost on their own to make it up to me, and for that they deserve recognition.

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They gave me flowers and I took them back. I am a pushover, I guess.

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Andrew Der

Der is an environmental consultant and travel journalist specializing in water science, nature, eco-travel, and cultural destinations

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