This hotel service fee was a big surprise. I want a refund!

Can she get a hotel service fee refund

The Pennsylvania Hotel service fee in Maria Florencia Luenzo’s bill came as an unwelcome surprise. Her email confirmation from Getaroom.com suggested that she had already paid all the fees due to the hotel.

But Luenzo was wrong. The confirmation didn’t include this surprise hotel fee. She wanted a Getaroom refund after she paid this hidden charge. Could she get this hotel booking site to issue her a refund?

Luenzo’s story is a painful reminder of the need to check the fine print diligently. And when you book through a third-party site, such as Getaroom, you need to check the terms of multiple companies. You need to be aware of the terms of not only your booking site, but also those of the companies you are booking with. Otherwise, hidden fees may blindside you, as they did to Luenzo.

A surprise mandatory hotel service fee

Using Getaroom, Luenzo booked a room for two at Hotel Pennsylvania in midtown Manhattan for her stay in New York. The site charged Luenzo a total of $735 and emailed a confirmation for a four-night stay. According to the confirmation, Luenzo paid “Costs and Fees” of $620, plus “Tax Recovery Charges & Service Fees” of $115.

The confirmation described the “Tax Recovery Charges & Service Fees” as follows:

This charge includes the estimated amount we pay the hotel for occupancy related taxes owed by the hotel and any amounts charged to us for resort fees, cleaning fees, and other fees. The balance of the charge is a fee we, the hotel supplier and/or the website you booked on, retain as part of the compensation for our and/or their services which varies based on factors such as location, the amount, and how you booked.

In addition, the confirmation contained this language: “By booking this reservation you have accepted the Terms and Conditions.”

Having paid Getaroom in full, Luenzo did not expect to be assessed any additional amounts after her stay. But when she checked in, Hotel Pennsylvania billed her an additional $138. This surprise surcharge consisted of “Facilities Fees” of $30, state taxes of $3 and city taxes of $2 per night.

Trapped by the Hotel Pennsylvania service fee

Luenzo protested the hotel service fee. She showed the Hotel Pennsylvania employee her email confirmation. But the hotel employee responded that the booking request Getaroom had sent Hotel Pennsylvania for Luenzo’s stay had a “Room Only” designation. According to the employee, Luenzo would have to file a complaint with Getaroom, which hadn’t paid the service fees and taxes. If Luenzo wanted to stay at the hotel, she would have to pay the mandatory hotel service fee.

She then contacted Getaroom. Unfortunately, the reply Luenzo received referred her to the page on Getaroom’s site for the Hotel Pennsylvania. This page indicates that

Hotel Pennsylvania charges a mandatory Service Fee of $20 per room, per night plus sales tax of (8.875%), which includes the following amenities:

  • Premium high-speed Wi-Fi for up to (3) three devices.
  • Unlimited local, long distance, and international telephone calls within registered guest rooms.
  • Unlimited use of Bally’s Total Fitness Center (located next door to the hotel) for guests ages 18 and up.

Luenzo wasn’t buying it. She responded that this “mandatory service fee” is not disclosed anywhere on Hotel Pennsylvania’s website. Nor did it appear in the confirmation she had received from Getaroom. And the “Facilities Fee” amounts on the bill from the Hotel Pennsylvania were $30 per room, per night, not $20.

But neither Getaroom nor the hotel would budge. Not wanting to have to search for another hotel room, Luenzo paid the Hotel Pennsylvania service fee.

Let down by her travel agent. Then she turned to the Elliott Advocacy team

Getaroom’s terms and conditions contain a disclaimer that “You acknowledge that Travel Agent is not in the … hotel business, and makes no representation or warranty regarding the … hotel rooms or any other services for which Travel Agent made reservations for you.”

But does this provision let Getaroom off the hook in Luenzo’s case? Not so fast. In the same paragraph, the terms provide that “You acknowledge that Travel Agent is your agent, and not that of any … hotel provider.”

Luenzo could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Getaroom should have posted the correct information about the Hotel Pennsylvania service fee on its website. It should have disclosed that information to Luenzo in her email confirmation. Then it should have charged her the correct amount in the “Tax Recovery Charges & Service Fees” portion of its fee. And it should have properly communicated Luenzo’s booking request to the hotel. Finally, it should have advocated for her with the hotel.

Getaroom did none of these things for Luenzo.

The Hotel Pennsylvania could also have provided Luenzo with better customer service. Unfortunately, it’s standard procedure for travel companies to refer customers with travel agents back to their agents to resolve complaints. But when Luenzo presented the hotel with her confirmation, the hotel should have withdrawn the additional fees.

Asking Getaroom for help

At that point, Luenzo turned to the Elliott Advocacy team for assistance, asking for a refund of Getaroom’s “Tax Recovery Charges & Service Fees.”  Our advocate Dwayne Coward reached out to Getaroom on Luenzo’s behalf.

Luenzo isn’t the first person for whom we’ve tried to advocate with Getaroom, which hasn’t been responsive to our requests for assistance. So Dwayne wasn’t hopeful that Luenzo would hear back from Getaroom, let alone receive a refund.

But this time was different. A representative from Getaroom’s consumer relations team offered Luenzo a sincere apology and a refund for the “Tax Recovery Charges & Service Fees.”

Luenzo wisely paid attention to the fine print in her correspondence and maintained a solid paper trail. Otherwise, she might not have received a refund of the Hotel Pennsylvania service fee. Her case provides some reassurance that doing this homework can lead to positive outcomes. And our advocates are here to help you with your case when it doesn’t.

When third-party travel websites don’t properly disclose mandatory "hotel service fees," which party should refund the fees to the customer?

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