The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has spoken and what it said makes zero sense but for consumers it is bad news indeed. That is because the FTC has declared that it is okay for hotels to slap us with resort fees that are not shown in advertised prices.
This makes no sense, given that the Department of Transportation (DOT) has sternly told airlines that advertised prices have to include all mandatory charges (such as taxes).
Many expected FTC to rule similarly in regard to resort fees, especially since the FTC in 2012 told 22 hotels that resort fees by their very nature are deceptive and misleading.
In its letter to those hotel operators, the FTC said, “One common complaint consumers raised involved mandatory fees hotels charge for amenities such as newspapers, use of onsite exercise or pool facilities, or internet access, sometimes referred to as ‘resort fees.’ These mandatory fees can be as high as $30 per night, a sum that could certainly affect consumer purchasing decisions.”
“Consumers are entitled to know in advance the total cost of their hotel stays,” said Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz back in 2012.
In the years since, at least one consumer advocacy group – Travelers United – has campaigned loudly against “misleading, deceptive resort fees.”
What’s changed so that the FTC now winks at resort fees?
Best guesses are that the hotel industry – envious of the ancillary fees (bag check, snacks, premium seats) that have nudged airlines into profitability – launched a full court lobbying press on the FTC and key legislators. Money talks inside the Beltway. Always has.
Nobody is saying resorts cannot charge as they wish. The complaint is rooted in the non-disclosure of resort fees. It’s as though when you check out you get hit with upcharges for electricity and water use (though in California perhaps the latter might make more sense than a resort fee). Yet that is exactly what a growing number of hotels and resorts are doing.
So do you really have to pay the resort fees?
Back up a step. First: what is a resort fee? It’s an upcharge – which nowadays has crept up as high as $100 per day; generally it’s about 10% of the room rate – that covers, well, stuff you’d expect at a resort such as pool towels, WiFi, a newspaper, and a long list of generally blah activities. The good stuff – real activities – usually have separate fees and that is for spa, guided mountain bike outings with an expert, full length yoga classes, surfing lessons, and, yes, the things consumers go to resorts to enjoy. They all cost extra. What you get for the resort fee is filler.
Trust me: nobody wants to pay for the bad resort WiFi, the superfluous newspaper (when was the last time you opened a USA Today), and a packet of thin activities.
We pay because we are told it is “mandatory,” that we must pay.
You do not have to. Frugal travelers assured this reporter they often dodge resort fees. Some tell the desk they do not plan to use anything covered by the resort fee. Others insist to the desk that the resort fees were not adequately disclosed in the booking process and, indeed, many hotels seem to work hard at hiding the fees, or displaying them in tiny type, so that guests do not jump ship before completing the booking process.
Either way: complain loudly and persistently at the front desk. You just may be rewarded with a waived resort fee.
Another strategy: shop for resorts that do not charge a resort fee. In Las Vegas – a kind of ground zero for resort fees because most hotels charge them, with the fees topping out at $32.48/day according to this roundup – there are in fact some hotels that charge no resort fee. There are not many and most have no name, but one that doesn’t charge and has a name is the Wyndham Grand Desert. You know where to take your business.
Incidentally, in the past five years this writer has been to perhaps ten large conventions in Las Vegas, with rooms booked under “conference rates” and, you know what, in every case I can remember the resort fee was waived because the conference organizer demanded it.