The Resort Fee Scam in Washington, DC

Resort fees of course are not just for resorts - all hotels want in on the scam! That is why just under a year ago there were only two hotels in the Washington, DC area that charged scam resort fees - now there are eight!

It's true. In less than one year scam resort fees have increased at a rate of 300% in the District of Columbia. They of course do not call them resort fees in a city. When hotels use the separating pricing into two amounts scheme in a city, as we have seen in New York City, they often call it a facility fee. And that's exactly what hotels across DC are doing with their scam facility fees. They advertise and book one price, but when a guest gets to the hotel they are forced to pay an extra $22.90 per day that is separate for the room rate. Why not just include it in the room rate? Because making this amount separate from the advertised room rate allows the hotel to lie about the price of a room - it makes the room look much cheaper than it actually is and encourages the guest to book. Facility fees and resort fees are left out of comparison searches online so often the guest only finds out about the hidden fee when they get to the hotel. In Washington, DC some guests are now finding they owe a shocking $22.90 per day when they get to their hotel. 

Why is this allowed in Washington, DC? The Federal Government, notably the Federal Trade Commission, has said that resort fees harm consumers but they have failed to take any action. That does not stop local legislation from being drafted to protect visitors to the District of Columbia. We have met with many members of the DC City Council alerting them about the resort fee fraud that is going on in their city.

A great opportunity to do something about it would be to include it in the bill introduced by Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie about overnight stays in the city regarding home sharing. The bill was promoted by the hotel lobby, aka the American Hotel and Lodging Association. The head of the DC Hotel Lobby even bragged to the Washington Times that they wrote the bill that Councilmember McDuffie introduced. The Hotel Lobby wants to eliminate their competition and they have been spending millions to try to do that. Councilmember McDuffie probably does not want to look like he is introducing legislation on behalf of a powerful special interest - which he is. We have a solution! 

There should be some standard rules set for home sharing and hotels. Everyone wants a nice, safe place to stay when they travel whether at a hotel or at someone's home. They also want to make sure that the price they see advertised online is THE FINAL PRICE. There should only be one price advertised for home shares and for hotels in the District (plus taxes).

The bill introduced by Councilmember McDuffie in its current state was created by the special interest fueled hotel lobby. Any DC City Council member that wants to show they actually support fair rules, and are not just introducing legislation on behalf of the hotel lobby, should make sure that a provision against facility fees and resort fees goes into any home sharing or overnight accommodation bill considered by the city. Any DC City Councilperson who takes on home sharing without addressing the scam double pricing going on in DC's hotels has sold their soul to the hotel lobby. We encourage the city to make sure that all stays in the District of Columbia are fair, safe and have only one advertised price! 
 

THE TAX AND FACILITY FEE IS TAKEN OUT OF ANY COMPARISON SEARCH - EXPEDIA, HOTWIRE, HOTEL TONIGHT - BUT WE WERE ABLE TO FIND THE SNEAKY FACILITY FEE AFTER MULTIPLE PAGES IN THE BOOKING PROCESS DIRECT ON THE KIMPTON SITE

THE TAX AND FACILITY FEE IS TAKEN OUT OF ANY COMPARISON SEARCH - EXPEDIA, HOTWIRE, HOTEL TONIGHT - BUT WE WERE ABLE TO FIND THE SNEAKY FACILITY FEE AFTER MULTIPLE PAGES IN THE BOOKING PROCESS DIRECT ON THE KIMPTON SITE

Nevada Senator Dean Heller Encourages Scamming Tourists

Senator Dean Heller of of Nevada spoke at the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Technology with three Commissioners of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Tuesday, September 27, 2016. Senator Heller questioned why the FTC was interested in resort fees at all. He continued to allege that only 8 to 10 people have complained about resort fees. Senator Heller seems to be greatly uninformed on this issue. 

