Even though the Doubletree San Juan isn’t really a resort, it still charged Cheryl Nygaard an 18% per night resort fee on her recent visit to Puerto Rico.
Worse, the $15-a-night “service” charge, which covered her Internet connection, beach chairs and towels, an in-room DVD player, and water and pool amenities, was added to her bill at the end of her stay.
“I didn’t know about the fees until I checked out,” she says. Nygaard, a corporate trainer from Dallas, who had booked the room through her travel agent, asked if the charge could be waived. She was in San Juan on business and didn’t use the pool, beach chairs or DVD player.
“I was told ‘no,'” she says.
No wonder. U.S. hotels collected an estimated $2.1 billion in resort fees in 2013, about double the amount from a decade ago. Customers hate these travel surcharges. They wish companies would just quote an honest rate that includes all required fees.
Hilton apologized for Nygaard’s confusion, saying the company makes every effort to ensure that all mandatory fees for hotels in its system are disclosed.
But the truth is, the travel industry doesn’t care for these bait-and-switch practices, either.
Although individual hotels mount a spirited defense — last year, for example, Caesars slapped its guests with a resort fee, brazenly claiming they had asked for it — the rest of the industry is plotting to kill resort fees.
That may seem counterintuitive, but if you follow the money, it makes perfect sense. Neither travel agents nor hotel companies benefit from resort fees in a meaningful way.
Instead, most of the $2.1 billion flows directly to hotel owners, while the intermediaries and management companies are bypassed, then blamed — often falsely — for the charges.
It’s a classic win-lose.
Plus, a little more than a year ago, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent warning letters to hotels and online travel agencies, saying resort fees “might” be deceptive, a move that was seen as a first step toward a stronger enforcement action.
Resort fees could die quickly at the hands of the FTC. A single consent decree, which concludes resort fees are unfair and deceptive, would give large hotel companies the excuse to permanently end the practice, even over the objections of owners. The FTC would not comment on future actions, but in a recent interview, Jessica Rich, director of the its Bureau of Consumer Protection, told me the agency would continue to work with the industry “to improve upfront disclosures” about such fees.
Guests want more than disclosure, though. They want resort fees to check out permanently.
“The fees are ridiculous,” says Nygaard. “They’re a cash grab. The cost of the room should include using the hotel amenities.”
As guests such as Nygaard see it, they’re entitled to an upfront price for their room — the same “all-in” rate airlines now must show.
At the time of Nygaard’s complaint, booking a room at the Doubletree in San Juan through Hilton.com meant waiting until the second booking screen to find out about its fees.