Everyone wants to kill hotel resort fees, those annoying extras added to your hotel bill after you ask for a price quote. The latest effort comes from Sen. Claire McCaskill (D.-Mo.), who wants to legislate the controversial surcharges out of existence.
McCaskill yesterday introduced the Truth in Hotel Advertising Act of 2016, a law that would prohibit hotels from advertising a room that doesn’t include all mandatory fees. It would also give the Federal Trade Commission the authority to enforce the prohibition and state attorneys general the power to bring a civil action in federal court against violators.
“It’s clear there’s a bait-and-switch going on when it comes to these hidden hotel fees,” said McCaskill, “and consumers are paying the price.”
Here’s the full text of the bill. And this is the exact language that would eliminate the fees:
SEC. 3. PROHIBITION ON UNFAIR AND DECEPTIVE ADVERTISING OF HOTEL ROOM RATES.
(a) PROHIBITION.—No person with respect to whom the Federal Trade Commission is empowered under section 5(a)(2) of the Federal Trade Commission Act (15 U.S.C. 45(a)(2)) may advertise in interstate commerce a rate for a hotel room that does not include all required fees other than taxes and fees imposed by a government.
Resort fees have exploded in popularity, rising 25 percent last year.
For consumers, the prospect of eliminating resort fees is a welcome one. Not a week goes by that I don’t get a complaint from a hotel guest, who reports being broadsided by one of these fees. The industry’s excuses for imposing them — and federal regulators’ reasons for failing to stop them — have rung hollow.
The real question is: Will this bill pass?
Consumer groups, including Travelers United, an organization I co-founded, and the National Consumers League, are lining up behind the McCaskill bill. Also supporting the law: Online travel agencies, who are tired of having to justify these random extras to their customers, and, of course, hotel guests.
Interestingly, the major hotel chains are also likely to quietly support this proposed law. Why? Because for them, resort fees are also a hassle. Privately, hotel chain representatives have indicated that while their franchisees pocket the fee, they don’t really benefit from it at the corporate level. They also have resort-fee complaint fatigue. (Don’t we all?)
Who will stand against the bill? The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA), the trade organization for hotels, will probably try to kill this law. Many of its member derive a significant portion of their profit from the fees. Having to disclose the fee up front, as part of the room rate, rather than waiting until the check-out screen — or in extreme cases until a guest checks out — would hurt their business.
The hardest-hit of the hotel groups will be Las Vegas casinos and resort hotels in Florida and Hawaii. It’s possible that the American Gaming Association, the main lobbying organization for casinos, will flex its lobbying muscle. It’s also likely that at the local level, non-gaming resort hotels will pressure their senators to vote against this bill. It probably depends who is up for re-election and how much the lawmakers stand to lose in campaign donations.
Because one thing is certain: They’ve all experienced mandatory resort fees in some form or another, and no one likes them.
So how will this one end? I predict this will pass. McCaskill has been a vocal opponent of mandatory resort fees. Her proposed law appears to be a direct answer to Federal Trade Commission Edith Ramirez, who asked Congress to help it fight these hidden fees. And the political winds currently favor the Missouri senator.