Senator Heller does not want the FTC to act on resort fees as he is taking the position advocated by the big lobbying group, the American Hotel and Lodging Association. Senator Heller is not standing up for the millions of American tourists that visit his state each year. By advocating that the FTC ignore the resort fee issue, he is taking the side of hotels that want to scam tourists into paying two separate room prices - only one of which is publicly advertised. Regular Americans work hard to be able to travel to Las Vegas but Senator Heller does not want to have transparency in pricing thus making it harder for Americans to afford to travel and enjoy their vacations. It is a shame that Senator Heller advocates continuing to scam American tourists with resort fees. 

The Power of the Hotel Lobby - The American Hotel & Lodging Association

How have scam resort fees been able to go on for so long? The hotel lobby has fat pockets and they are ready to use their money to make sure they get they get to keep charging high prices for hotel rooms.

What is the hotel lobby's agenda? Well they lay it out in their 2016 Policy Guide. The first objective is blaming online booking sites resort fees. The second is eliminating home sharing. Why are these their two main goals? Because they want to be sure to get as much money out of travelers as possible. The hotel lobby wants hotels to be able to trick consumers into charging two prices for one room for as long as they can. By blaming third party booking sites like Priceline or Hotel Tonight, they are attempting to deflect attention from the obvious blame of the hotel for the resort fee. The hotels themselves are the ones charging scam resort fees and the hotels collect 100% of the money from the resort fee. Resort fees are 100% related back to the hotel itself. Though reading the American Hotel & Lodging Association's policy goals for 2016, one would never know that.

Their other goal seems to be eliminating home sharing. If someone puts their apartment in New York City on Airbnb while they go away for the weekend and a traveler can rent it for $100 a night, that means fewer hotels in New York City can charge $700 a night. American Hotel & Lodging Association member Jon Bortz complained to the Wall Street Journal that Airbnb has reduced the ability for hotels to price gouge consumers. Hotels want to keep rates as high as possible and they want to make sure the $700 a night hotel room in New York City is always there. 

Profit for the hotel above everything else is clearly the goal of the hotel lobby aka the American Hotel and Lodging Association. So where do they spend their money? Giving it directly to members of Congress. 

The American Hotel and Lodging Association spent about one million dollars this cycle (2015-2016) on members of Congress. They've been busy. In terms of money spent, they are the 193rd highest spender out of 3,270 groups. That's pretty high up there in terms of money given to members of Congress.

Blaming third party operators like Expedia, Priceline and Hotel Tonight for resort fees truly makes no sense. Yet if the hotel lobby can spread their propaganda to enough of the members of Congress who received the million dollars they have to dole out, they just might be able to convince enough lawmakers not to act on resort fees. The American Hotel & Lodging Association exists to make sure hotels make as much money as possible. As long as lobbying and giving money directly to members of Congress keeps resulting in record profits, they will continue the practice. The resort fee scam will continue until members of Congress stand up for their constituents. 

 

 

Setting the Record Straight on Mandatory Resort Fees

The American Hotel and Lodging Association, the mandatory resort fees biggest fans, came out with a new piece on their website today - "Setting the Record Straight on Mandatory Resort Fees." Before you can say aw heeeeeeeeell no, we went ahead and summarized it for you line for line here.  

Here the American Hotel and Lodging Association argues that "transparency and guest satisfaction are at the core of the industry's model." Mmmm, probably not given the massive consumer outcry on resort fees but let us continue. Then they say "That's why the hotel industry provides guests full disclosure for mandatory resort fees up front." Well, that's just a lie. Resort fees are never included in the advertised price. They are usually very difficult to find, if consumers can find them listed at all. Sometimes they are listed as a tax. They are not a tax. Many consumers only find out about mandatory resort fees when they get to the hotel. 

The Arizona Grand Resort and Spa hides their resort fee as a tax. A resort fee is not a tax

The Arizona Grand Resort and Spa hides their resort fee as a tax. A resort fee is not a tax

 

The Washington Post had an article on resort fees yesterday (6/16/16)  and here's the headline which obviously highlights the transparency problem.
 

