Vegas hotel + opaque site + resort fee = T-R-O-U-B-L-E

What do you get when you put a Las Vegas hotel, a mandatory resort fee and an opaque Web site together? If you said “trouble,” you’re absolutely correct.

Ben Huynh made a bid on a Priceline hotel in Las Vegas recently. He got the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas, but he also was charged an additional, mandatory $15-a-night resort fee. He appealed to Priceline for a refund, but it turned him down, saying that the fee had been adequately disclosed in its terms and conditions.

Depending on the city and property you stay in, you may also be charged resort fees or other incidental fees, such as parking charges. These charges, if applicable, will be payable by you to the hotel directly at checkout. When you check in, a credit card or, in the hotel’s discretion, a debit card will be required to secure these charges and any incidental fees (phone calls, room service, movie rentals, etc.) that you may incur during your stay.

Huynh wanted to know if that was Priceline’s final answer.

He thinks the site’s actions are wrong:

As you may already know, Priceline.com doesn’t tell you who you have reserved with until after the reservation has been made. Once I found out we had a reservation with Trump Hotel, I did some research on this hotel. I first discovered they charge an additional daily $15 resort fee. If I would have know this, I would have booked my first choice at Ceasar’s Palace.

First of all, many hotels in Las Vegas have a resort fee. That doesn’t make these charges right, but anyone booking a Las Vegas hotel should expect them.

This fact in no way exonerates Priceline from failing to disclose the resort fee before the booking took place. A mandatory resort fee isn’t anything like a parking fee. You choose to drive a car to the hotel and you usually have the option of not parking it on the premises. You have no choice about the resort fee, which is arbitrarily tacked on to your room rate.

Priceline’s disclosure is in no way adequate. If you’re bidding on a room, all mandatory fees should be included in your bid. A hotel can’t raise the room rate by another $15 a night — that’s dishonest.

I asked Priceline to have another look at Huynh case. Here’s its response:

The Trump is everything we promised. It’s a 5-star hotel in the zone the customer selected. We don’t guarantee a casino and we tell people up front that the hotel they get may have extra fees. Which hopefully are more than offset by a really great deal on the room rate.

True, Huynh’s rate of $123 a night — uh, make that $138 a night — seems pretty good. But I looked up a mid-week rate at the Trump for January, and rates start at $109 a night (not including the resort fee).

This isn’t the first time I’ve come across a resort fee problem with an opaque site.

Huynh’s best option is to dispute the fee on his credit card bill. He stands a reasonably good chance of winning.

In the meantime, Priceline should consider changing its disclosure of resort fees. This kind of deception isn’t fair to its customers.

Update (9 a.m., Dec. 30): Priceline has responded to my post.

I went back and read their reservation. The Huynh’s booked a weekend, not a weekday. Instead of the $298 they would have paid elsewhere, they got their stay through priceline.com for $282. Neither number includes the resort fee. While the total amount was small, they did save some money and did not overpay, as your article suggests.

(Photo: jrodmanjr/Flickr Creative Commons)

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