Just Say No to Resort Fees: the FTC Now May Have Your Back

Just Say No to Resort Fees: the FTC Now Is Back on the Attack

by Robert McGarvey

 

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$2.04 billion. That is how much advocacy group Travelers United said was collected in resort fees in 2015. That is up 35% from 2014.

The breaking news: the FTC apparently has decided to renew its attack on resort fees. More on that below.

For now, feast on more bad news: 1,671 hotels and lodging sites in the U.S. charged resort fees, said Travelers United.

Said Travelers United, “The average mandatory resort fee reached $24.93 in October 2015 hotel listings online, a 30 percent increase over the $19.20 average resort fee of online listings in December 2014. Resort fees in Florida were highest, with an average of $28.63 across 549 hotel listings.”

Resort fees are also high in Hawaii, Las Vegas, and San Diego. But they show up in small towns, big cities, and where we may least expect them.

How in an era of minimal inflation can resort fees nudge up 30%? Because they can. Because no one is watching.

You know what you get for a resort fee: bupkis mainly. A newspaper you don’t want. Bad and insecure inhouse WiFi. Maybe local calling. Pool towels. A lot of stuff that, well, is what you might expect to see at a resort anyway or that you don’t likely want. (Do you ever use an inroom phone?)

Usually too free parking is in the package – but only if it’s parking nobody would happily pay for. That is, hotels in Manhattan and San Francisco won’t throw in parking – not when they can nick guests $50, sometimes higher, for it. But if it’s a suburban resort with a vast parking lot, sure, they will throw it in under the resort fee.

Guided hikes – not in the package usually. Ditto for classes led by experts (surcharged on a case by case basis). Cooking classes – forget about it.

A rule of thumb: the good stuff comes with a price tag. The rest is covered by the resort fee.

The only bright news here: the Federal Trade Commission is going after resorts that hide their resort fees. That’s a position flip flop. Last summer the FTC seemed to shrug and accept resort fees. Now it is back on the warpath and it is prodding Congress to consider legislation regarding resort fees.

Personally, we are not for or against resort fees. What we are against is hiding the fees and springing them on consumers as they check in (sometimes not until check out).

That is the real irritant. A hotel can charge whatever it feels the market will bear. That is the system.

But hotels cheat when they have a room rate and on top of that is a resort fee – usually upwards of $25 – that is presented as a kind of footnote. Go ahead, see if you can find it when making a reservation via mobile. Ditto with reservations via Online Travel Agencies (OTAs).

Hiding fees is just sneaky.

Hoteliers, as a group, present delusions when justifying resort fees. They will tell you everybody does it and they would be at a competitive disadvantage if they in fact built those charges into the room rate.

But everybody does not do it. The American Hotel and Lodging Association said that only about 7% of hotels charged resort fees, meaning 93% do not.

Some greedy hoteliers do it because it is a fast way to goose the black ink. Resort fees mean profits.

But my favorite is when hoteliers say that we – the consumers – like resort fees because it bundles in a lot of charges that otherwise we would have to pay for a la carte. Except some 87% of consumers have said they would be “less willing” to stay at a hotel that charges a resort fee. That does not sound like a whole lot of loving, does it?

Hoteliers also tell us resort fees represent real “value” because, if bought a la carte, the various things thrown into resort fees would cost more.

The fallacy there of course is that just about nobody would buy all the stuff covered by resort fees. Some might buy none at all – and those guests still are stuck with paying a fee for “amenities” they don’t want.

Can you dodge resort fees? Road warriors tell us they often do, simply by saying at check out that the fee had not been adequately disclosed. If there’s resistance, say you will complain to the FTC which already had begun investigating complaints about hidden resort fees….and actually file that complaint.

Does that always work? Nope. But all we can do is lift our voices in protest – and hope our complaints fall on sane ears.

Road Trips: Driven by the Airlines to Drive

 

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Blame it on the airlines. Maybe the TSA too.  However it stacks up, lately I find myself doing a calculation I never thought I would do: is it just easier to drive?

In a few weeks I’m in Los Angeles and, from my Phoenix base. Google tells me that is 385 miles, maybe 5.5 hours driving.

Of course I could fly – about an hour.  Add in 90 minutes waiting at the airport. Plus 30 minutes to get there on the lightrail. Oh, and at least 30 minutes – more likely 60 – to get from LAX to my destination.  Call it four hours.

Yes, flying is faster (it may even be a little cheaper) but the sheer – monumental – unpleasantness of the flying experience in 2015 decides this.

In a few months I plan to go to Taos, NM – where I have some land and many personal ties – and I’ll drive that too, about 550 miles, 8 hours.  Of course getting to Taos involves flying into Albuquerque, then driving two and one-half hours (add in 30 minutes more, to rent a car).  Put in the flight, the airport time, the commute and that easily adds up to 5.5 hours  and that’s assuming best case scenarios.

But I have my limits. Obviously I have no plan to drive to San Francisco – 11 hours, 750 miles – or Dallas, 1050 miles, 15 hours. That’s out of my driving comfort zone except under duress.

But Las Vegas?  300 miles, 4.5 hours. You bet.

Ditto San Diego or Orange County.

My new rule of thumb: if I can easily and comfortable drive to a destination in one day (8 hours) I am behind the wheel.

If it’s longer – if need to put in a night in a highway motel (much as I like them) – probably I’ll fly.

The deciding factor: comfort.  

Years ago, maybe I calculated around money and if driving was cheaper I’d do it. Now it is simply about comfort, or lack thereof.

I just do not like much of anything about the flying experience these days.  I personally know and like a few TSAs, I have no gripe with them – but I do not like the probing and prying that’s involved in checking into a flight. That’s just the first on a list of gripes.

I fit fine in airplane seats, thank you very much, Dr. Atkins, but I still feel something approaching claustrophobia when I am crammed into a snug seat on a plane stuffed to capacity.

I dislike logging minutes in airports – except where there is a Centurion Lounge – and Phoenix Sky Harbor just is not on my like list.

I could go on but you know the drill because you fly too.

This drift away from flying is not all new.

I detected a shift in my sentiments as far back as five years ago when I found myself booking, first, a train trip from Newark NJ to Baltimore, then another train trip from Newark to Washington DC – even tho flying would have been a little cheaper and a lot faster. But I climbed aboard Amtrak and will again if the opportunity presents itself. It just is a more comfortable trip.

Really, what has happened is that – in their tireless quest for profits – airline executives have squeezed all the fun out of flying, at least for those of us who fly in back.  Upfront is a different world, I know, and bring me clients with generous expense allowances (as I had in bygone times) and I will probably sing the praises of first class, maybe even business class.

But there really is nothing to like about coach.

So it becomes a calculus of inconvenience and discomfort. There is no comfortable way to get from Phoenix to New York except to fly, that is plain.  Really long drives – and I have driven x-country twice in the past decade – are exercises in endurance.  

On shorter trips, however, my new philosophy is anything but flying.  

Now, if enough of us begin to think that way, well, flying would of course become attractive again. But I am not counting on that anytime soon.