The next point the American Hotel and Lodging Association makes is "mandatory resort fees were created in an effort to provide consumers with the best value by grouping amenity fees into one cost." This is not a value. It is a way to separate the room rate into two parts. One part is the advertised room rate used to lure a customer in and book and the other part is the resort fee surprise the consumer receives when he arrives at the hotel.

The Super 8 in Las Vegas has a resort fee. What sort of luxurious amenities does their resort fee offer? It offers more money out of your wallet as a consumer is what it offers. When I called to ask what the resort fee offers the clerk who answered the phone laughed at me, then kept laughing then said "it's just a thing in addition to the room." 
 

The Super 8 in Las Vegas offers a bed, a color TV and a $12.99 resort fee + tax. 

The Super 8 in Las Vegas offers a bed, a color TV and a $12.99 resort fee + tax. 

Then the American Hotel and Lodging Association goes on to say "this practice aligns with guidance introduced by the FTC in 2012." It does and that is because the FTC, the Federal Trade Commission, only told hotels in 2012 they have to disclose the resort fee. Nothing more. So after that hotels took full liberty to go Where's Waldo on their site with hiding their resort fee. Within the FTC rules from 2012 on resort fees, hotels can advertise a $20 room and then charge guests $30 a night for a resort fee. Indeed, this practice is very common in Las Vegas. Many of the guests do not know their hotel actually costs $50 until they arrive at the hotel. The Federal Trade Commission has done nothing on this issue to protect consumers.

A $28 a night advertised room with a $29.12 mandatory resort fee. 

A $28 a night advertised room with a $29.12 mandatory resort fee. 

Here is the next part of the American Hotel and Lodging Association piece on Mandatory Resort Fees

Here is a laughable add on where the hotels are trying to blame the tools where consumers book the hotels instead of the hotels themselves for the problem. Here they are saying -  hotels are the ones adding on the resort fees on top of the advertised price but let's totally ignore that and just blame someone else entirely for these mandatory fees. Let's make it - the internet and the consumers who book there!

Hotels are mad that people are using online booking agents like Expedia, Priceline and Hotel Tonight to book their hotels. People use these sites because they can compare prices between hotels.  When customers book on these sites, they take a percentage of the price and pass the rest on to the hotel. The consumer only pays the advertised priced (and then of course gets slammed by a resort fee when they show up at the hotel). Hotels are mad because people are not going to the hotel's website directly to book. If customers did that, then hotels would get 100% of the money. If a customer books on Priceline, they might only get 80% of the money. So here instead of addressing the scam that is mandatory resort fees, they are just blaming the online booking agents (OTAs) because the hotels loose money when consumers want to be able to shop online and compare prices between hotels. 

Every consumer might not know how Priceline makes money but is that the fault of the consumer? Why is the American Hotel and Lodging Association saying it is a problem that the average consumer does not understand how online travel agents make their money? A lot of people do not understand how a lot of things work but you know what it does not have to do with anything here? It does not. They are just trying to get you to ignore the fact that hotels are purposefully advertising one low price but charging a consumer a higher price when they get to the hotel with mandatory resort fees.

Then they allege that online travel agents do not pay taxes but they never say what taxes those are or what this even means. Resort fees DEFINITELY hurt local and state communities because the resort fee is taken away from the room rate - though it should be included - so in a city like New York that has a hotel occupancy tax only the advertised room rate is taxed, not the resort fee. This is a trick the hotels are using not just to deceive consumers but to deprive state and local governments of essential tax revenue.

We have discussed the way resort fees do not pay the hotel occupancy tax many times before

We have discussed the way resort fees do not pay the hotel occupancy tax many times before

 

Ok so what's the next move? Some infographics. Let us discuss this hot mess.

