Boycott this? It may not do you any good

Darren Bradley/Shutterstock
Darren Bradley/Shutterstock
When his favorite Las Vegas resort began charging a mandatory $14-per-day resort fee recently, Tom Alderman vowed he’d never return.

Alderman, a retired documentary filmmaker who lives in Toronto, had been visiting the South Point Hotel Casino & Spa since 2005, dropping about $600 for his weekly stays every time. He liked the hotel’s affordability and the fact that it promised to “never” charge these junk fees, which supposedly cover in-room wireless Internet access, use of the fitness center and “printing of boarding passes” — whether you use the amenities or not.

Until it did.

As of last spring, the room rates quoted by South Point don’t include the required fee, which makes the prices look lower than they actually are.

“I won’t be a party to such a bush-league hustle,” Alderman says.

Will his boycott have any effect? South Point didn’t respond to requests for a comment. But the travel industry wants you to think so — that when enough unhappy consumers take their business elsewhere, their collective actions can persuade airlines, hotels and car rental companies to change their ways.

If only it were that simple.

Unpopular policies such as resort fees, airline ticket change fees and car rental surcharges aren’t imposed for your benefit, but for a company’s.

“They’re not put there to serve your needs,” says Grant Cardone, author of the book, If You’re Not First, You’re Last. “Customers usually don’t even know a policy exists until they have a problem that can’t be solved because of policy.”

When Tom Walsh’s preferred airline adopted a rule requiring large passengers to buy an extra ticket, he stopped flying from Southern California to Oakland in protest, opting to drive instead. “As someone who is in the size-acceptance community, I found the policy discriminatory,” he says.

But even if he’d found hundreds of others to follow him, it wouldn’t have done much good. The airline enjoys a commanding market share at his home airport, and doesn’t have to listen.

The situation is the same in Las Vegas, where resort fees are now a standard. Customers can complain all they want, but where else are they gonna stay?

Maurice Vine’s favorite cruise line recently adopted a new policy to charge extra for some on-board restaurants, a rule that seemed to go squarely against the concept of an “all-inclusive” vacation. He refused to book another cruise with that company.

“I don’t know exactly how much it cost them in lost business,” says Vine, a retired sales manager from Pembroke Pines, Fla. He estimates he’s spent several thousand dollars elsewhere, but far from noticing his absence, the entire cruise industry seems to have embraced a la carte pricing, undermining the idea that food and drink are “included” in your vacation.

“It makes perfect sense in a boardroom when you see how much money can be profited by instituting a new policy,” says John DiJulius, author of What’s the Secret To Providing a World-Class Customer Experience. But he says customers can’t stand the new rules, and if nothing else, the companies’ reputations have suffered as a result.

You don’t have to keep your finger on the “rewind” button for too long for a reminder of the way things were. Remember Spirit Airlines before it went fee-crazy? Caesars before resort fees? Cruise lines before they started charging for, well, everything?

All the while, the industry’s so-called “experts” reassured us we could always leverage our economic clout as consumers to reverse the trend. Then we discovered we couldn’t. Kind of hard when four dominant airlines control more than 85% of the flights in the United States. Or when two cruise lines control more than 70% of worldwide boarded passengers. Or in lodging markets such as Las Vegas and Hawaii, where mandatory resort fees are the rule.

The only beneficiaries of the illusion that you have any economic power in an industry that’s been drained of competition are the companies themselves. So the next time you hear someone telling you that you can always take your business elsewhere, ask yourself: Whose payroll is he on?

Experts say a boycott alone rarely works anymore, but combined with a social-media shame campaign and threats of regulation, any industry can change its ways.

Even travel.

Do boycotts do any good?

View Results

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Unhappy? Try these tactics

Walking away from a company that forces you to pay a new fee or has a customer-unfriendly policy isn’t enough. Here’s what else you can do:

Tell everyone. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook and Google+, you really can reach a large audience virtually instantly. That kind of public pressure can mean more than the absence of your dollars.

Get organized. When Spirit Airlines refused to refund a non-refundable airfare for a patient with terminal cancer, it resulted in the creation of a “Boycott Spirit” site on Facebook that garnered tens of thousands of “likes,” says author John DiJulius. The company reversed its decision.

Call the government. Congress, the Federal Trade Commission and the Transportation Department can exert regulatory pressure on companies with bad policies. If you never complain, they’ll never have a chance.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Of course a boycott can work. The question is whether the boycott is sufficiently large. Think Apartheid in the late 80s,early 90s. Do you think Pretoria relented out of the goodness of its heart? Google successful boycotts in America and you’ll see recent sucessful boycotts. Of course social media can certainly help.

