Casino steals page from airline playbook, swaps out resort fee for phone “processing fee”

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By Christopher Elliott

Back in January, I noted with amusement that Harrah’s had issued a press release saying it does not “impose mandatory resort fees attached to a room reservation.”

At the time, I wondered why Harrah’s had phrased its announcement in exactly that way. Why not just say, “We’ve eliminated resort fees?” Also, it remained unclear why a large casino resort would turn down money from its guests that, at least according to the other casinos in town, they were more than willing to pay.

Well, yesterday I got the troubling answer to all of those questions.

Prompting concerns about emerging hotel revenue tactics

It started with an email from reader Ada Sui. She and her husband, Norman, had booked a room by phone at Harrah’s Reno Hotel and Casino.

He was told that there will be a $5 processing fee. We have not heard of this and wonder if it is legal or not. We realize that this is a small amout to bicker about, but just for the record, is this legal?

Airlines have charged extra for reservations made by phone for several years, but I’ve never heard of a hotel doing it. So my advocacy team and I called Harrah’s reservations number to find out more about the processing fee. (Related: These annoying hotel fees were supposed to check out. Instead, here’s what happened.)

A representative confirmed that at about the same time Harrah’s announced the chain-wide resort-fee elimination, it quietly added a phone reservation fee of $10 for its Las Vegas and Tahoe resorts and $5 for its Reno property.

“We decided to do that instead of a resort fee,” he told me. (Here’s our guide to planning a trip.)

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How interesting.

If you do the math on that, it’s clear Harrah’s is still losing money. If it could charge a $10-a-day resort fee, it would make far more than a one-time, $10 phone reservation fee.

But I’m worried that any hotel is charging for a phone reservation. Guests like the Suis, who make their reservations by phone, now must pay a higher room rate for the “convenience” of calling the hotel. What’s next, charging people for the “convenience” of paying with a credit card? (Don’t laugh, several airlines already to it.)

Is this a future hotel revenue stream? Something tells me it could be.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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