LOL I too would be happy to pay a mandatory resort fee if my $30 mandatory resort fee it included a free cruise through the Hawaiian islands. Well, no resort fee does include a cruise so it is not worth it.. What do resort fees tend to cover? Faxing, boarding pass printing, print newspapers, local and toll-free calls and other such services that went technologically obsolete by 1998. Being forced to pay for 1-800 calls in the name of a resort fee when every single human staying in a hotel today has a cell phone is truly painful for the consumer. 
 

Next up propaganda by the hotel lobby


Yeah no one doubts that many people have not stayed in a hotel without a resort fee because it is true, most hotels do not have resort fees - yet. The average mandatory resort fee in October 2015 was $24.93, an increase of 30 percent over the $19.20 average resort fee of hotels the year prior. The number of hotels with resort fees grew from 1,191 hotels in December 2014 to 1,671 hotels in October 2015. This is an increase of 40.3 percent. So though a hotel might not have a resort fee now, it probably will if the hotel industry keeps up at the current rate. 

What if a hotel consumer wanted to go to Las Vegas? Every single hotel on the Las Vegas Strip charges resort fees. That is all 62,000+ rooms on the Las Vegas Strip charge resort fees. There is total resort fee collusion in Las Vegas. Where else are resort fees big? Resort fees are big at hotels where they can take advantage of tourists by charging them bogus fees. Sadly it is very difficult to find a hotel around Disneyland or Disney World that does not charge resort fees. From the Best Western in Orlando to the Waldorf Astoria in Orlando, all charge resort fees. This is a truly despicable way of targeting unsophisticated tourists. 

Resort fees are generally not charged at hotels where the majority of their revenue comes from business travelers. Business travelers have options and like to earn loyalty at one hotel. They are unlikely to stay somewhere that charged them a surprise resort fee. If ever charged one, they do not return. Hotels that target tourists know their customers will likely only be there once in their lives so they can spring all sorts of fees and do not need to worry about the customer never wanting to come back.  Hotels know this so they specifically target customers who are on vacation at America's great vacation destinations - Orlando, Miami, The Florida Keys, Las Vegas, San Diego, Anaheim, Palm Springs, Niagara Falls and Arizona are the most likely places for tourists to find a resort fee. 

In terms of that 55% graphic that is some real LOLOLOLOLOL. No one has any idea what a resort fee covers. A very small percentage of hotels will state that the resort fee covers free local calls and boarding pass printing, but most do not list what the resort fee covers. When calling hotels for research into what the resort fee covers, the staff themselves did not know. If it is not listed online, and it is not known by the staff working at the front desk, many staff said that the resort fee was "a credit card processing fee," "a local tax" and "just a thing everyone does." Mmmm, all incorrect. 

Listen, I know there are some problems with polling but this poll is pretty whack. How many people did they interview? Where were they interviewed? Based on the information provided here, it is possible one person who worked at the American Hotel and Lodging Association was polled and these are the results. If you actually look at where customers discuss resort fees, there is NOT ONE CONSUMER EVER who has publicly come out in favor of support for resort fees. Google TripAdvisor and Resort Fee and 100% of the results are about how the fees were hidden or they thought the resort fees were a total scam. Search for Resort Fees on Twitter and you will see 100% of the tweets from consumers are negative. 

YOUR MOVE FTC / CONGRESS. THE PEOPLE ARE WATCHING YOU! 

A Taxing Issue

No one likes taxes. No one likes resort fees. Who is suprised to learn that these two issues go together? 

Hotels that charge one advertised rate and one resort fee instead of charging just one total hotel price are depriving state and local taxing authorities from revenue.

The Row Hotel in New York City advertises a $223.65 hotel room on their website. The hotel has a $25 facility fee. So a pre-tax hotel room at The Row costs $248.65. That is the amount that The Row should be taxed at to calculate the New York City occupancy tax and the New York City Javits Center tax. Yet, because $25 is missing from the total cost of the hotel, the entire price of the room is not subject to the occupancy tax or the New York City Javits Center tax. The resort fee at The Row in NYC is only being charged the New York City sales tax and the New York state sales tax. The facility fee / resort fee/ second room rate at The Row Hotel is only subject to 8.875% taxation. The advertised room rate is subject to a 16.3% tax rate.