  • Wackiedon

    I will carry on my own boycott where I feel/know the establishment is ripping me off. I did Vegas twice, nice place to be but 100% increase in a resort fee had me change hotel for my third stay, Don’t really mind paying “Resort” fees because the room rates are normally cheap and good value for the money, but how fees are applied are dishonest in most cases. Now I am looking at another property but none that meets my specifications .Vegas lost our measly 2500.00 vacation budget….and it will not make a dent in their vast economics….but how many have they turned off to make a different choice? So it’s back to The Caribbean…and Oh and this goes for the cruise lines & airlines as well…. No Spirit/Ryan Air types…for me

  • TonyA_says

    Lets see if your boycott will work against Putin :)

  • lost_in_travel

    John McCain says he isn’t spending Spring Break in Siberia this year. :-)

  • omgstfualready

    I’m not trying to change a company by not going there so I don’t consider it a boycott. I won’t go to ChikFilA or Wal-Mart, I don’t expect them to notice but it’s something I’m not going to partake in regardless of the services they have to offer me.

  • omgstfualready

    I have also tried to stay away from Russian vodka. I know it won’t be noticed but why should I help enrich those that are morally at odds with my views.

  • AirlineEmployee

    (Without sarcasm…..)…..If I had a nickel for every customer that said “I’m never flying this airline again”, I’d be rich. So there’s that — they still come back because sometimes it’s “the only game in town” (on a holiday, etc). Secondly for every passenger that really doesn’t come back, there are 10-100-1000 people making reservations online “as we speak”. There are always people that will fill the void.
    Do I think the things that drive people away are justifiable ?…..absolutely not. Indiscreetly I waive fees, give out extra-legroom seats, rebook without a charge…….I’m just careful not to form a repeated “pattern” so my employer doesn’t catch on (with a valid explanation should they ask – like the passenger was totally “disserviced” on the way in and I was making it up to them).
    I once got “caught” by a coworker who laced into me because I didn’t charge someone a standby fee but gave her a line of b.s. about all my years of experience, etc, etc., to shut her up, adding the additional “I’m sick of saying NO, don’t you ever say YES to anything ??”. She couldn’t answer me and had nothing more to say. She did threaten to go to a supervisor – I said, “I already did, so don’t waste your time” (I told the supervisor afterwards that I made the decision and he was totally agreeable). Why?? Because he knew my decades of experience helped keep a customer.

  • Cam

    A boycott implies mass involvement. Sometimes, just to know that YOU aren’t giving a company that has done you wrong anymore money is enough.

  • jerryatric

    I agree, BUT for the cruise, airline, car rentals & resort fees not much chance.
    Reason is as Chris said the cruise, car rental & airline industries are very tightly controlled by a few.
    And resort fees are quickly becoming the norm.
    For a boycott in the cruise industry you would have to try & get EVERYONE interested in boycotting ALL cruises for an area or a month & go to work on social media. I bet no decent response to make it effective. Same idea for the others. Good luck!

  • $16635417

    I read comments from people who decide to drive or take a train to boycott the TSA. Has this had any noticeable effect on airline travel?

  • Cathy_Disqus

    Last time I took Amtrak from Philadelphia to Washington DC, the TSA was at the neighboring gate inspecting the carry-on baggage of those going to NYC. So if someone’s taking a train to avoid them, it may not work.

  • Miami510

    Do Boycotts do any good? I voted YES, but for a personal reason.

    Any efforts by an individual to establish a boycott might not have a significant effect upon a company, but from a personal perspective, it makes ME feel better knowing that my personal protest isn’t putting any money in the offending company’s bottom line. I guess it’s like honking my horn at a dreadful driver. It’s meaningless to that driver, but it makes me feel better.

  • Miami510

    “I’ll neer fly _________airline again !!” In past years I traveled quite a bit and can honestly say I’ve said that about every carrier I’ve flown. I’ve had shabby treatment from every carrier, but eventually the bad trip ends, and the choice of the next flight is usually based on milage points, date and time of travel and whether I have to change planes and some interim point.

    Sadly, the airlines know this so they really don’t care.

  • AJPeabody

    Are you old enough to remember way back to the days of The One Telephone Company? Remember Lilly Tomlin? “We’re Ma Bell. We don’t care. We don’t have to.” Same tune, different singers.

  • travelfly

    Anyone remember when banks, airlines, trucking etc were all regulated industries? Deregulation was supposed to benefit the public, a failed experiment in many ways..Just saying.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Why not publish the name of the airline or cruiseline?

  • Richard Smith

    A business man will look at this decision financially. Suppose you average 10 dollars profit on each customer. Now, suppose you decide to add a fee that adds 2 dollars that is pure profit. You end up with 12 profit per, but will lose some customers. If you lose 10% of that customer base, you are still ahead of the game.

    Simple arithmetic: 12*0.9>10*1.0

    So, for a boycott to be effective, it needs to increase that loss percentage. If it is 20%, the fee would be rolled back: 12*0.8<10*1.0

    (Of course, the actual calculation is more involved, if the fee is disliked by higher profit customers more, or the like.)

  • Richard Smith

    Agreed — I prefer to do business with companies whom I view as being more ethical. Even if I end up paying a little more.

