All I want for Christmas is a little honesty from the travel industry

What do you want for the holidays? If you’re Paulina Want, how about a little honesty?

She’s planning to take her family to Las Vegas and found an “incredible” room rate at Harrah’s on the Strip. At least she thought so.

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The hotel’s website quoted her a rate of $198 for a total of five nights, which is an incredible price. But after the initial offer, and just before she booked the room, it tacked on a mandatory $125 fee for using the gym and Wi-Fi. Never mind the fact that she’ll use neither of them.

“The total with tax is $361,” she says. “The extra fees are only noted on the screen right before you purchase.”

To her, that’s lying.

“Basically, the hotels are advertising a low price and then adding fees at the end,” she says. “From a consumer point of view, a quote for a hotel room should include the final price.”

Want ran into one of the most dishonest practices in the travel industry: the dreaded hotel resort fee. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which has the authority to stop this nonsense, has failed to do so.

In 2012, the FTC warned a dozen hotel operators that these fees could be deceptive. I was pretty sure that would kill these “gotcha” surcharges. Instead, hotel operators disclosed them and the agency backed off. (Mary Engle, the FTC’s director of the Division of Advertising Practices, suggested in a follow-up interview that the agency was only trying to improve disclosure, not kill the fees. My mistake.)

What Want wants (sorry), and what the rest of us want, is a little honesty.

Don’t make us study the fine print or wait until the end to figure out how much a product will cost. Tell us up front, in the advertised price. How hard can that be?

Well, if you’re running an airline, it’s apparently next to impossible. Air carriers are masters of deception, quoting bargain fares and then tacking on “optional” fees for luggage, seat assignments and early boarding privileges. Oddly, you don’t hear a lot of passengers asking for this kind of à-la-carte pricing. You hear them complaining about it.

The only winners — apart from the airlines laughing all the way to the bank with their $8 billion in dishonest profits — are the consultants and the point-collectors who love the fine print and find a way to exploit these clauses to their advantage.

The loyalty crowd is a lost cause. But even the consultants have drawn a line. None other than Jay Sorenson, the IdeaWorks analyst who has championed ancillary revenue, recently warned airlines not to be “greedy” with their fees.

Wow. Hell just called — they say bring your ice skates.

The hotel industry has taken a similarly defiant tone when it comes to its fees. In a recent trade magazine editorial, one industry insider excoriated an NYU professor for taking the industry to task for its many fees. He suggested the researcher was doing the hotel industry a disservice by publicizing these unwanted extras.

“Most hotel fees are justifiable and don’t require an apology from the hotel industry,” he sniffed.

Oh, but they do.

Most of these fees aren’t disclosed up front, in the price of the product, but revealed as the booking process moves along. The FTC calls this drip pricing. The rest of us call it lying.

And so today, we’re really just asking for all that to end. Quote us a price up front that includes everything we have to pay.

“The shell game needs to be eliminated,” says Want.

I think Want deserves to get what she wants. I think we all do.

Since this story appeared, nothing has happened. A new, pro-business, anti-deregulation administration has taken power, and it’s unlikely we will see this issue resolved in the near future.

13 thoughts on “All I want for Christmas is a little honesty from the travel industry

  1. I think there’s a basic difference between the airlines and hotels (not that I agree with either). At least the airlines have you pay for something you actually use, such as baggage fees, change fees, etc. Resort fees bundle things that *they* determine whether you use them or not…telephone, spa, pool, wi-fi and the like. With the airlines you do have some choice–with resort fees there is none.

    1. optional vs compulsory. Don’t think hotels can get away with compulsory resort fees in Australia, but we probably have better consumer law than USA.
      Anyone who’s travelled by air in the last 20 years, should realise, that all airlines (LCC’s & legacy) are heading towards basic airfares, which is what majority of people want.
      If you still live in the last century & must carry 100 lbs(46kgs) of stuff you don’t need, pay for it & stop complaining. Airfares in real terms have never even been cheaper.
      Saw a one way fare to Europe from USA for only USD$99 the other day(less than the taxes). I don’t expect anything with this fare. Am surprised they don’t charge for air, toilet use, toilet paper, use of stairs. For USD$99 I’d sit in the toilet if necessary.

  2. When extras are optional, the fees should not be included. When I rent a car, I may choose to get a car seat, or insurance, or the satellite radio, or I may choose NOT to use any of those. When I purchase a flight it will depend on which airline or credit card I use to determine if I need to pay for a checked bag, pay for a change to my ticket, pay for seat selection or early boarding and so on. The hotel issue is absolutely different in that from what I understand, even if I am an elite in a hotel program I must still pay those mandatory resort fees. Parking I can understand as being an extra even though I hate that fee, but there are more options now such as ride shares that I can often easily not need parking. To me, when searching for a hotel the location, type of hotel, amenities offered are my first set of criteria, only after that do I start comparing the total cost. As long as it is told to me before I click purchase I am satisfied. If I do not read all the information the web site offers I cannot cry I did not know about other charges because I had the opportunity to do so and chose not to do my due diligence.

  3. If it is a mandatory fee, one which you are not able to opt out of, then it should be included in the price of the room.
    If it is optional, like airline baggage fees, then it should not be bundled.

  4. Airline prices should include 1 piece of checked luggage along with taxes and fees. As that way there is much less incentive for people to slow things down bringing on excessive sized our numbers of carry on baggage. Airlines can give a discount after wards if you aren’t bringing on checked luggage.

    With hotels resort fees must be optional without losing the hotel room, beds, and bathroom. All other amenities can be dependent on paying the resort fee. Parking is another separate and optional fee.

    Car rentals generally aren’t to bad right now with add ons. But the advertised rates should include airport fees and other mandatory costs.

    1. Generally, I find that, when I price a car reservation, it does include all those taxes and fees. Hard to include them in published advertisements, since they vary so much from location to location.

  5. Lumping airline fees for optional services (checked baggage, seat assignments, etc.) together with hotel resort fees, which are entirely NOT optional, is conflating two very different things.

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