If you’ve recently booked a hotel room, you may have been charged a resort fee of up to $40 per night without even noticing. But these hidden fees are now the subject of lawsuits against major hotel chains. Read on to find out what they claim to cover, and how you can avoid paying them.
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You may not have noticed resort fees tacked onto your room rate the last time you used your credit card to pay for a hotel.But the fees have begun to catch the attention of state officials, who have filed lawsuits against some of the largest hotel chains over the extra charges.
In July, Washington, D.C.’s attorney general sued Marriott International, and Nebraska’s attorney general sued Hilton, both alleging deceptive pricing on the part of the two hotel giants.
And in September, Congress introduced bipartisan legislation that would require hotels and travel agencies to disclose the full pre-tax price of a room to consumers as they shop.
Consumers may be unaware that the room rate they see quoted isn’t the total price for the room, and resort fees of $20, $30, $40 or more could be tacked onto their daily room rate.
The lawsuits “should be giving a lot of hotel chains pause,” says John Breyault, a vice president at the National Consumers League. “Consumers and the people out there to protect them are fed up with these fees.”
Resort fees have spread to urban areas and smaller cities
Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine said in a press release that Marriott “reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in profit by deceiving consumers about the true price of its hotel rooms. Bait-and-switch advertising and deceptive pricing practices are illegal.”
Meanwhile, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said in a press release that Hilton “conceals the true total price of hotel rooms by advertising one rate, then charging mandatory ‘resort fees,’ ‘daily mandatory charges’ or ‘urban destination fees’ on top of the advertised price.” Fees range from $15 to $45 per night.
First introduced at two Caribbean resorts in 1993, the resort fees have spread, and now many hotels not only in resort locations but also urban areas and smaller cities are charging such fees, says Bjorn Hanson, former dean and professor of hospitality at New York University.
“2018 was the year of widespread introduction of the fees in the urban market,” he says, and the number of hotels charging such fees in urban areas soared 400 percent from 2017 to 2018.
Hanson first spotted New York City hotels charging resort fees in 2016. Today more than 140 hotels in the city charge such fees. The typical urban hotel charge is $29 per night, but he has seen some that charge as much as $90 a night.
About 45 percent of hotels in resort locations, such as ski or beach destinations, charge resort fees, he says.
Total hotel fees and surcharges, including resort fees, were expected to rake in $2.9 billion last year, he says, up from $2.7 billion in 2017. In 2010, fees and surcharges pulled in $1.7 billion.
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What you’re paying for
The charges at urban hotels may cover such things as complimentary bottled water, newspapers, access to the hotel fitness center or pool, or walking tours, Hanson says.
In a televised interview with LinkedIn, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson defended such fees, saying they “delivered value to customers,” and might include such things as bicycle and paddleboard rentals in resort areas, or food and beverage credits at an urban hotel.
“There’s no defense that holds water,” Breyault says. “If you have services you offer guests, charge extra.”
Sorenson said the fees are “well-disclosed” to Marriott customers.
“I don’t think they’re going away,” Sorenson said, adding some properties, such as those in suburban areas with no extra amenities, are unlikely to have such fees imposed in the future.
Hilton spokesman Nigel Glennie said, “Resort fees are charged at less than 2 percent of our properties globally, enable additional value for our guests, and are always fully disclosed when booking through Hilton channels.”
Expedia.com continues to sort hotels by their room rates, but if you click on a particular property, you’ll see the extra resort fee charge.
Some other hotel sites and third-party booking sites require consumers to search the sites to find out if a property charges resort fees.
In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission sent letters to 22 hotel chains, warning them their resort fee pricing practices might violate federal consumer protection laws. In 2017, the FTC’s Bureau of Economics said “separating mandatory resort fees from posted room rates without first disclosing the total price is likely to harm consumers,” according to the Washington, D.C., attorney general’s office.
Both lawsuits want the hotel chains they sued to advertise total hotel room prices upfront, pay restitution to consumers in their respective jurisdictions who were affected by the fees and pay civil penalties for violating the state and the district’s consumer protection laws.
See related: What to do if you’ve been ‘Bonvoyed’
How to avoid resort fees
Just because a property charges a resort fee, that doesn’t necessarily mean you will need to pay it, Breyault says. The National Consumers League has had numerous reports of fees being removed on request.
“If a consumer sees a resort fee on their bill, they should never hesitate to ask for it to be taken off,” he says.
Hanson says if you call to book a room, ask if there are mandatory fees. If the customer service representative says there aren’t, ask for their name and identification number in case a dispute arises when you check out and find you’ve been charged.
Or if you book a room online, and no resort fees are shown, take a screenshot as proof, Hanson says.
Before booking a hotel, you can also check the site ResortFeeChecker.com, which has information on more than 2,000 hotels worldwide, to see if a hotel you’re considering charges a fee, and how much it costs. ResortFeeChecker.com reports at least 122 hotels in Las Vegas and almost 200 in Miami charge such fees.
The Points Guy reports if you are a Hilton or Hyatt loyalty program member, and you use points to book your room, your resort fees will be waived.
Andy Abramson, CEO of two global marketing agencies, was named Business Traveler of the year by Business Traveller magazine in 2015. He recommends simply asking at check-in or check-out if the fees can be removed.
“The best way to do it is to cite the weather and how the pool can’t be used when it’s cold, raining, when there’s a thunderstorm brewing, etc., due to the danger,” he says.
Programs also often waive the fees if you have frequent guest status, Abramson says.
“Be smart about it, and be nice to the management of the hotel, and all can usually be waived, especially if you’re a regular guest at the property.”