KENOSHA — As the chill winds and the blanket of snow continue to spread across Wisconsin’s winter wonderland, many state residents often turn to thoughts of sunshine, surf and sand. Or gaming tables and the bright lights of Las Vegas.
Anywhere that offers a break from the slush and the shoveling.
Go ahead and book it. A little midwinter break.
But, before you do, break out a roll of antacid tablets. As you surf online for your getaway deal, you’ll find — once you get a few screens down and are ready to finalize your hotel booking — that maddening little scam called a “resort fee.” Or perhaps it’s disguised as an amenity fee, a facility fee or a destination fee.
Sometimes it hides under an itemization for “taxes and fees,” making it look like it’s a government-imposed surcharge and, after all, there’s nothing the hotel can do about that, is there?
The pernicious scam, which has been growing over the past decade, can have a definite impact on your final lodging bill. The surprise of hidden fees can be even worse if the first you see it is at checkout.
Sometimes the resort fees themselves can outstrip the room rate. One recent news story cited a casino hotel in Las Vegas, Circus Circus, as offering online a rate as low as $22 per night. Plus $2.95 taxes and fees. Then, for the topper, there is a “mandatory fees collected at property: $36.28.” Suddenly, your “deal” has bloomed from a rate of $22 per day to $58. The fees vary widely from $10 or $15 per night to $50 and more.
Vegas is not alone in the hidden hotel fees scam. You’ll find them in Florida around Walt Disney World, in New York City, in Hawaii and at destination areas across the country — including Wisconsin.
Some hotels argue that customers get some amenities for those fees — things like use of the hotel fitness area, a credit at the restaurant, a coupon for bike riding, local phone calls, use of an in-room safe. Or, as one New York boutique hotels says “unlimited filtered water.” Many of them, of course, you do not want and will not use.
Cheer up, though. There are a few rays of sunshine that might finally put the squeeze on the hidden hotel fees and mandate more transparency and honesty to the hotel booking process.
Lawsuits were filed last year in Washington, D.C., and Nebraska against Marriott hotels and Hilton hotels challenging such fees — alleging price deception and violation of consumer protection laws.
The phantom fees also were the target of bipartisan legislation introduced in the House last fall which would force hotel companies to include mandatory fees before taxes in a hotel room’s advertised cost. That bill, the Hotel Advertising Transparency Act of 2019, is currently before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Introducing the bill, U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., said: “When travelers search for hotel options, they deserve to see straightforward prices. They should not get hit with hidden fees that are designed to confuse consumers and distort the actual price.”
We agree. But the lawsuits and congressional action will take time.
In the interim, we’re buoyed by the action of a couple of online travel booking websites to curb this practice. Expedia has begun to penalize hotels that charge mandatory daily fees, but don’t include them in room rates, by changing their algorithms to place them lower in their search results. That would make their real offers more transparent when compared to hotels that post their full costs in advertised room rates. Also, Booking.com is now charging hotels sales commissions on mandatory extra fees, which should reduce the incentive for hotels to hide the fees.
Aggravation should not be on the list of hotel “amenities” and phantom charges that are disguised do just that. A little sunshine and more transparency in advertising and billing is needed in the “hospitality industry.”
In the meantime, if a hotel clerk asks “Can I help you, sir/ma’am?” you can reply: “Yes. Ditch the resort fee, just give me the bottom-line bill. You don’t have to turn down the bed. Just tell me what the real cost is. Skip the Perrier.”
This editorial is reprinted with permission from the Racine Journal Times.