The hotel charges known as resort fees are again under scrutiny — this time from state attorneys general.
Travelers loathe the mandatory — and consumer watchdogs say, confusing — fees, which vary by location and the services they purport to cover. Some hotels charge the fees for Wi-Fi and gym access, while others may use them to cover in-room safes, newspapers or bottled water — whether guests use them or not.
Attorneys general in Washington, D.C., and Nebraska filed separate but similar lawsuits this summer against two big hotel chains, accusing them of deceiving travelers by failing to include the resort fees in their published room rates. The suits allege that the hotels' "deceptive and misleading" pricing practices violate consumer protection laws.
The suits, brought against the Marriott and Hilton chains, follow an investigation of hotel industry pricing practices by attorneys general in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to attorneys general in D.C. and Nebraska.
Travelers searching for lodging, whether on hotel websites or separate travel websites, typically are not made aware of resort fees until after they have clicked past the initial search results page and have started booking, according to a complaint filed in July against Marriott International by the D.C. attorney general.
The practice — known as drip pricing, because the full price is revealed piecemeal — makes it difficult for consumers to quickly determine the true cost of a room and compare it with other options, the suit said.
"This is a straightforward price deception case," according to the complaint.
A survey by Consumer Reports conducted last year found that about a third of U.S. adults had been charged a "hidden" hotel fee in the past two years. The hotel industry collected nearly $3 billion in resort and other fees and surcharges in 2018, according to Consumer Reports.
Resort-fee notices often are hidden in "obscure" areas, appear in smaller print, or under misleading headings suggesting they are fees imposed by local governments, the suits said.
The lawsuits seek to force the chains to advertise the true prices of their hotel rooms up front, pay money to consumers who were harmed by the fees and pay civil penalties.
The American Hotel & Lodging Association, an industry group, maintains that resort fees are "not widespread," according to its website.
But the fees have been an issue for years. In 2012 and 2013, the Federal Trade Commission warned more than two dozen hotels and travel-booking websites that their pricing practices may violate consumer protection laws.
"While a hotel-reservation site may break down the components of the reservation estimate," the letters said, the "most prominent figure for consumers should be the total inclusive estimate."
Most of the hotels contacted by the FTC were in tourist areas. But more recently, the fees are being charged at workaday properties, especially in big cities.
"They're popping up at nonresort hotels," said Anna Laitin, director of financial policy with Consumer Reports, which this month urged the FTC to investigate and take enforcement action against hotels that did not include mandatory resort fees in their advertised rates.
Ann Carrns writes for the New York Times.