New York City is losing out on their hotel occupancy tax and their Javits Center tax by not taxing the entire room rate. This is depriving New Yorkers of important funds that all of the other hotels are paying on their full advertised rate. The fifteen hotels in New York City that charge resort fees are depriving New Yorkers of essential tax revenue. 

How To Trick Consumers and Hide A Resort Fee

Resort fees are meant to deceive consumers into thinking a hotel rate is one price when actually it is much higher. Since the whole purpose of a resort fee is to trick a potential customer into thinking they are paying less than they actually are, let's look at how one hotel hide its' resort fees. 

Deception Of The Day: The Doubletree Resort by Hilton Grand Key Resort - Key West

Here is the main website of The Doubletree Resort by Hilton Grand Resort - Key West: 

On their main page just below their main photo you will see the rules of the hotel. No smoking, self parking is available, if you want to bring Fido, it will cost $75.00. Absolutely nowhere on the main page is there a mention of an extra resort charge to get your key in addition to the listed price.

So let's look for a date - let's say September 16th for one night, and see what happens. Here's step 2/5 of the booking process:

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 3.38.55 PM.png

Ok, so here it looks like the best available rate is $279. Do you see the mention of the resort fee? Probably not. If you keep staring and Where's Waldo the page you might see at the very top there is a mention of the resort fee of $25 in 7.5 font. In case you were wondering, the room is being advertised in 21 font size. So let's go to the next step, step 3/5 and try to reserve that room for $279 to see if we can really figure out the price there. Here's the next page:


Ok! The Doubletree by Hilton Key West says we are 3/5 of the way there. Any mention of the resort fee on page three? Nope. So where did that tiny $25 fee go?  It went away apparently! Before we get closer to figuring out the price, we just have to fill out all of this personal information and then we get to the next stop, page 4/5. And....drum roll please....80% through the booking process they let you know about the resort fee! 

Here is what it looks like:

And then you can go to the final page to book and reserve your one night with a credit card.

An interesting note here is that they say that the resort fee is $25. Is that resort fee taxed? Or is the tax in the general tax area below? Let's try calling the hotel to see. So we called the hotel, asked a question about the resort fee taxation and the front desk seemed stumped and transferred us to general Hilton reservations where we waited for ten minutes for anyone to answer the phone. The woman who answered the phone was clearly nowhere near Key West, did not know the hotel even had a resort fee and did not know about whether or not it was taxed. 

If you were an inquiring mind who wanted to investigate further online you might go back to the main page of their site you could click on Hotel Details. From Hotel Details, that allows you to go to Hotel Policies. This is a particularly entertaining page. Enjoy this:

From this page one can gather that the Doubletree by Hilton in Key West can charge any  amount they feel in the name of a resort fee. Unlike every other item on this page - late checkout, pets, etc - the hotel does not list an specific amount for the resort fee purposefully leaving it open ended. Parking, as they say at the end of the page, is $0.00. Except that it is not free, as it is listed under the undisclosed Daily Resort Charge at the top. Whatever that fee may be!

So do you know the final price of the hotel? Of the resort fee? Is parking free or not? Do you have absolutely no idea what you getting for that room rate? Congrats! That is the point of the resort fee. Enjoy your trip to Key West :-/

 

You Can End Resort Fees

Resort fees have long been a deceptive form of drip pricing at hotels across America. One rate is advertised but then a much higher rate is actually forced on the customer when they arrive at the hotel. It's time to end this pricing lunacy and bring one fair price to the hotel search once and for all. 

The power is in your hands. You, tourist and traveler, can sign our White House petition calling for an end to resort fees. You can call your members of Congress and urge them to pass the Truth in Advertising Act. You can contact state legislators who allow tourists to get tricked in their districts. For more info on how to get involved, check out our action page. The power is at your fingertips.