The War on Resort Fees Gets Hotter

The War on Resort Fees Gets Hotter


by Robert McGarvey


US Senator Claire McCaskill – the senior Senator from Missouri – is on your side.  She has introduced legislation that, if enacted into law, would put a fast end to sneaky, greedy resort fees that are ever more popular with hoteliers looking to goose their margins.


“It’s clear there’s a bait-and-switch going on when it comes to these hidden hotel fees, and consumers are paying the price,” said McCaskill, the former Chairman of the Consumer Protection Subcommittee, in a press statement. “What I heard from Missourians was clear—families who’ve saved for a well-deserved vacation are too often facing sticker shock when they’re slapped with their final bill. This legislation provides a commonsense solution, requiring hotels to be upfront about mandatory costs by including them in room rates.”


Understand, McCaskill is not saying the Senate should get involved in regulating hotel room rates.  Her beef is simple. When a hotel tells you the rate is $199, but at check out another $10 to $50 is slapped on in a resort fee, that practice is plain wrong, suggested McCaskill.


The FTC, last year, after some waffling on resort fees had asked Congress to take some definitive action.  The McCaskill bill is a step in that direction.


McCaskill’s bill, S 2599, has been referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.


The language of the bill pulls no punches.  Pricing that does not disclose mandatory fees is “deceptive,” according to the bill.


That, by the way, is indisputable fact.  Imagine a restaurant where the menu says “hamburger, $4.99.” You are later given a bill that says $4.99 plus $3.00 “facility fee” to cover a dish, a napkin, silverware, and possible use of the lavatory.  Absurd? Indeed. But that is what hotels are doing with their resort fees.


What is especially irksome about them is the rampant lack of disclosure.  Try to find a resort fee when booking on mobile (which ever more of us do).  At check in, did the front desk advise you about the resort fee in clear, unmistakable language? It probably did not.


Worse: what is the logic of a hotel that clearly is a resort charging an extra fee for guests using the stuff that brought them to the place in the first instance? That’s swimming pools, towels, a fitness center, etc.


And know that at most resorts the good stuff – the premium hikes, tennis lessons, yoga with good teachers – well, all that comes with premium fees. It’s not included in the resort fee which, generally, includes a bunch of banal stuff that had always been free such as parking (at suburban resorts) and pool towels.  


What’s the probability McCaskill’s bill will become law?  In this fraught year it is perilous to make predictions.


But whether it becomes law or does not, the good news is that simply putting it in the hopper has warned the hotel industry that there are watchdogs who question resort fees.


Hoteliers will tell you – they have told me – that “no one complains about resort fees.” That is rubbish and McCaskill’s bill makes it clear there are antagonists.  


It also has to have empowered Federal Trade Commission mandarins who wanted a signal from Congress about resort fees. McCaskill’s bill is an unmistakable signal.


You don’t want to wait for Congressional action. That raises this sharp question: What can you do to fight back against resort fees?


Know that it is a tough fight in some towns – notably Las Vegas where ever more hotels charge ever more fees.  Even worse, usually what’s included in a Vegas resort fee is free local calling – I have never used the in-room phones in Vegas – and also WiFi which, if you have been on the Strip, you know is generally wretched.  I do not even use it to read newspapers.  I’ll bring up my own hotspot which is faster and more secure.  The Las Vegas resort fee generally delivers absolutely no value.


You can fight back.  Many travelers say they have ducked resort fees – in Las Vegas too – and even when they haven’t, they feel better because they protested.


Complain at checkout. Raise a stink. Insist the resort fee was not fully disclosed, either at booking or at check-in.  If you have not used any of the “amenities” covered by the resort fee, get specific.  Many hotels will fold at that point and void the charges.


Email the Federal Trade Commission.  They are said to be keeping files on resort fees. Help the files get thicker.


Email your US Senators, expressing support for McCaskill’s bill and urging them to do likewise.  It couldn’t hurt to also email your member of the House.


If the property won’t budge and forced you to pay a resort fee, put up a snarky review on TripAdvisor which has emerged as perhaps the single more important review site in travel.  Be clear, be honest, and in a few words explain why this property’s resort fee is a rip off.


Hit hotels in the pocketbooth and they just may retreat on resort fees.  But unless consumers raise a protest, they will continue to grab the money.  That is fact.

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