Congress takes on ‘hidden fees’ at hotels and resorts; seeks more transparency upfront for travelers

Resort fees are mandatory charges that include a bundle of services guests have come to expect during a hotel stay. They’re labeled everything from resort fees to hotel fees to destination fees and more.

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The Hotel Advertising Transparency Act of 2019  would require consumers see the full pre-tax price of a hotel room. The bill includes short-term rentals.

The Hotel Advertising Transparency Act of 2019 would require consumers see the full pre-tax price of a hotel room. The bill includes short-term rentals.

If you find yourself scanning and clicking on hotel prices only to see a higher bill when it’s time to pay, you’re not alone.

Resort feesare mandatory charges that includea bundle of services guests have come to expect during a hotel stay.They’re labeled everything from resort fees to hotel fees to destination fees and more.

That bundle could include free Wi-Fi, access to the pool and, at resorts in big travel cities like New York and San Francisco, a free drink ordiscounted breakfast.

A new bill proposed in the House of Representatives wouldforce companies to more accurately reflect the price of hotel rooms — by includingmandatory fees before taxes in a hotel room’s advertised cost — and stakeholders from all sides are weighing in.

“Why would any member of Congress want to let their constituents be scammed?”Lauren Wolfe, founder of theKill Resort Fees websiteand counsel for consumer advocacy groupTravelers United, told USA TODAY.

Why are people upset about hotel fees?

More than one-third of people said they experienced a hidden hotel fee in the last two years, according to a Consumer Reports nationally representative survey of more than 2,000 adults in 2018.

“We are now seeing people turn away from visiting areas plagued by resort fees such as Las Vegas,” Wolfe says. “The worst hotel resort fee offenders are in areas where the hotels can prey upon unsuspecting tourists,” Wolfe adds. “These hidden fees are now found at almost every hotel surrounding Walt Disney World, Times Square and the Las Vegas Strip.”

Samantha Jones, a hotel industry veteran who is nowsenior vice president of hotel programs for travel agency consortium Travelsavers, says that hotels the company has worked with have been above board and transparent about rates.

“For some hotels, they’re providing a value in the fee that they’re charging,” Jones says. “I think it just has to be a matter of choice whether or not the traveler actually wants to accept that fee.”

Use of that fabulous hotel pool might cost you extra if its among “hidden fees” charged by many hotels and resorts.

Use of that fabulous hotel pool might cost you extra if its among “hidden fees” charged by many hotels and resorts.

Jones agrees with the need for transparency but understands what hoteliers are up against: The need to drive revenue while also delivering on the services they’re charging guests. “If they can winthat battle, then they’re gonna have a loyal customer,” she told USA TODAY.

What is the new hotel fee legislation?

Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) and Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) introducedtheHotel Advertising Transparency Act of 2019, which would requireconsumers see the full pre-tax price of a hotel room. Thebill includes short-term rentals.

“All we’re trying to do is say tell people upfront what to expect, what will be included when they get ready to pay the bill,” Johnson told USA TODAY in an interview. They are working on getting a Senate sponsor.

“When travelers search for hotel options, they deserve to see straightforward prices. They should not get hit with hidden fees that are designed to confuse consumers and distort the actual price,” Fortenberry said in a statement accompanying the bill. ”I am pleased to support this legislation that will result in greater transparency for the traveling public.”

The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commercefor review.

What else has been going on with hotel fees in court?

Former Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) tried to passsimilar legislationin 2016, but it fizzled.

Several lawsuits were introduced earlier this year in July against specific hotel chainsin both Washington, D.C., and Nebraska. Attorney General Karl Racine of Washington filed one againstMarriott, and Attorney General Doug Peterson of Nebraska filed one against Hilton.

TheMarriott lawsuitwas filed in D.C. Superior Court in July after an investigation conducted by all 50 state attorneys general.

The Hilton case came out of an investigation into hotel fees, Meghan Stoppel, consumer protection division chief in the Nebraska attorney general’s office, tells USA TODAY. They found Hilton’sadvertising of these fees both on its website, and in some instances over the phone, was deceptive,misleading and in violation of the state’sconsumer protection statute.

What is the industry saying about it?

“When resort fees are applied, they are clearly and prominently displayed by hotel websites prior to the end of the booking process, in accordance with guidance issued by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission,” Brian Crawford, executive vice president of government affairs for the American Hotel and Lodging Association, told USA TODAY. “We believe that all online lodging advertisers, including third-party online travel agencies and short-term rental platforms, should be held to the same standards of transparency.”

Hilton claims that resort fees aren’t at most of its locations around the world and that they meet the proper disclosures.

“Resort fees are charged at less than two percent of our properties globally, enable additional value for our guests, and are always fully disclosed when booking through Hilton channels,”Nigel Glennie, a Hilton spokesperson, told USA TODAY in a statement.

Others think this legislation will benefit the industry.

“The removal of hidden fees and an increase in transparency will benefit the occupancy levels and booking conversions for the hotels and resorts,” Will Hatton, owner of travel site Hotel Jules and founder of travel blog The Broke Backpacker, told USA TODAY. “Personally, for me, it is a massive frustration thinking I have got a good deal on an Airbnbproperty, then to be hit with a cleaning and admin (fee) that can almost double the price,” he added.

“We’re not trying to sayto hotels change the way you charge,” Johnson adds. “We’re saying please be transparent so people will know what to expect.”

What can consumers do to voice their concerns about hotel fees?

Anna Laitin, the director of financial policy at Consumer Reports,saysconsumers need to be careful when making reservations and know what they’re getting into by reading the fine print. If yousee a fee on your bill you weren’t expecting, bring it up with front desk (and get a printed receipt).

Wolfe recommends consumers file a consumer complaint with their attorney general for a resort fee refund. “I believe resort fees violate existing state consumer protection laws. If your attorney general feels the same, they should be happy to respond to your complaint,” she says. “They will likely work with the hotel to make sure you get refunded. The consumer complaint form is online and can be filled out in less than two minutes.”

Contributing: Morgan Hines, USA TODAY; Ed Komenda, Reno Gazette Journal;Associated Press


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