Playing the media card in a resort fee dispute

When Dennis Kavanagh booked two nights by phone at the Resort at Squaw Creek in Squaw Valley, Calif., the agent quoted him a rate that didn’t include a small surprise: a $16-a-day “resort fee” that covered “free” local calls, a newspaper delivery, in-room coffee and teas, Internet access and use of the health club.

The fee is clearly but not prominently disclosed on the hotel’s site, but for some reason, the hotel reservation agent didn’t say a word about it. That turned out to be a big mistake.

Kavanagh is a volunteer for Channel 7’s On Your Side segment in San Francisco, and he knew just who to contact. He turned to me to get more information about resort fees and their application, and I told him the situation wasn’t that hopeful.

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Some hotels impose these mandatory fees on top of their room rates instead of quoting an “all-in” price in order to make their rooms look more appealing. You can’t opt out of the surcharges (at least Kavanagh couldn’t) and when you contest them, the hotel usually just points to its own Web site and says, “See, we told you so.”

Indeed, that’s what happened to him. “I complained at checkout,” he says. “To no avail.”

Kavanagh could have taken his complaint to a manager, and he considered disputing the charge on his credit card. But before he did, he sent a note to the hotel’s public relations team, to let them know they’d dinged a Channel 7 guy for a resort fee.

That seemed to do the trick.

Chris, the path I followed was to first email the media contact for Destination Hotels & Resorts. Resort at Squaw Creek is part of this group. Then the public relation/media rep for Squaw Creek called me, and I explained the $16 day resort fee was not disclosed when making a phone reservation. He agreed to delete the charge.

Nice going.

So should consumers start emailing the PR contacts when something goes wrong? Here are the times when I think you should consider it:

• When you work for a media outlet and are on assignment.

• When your case could result in significant media attention.

• If you’re a blogger or social media influencer. You’ll know if you fit into this category.

If you’re not one of these, chances are your request will get passed along to the customer service department.

Incidentally, I’ve been to the Resort at Squaw Creek, and it’s a great property.

The mandatory resort fee? Not so great.

(Photo: Megan Mallen/Flickr Creative Commons)