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En español | You think you've found a hotel room in New York City for $169 a night on an online booking site. The rate appears to be $20 or $30 less than any other in the area, so you grab it — only to discover upon check out that the hotel charges a $20 per night “resort fee.”
For what? If you're staying at the no-frills, tiny-room hotel Pod 51 in Midtown, for instance, you'll be told it's for “amenities” such as “free walking tours,” “concierge services” and “luggage storage.” But you never used those services — or even knew they existed.
It turns out that the fee was mentioned in small print on the booking site, but you'd skimmed over it.
"It's flat-out false advertising,” says Charles Leocha, president of the consumer-advocacy group Travelers United, which has long been pushing back against such fees (sometimes also referred to as “amenity fees,” “daily mandatory charges,” “urban destination fees” or “facility fees"). An increasing number of hotels began including the charges, typically about $20 to $40 a night, on their guests’ bills in the last decade or so. The practice is especially common in hot spots such as the Hawaiian island of Maui; Miami and Orlando, Florida; and Las Vegas, where 122 hotels tack on nightly resort fees, according to ResortFeeChecker.com.
It adds up. In 2018 consumers paid resort fees estimated to be about $2.93 billion, which is 8.5 percent more than the previous year, according to analysis from Bjorn Hanson, an industry consultant and adjunct professor at the New York University School of Professional Studies Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism.
The good news for travelers is that consumer advocates are intensifying their fight against resort fees, taking it to the courts. On Tuesday, the Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson filed a civil complaint against Hilton's parent company on behalf of Nebraska consumers, calling for the hotel chain to “be forced to advertise the true prices of its hotel rooms upfront, provide monetary relief to harmed Nebraska consumers and pay civil penalties.” It parallels a suit that the District of Columbia Attorney General's Office filed earlier this month against Marriott International, citing the company's “deceptive” hotel fees and describing its motive in continuing the practice as “pure profit.”
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In a statement on the American Hotel & Lodging Association website, the industry trade group suggests that separating the charges from the regular room cost offers a kind of service to guests: “mandatory resort fees ... were created in an effort to provide consumers with the best value by grouping amenity fees into one cost. If consumers were charged individual fees for all amenities, the cost would likely be prohibitive.”
When pressed, hotel staff will often describe the fee as payment for fitness facilities, parking, Wi-Fi or other services that the guest may or may not use. But because the charges are sometimes not mentioned on booking sites until a few clicks into the process or only appear in advertising fine print — frequently lumped into the easily dismissed category of “taxes and fees” — they make a consumer's ability to compare prices extremely difficult, the Nebraska lawsuit asserts.
In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission warned 22 hotels that their websites’ lack of transparency about the fees was deceptive. But many have yet to stop the practice, which goes well beyond Hilton and Marriott. At MGM's Luxor Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, for example, a room with a king-size bed on Aug. 24 is advertised for an eye-catching $101 on Hotels.com. You might not notice the small print below until after you've booked or, as is often the case, when you get the final bill: “Plus $35.00 daily resort fee plus applicable taxes.” So with the fee and taxes on the fee, that's $39.68, plus a room tax of $13.53, which means you're paying $154.37. That's a good one-third more than first indicated.
The consumer's only protection, for now, is reading the fine print and, for good measure, calling the hotel directly to find out whether the price you see listed online or in an ad will match your final bill.
But Leocha is optimistic that the new lawsuits are the beginning of the end for these kinds of hidden charges: “Resort fees are in their death throes."