The hotel industry’s best argument for charging resort fees is that everyone is doing it. If one resort stopped, and displayed a true price, then it would lose business to competitors whose rates look cheaper because they don’t include a resort fee in their base price.
But fixing the resort fee problem might require creative thinking on the FTC’s part because of a layer of other players, notably online travel agencies, which determine how rates get advertised and displayed. It’s worth noting that resort fees have survived despite widespread public criticism and threats of lawsuits.
According to Perkins, government action isn’t without a precedent. After fuel prices spiked, for instance, many airlines started carving out a portion of a true airfare by labeling it a “fuel surcharge” and excluding that amount from their price promotions and displays, he said. The Transportation Department stepped in, forcing airlines to quote an “all in” fare.
Cruise ships stopped drip pricing in the mid-1990s after Florida’s attorney general investigated “port fees” that covered more than the actual dockage costs. Turns out they also covered cruise lines’ operating expenses for fuel, fresh water and wages. Six cruise lines agreed to stop drip pricing in Florida.
The timing on the current effort couldn’t be better. Not only are hotels and online agencies taking a harder line with guests who grumble about resort fees, but the success of these extras is also emboldening some non-resorts to match them. John Kazlauskas, a writer from Los Angeles, recently had to pay a $5 resort fee on a $33-a-night motel room in Anaheim, Calif., that he found online. “It is truly ridiculous,” he told me.
Although no one tracks resort fees by hotel, they’re part of a class of extras referred to as “ancillary” fees. A recent New York University study projected that the American hotel industry would earn nearly $2 billion in ancillary fees this year, nearly quadruple the $550 million it collected a decade ago.
Ideally, the government would require hotels, as it did airlines, to include any mandatory fees in their prices. But even if the FTC only issued specific guidance on how and when to disclose the fees, it would mark an important step toward solving one of the most vexing problems facing hotel guests today.
Christopher Elliott is the author of Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals (Wiley) and writes that Travel Troubleshooter that runs in this section. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at chriselliott.org.