  • Richard Smith

    You mean today, when we have one telephone company with local monopoly?

    The United States used to enforce anti-trust laws — now, we need to rely on the Europeans to enforce anti-trust when it comes to global corporations.

  • omgstfualready

    Financial institutions and banks are more heavily regulated than ever! SEC, OCC, Dodd-Frank, Sarbanes-Oxley, COSO, myriad State regs too……and how did that help? Exactly…..just saying.

  • Tina

    Even if the offending company starts giving you freebies or low-costies, true!
    Not worth it!

  • Thoroughlyamused

    True, but you can often avoid TSA by using smaller, suburban stations. Using New Carrolton, MD instead of Union Station will usually avoid the searches there.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    It may be difficult to assess because all of those people weren’t going to the same place and downturns in the travel industry can be explained by other reasons, including macro economic slumps.

    I don’t know if the industry notices an effect, but I believe there are a lot of people who publicly and privately decided not to travel where they would encounter the TSA.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    Good for you. I’ve stopped going or dramatically reduced going to particular stores for various social or personal reasons. I doubt they notice, but I feel that I’m standing up for my principles and that I haven’t suffered by not going to those places.

  • bodega3

    The OP is the big spender they love to see in Vegas. He spends less than $80 a night and wants it all included in that rate. I bet they will be sad to see him move on to a lower priced place.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    In the US, airlines transported over 700 million passengers annually. That would require many, many people to elect to avoid air travel to make a meaningful dent in that number. Just to hit 1% would require 7 million (non-unique) passengers to forgo air travel.. Then we’d have to consider the demographics. What percentage of high revenue passengers, i.e. the ones flying last minute for work, can make that decision?

    Thus to effect change, it would require both a large number of passengers as well a substantial number of high revenue travelers to forgo travel as a boycott.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    You shouldn’t. A boycott of conscience makes perfect sense to me.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    Funny observation I made recently. Sometimes (rare) I’m the dreadful driver and sometimes I encounter dreadful drivers. In many cases where I have been unintentionally rude (my wife is talking to me and I miss a signal change), the other driver behind me goes ballistic over an issue that’s usually minor. And sometimes they go nuts even though they’re the ones at blame (they cut me off and then are upset when I wind up delaying them trying to get out of their way.)

    Anyways, I notice that the folks who tend to honk are type A personalities who tend to be at fault much of the time or are easily offended. Something to ponder in other facets of life where people complain…

  • PolishKnightUSA

    A topic dear to my heart. Polish vodkas are award winning. You can get a clear vodka but this is one of the best (and good for your stomach too!)

    Wódka Żołądkowa Gorzka

    Try it (by the shot, with cheese or deli meat.)

  • PolishKnightUSA

    I’m revealing my age… I remember back in the 80’s when James Watt said a boycott against apartheid couldn’t work because American women couldn’t give up diamonds. The press lambasted him. As it turned out, he was right. Diamond prices soared.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    I think a boycott is effective when it runs against a particular demographic. For example, airlines care about their VIP and frequent business fliers. This is why many airlines shield those groups from the polices and stick it to economy: They consider those fliers and travelers to be bottom dwellers who will buy solely upon sticker price.

    All inclusive cruises? For some time, the cruises have been debundling by suggested tips (which can get expensive when so many service people work in the industry), paying for drinks (and searching your bag to make sure you don’t smuggle any onboard), and common shore excursions.

    Again, the lowest common denominator applies. I’m not into cruises but my sister is. She’d rather serve time at Riker’s Island than go on another Carnival cruise. However, the more expensive lines with more included amenities have been service and, er, clientele.*

    *My wife had it with Carnival when a woman changed her baby’s diaper in the dining room at the table…

  • LeeAnneClark

    Agree 100%. I too avoid patronizing companies with whom I disagree because of their business practices or offensive public statements. I don’t make a production out of this because I realize to them I am but one person. But at least I feel I am acting with integrity by not giving my dollars to companies I do not feel deserve them.

    But I do believe it can have an impact. Chik-fil-a CEO Dan Cathy recently expressed regret over his public statements of anti-gay views because his company image has suffered, and is now equated with homophobia and discrimination. Abercrombie has seen its profits plummet, due in large part to the offensive statements of its CEO. So boycotts can have an impact.

    By the way, I don’t patronize either of those companies either, probably for the same reasons you don’t. ;-)

  • omgstfualready

    I am not a huge drinker; another reason why it wouldn’t get noticed. I usually make a lemon drop (high end vodka) or mix with grapefruit juice (anything will do) but I’ll put that on the list for the next bottle I need; thanks!

  • tim uk 82

    Typically, boycotts in the US fail because people here are lazy about the boycott or have a short memory about the reason why they started not patronizing the subject of the boycott.
    It is too easy to stop after a short time once a person is inconvenienced.

    People say all the time we all should boycott gas stations, usually on a particular date. It will never work because even if people don’t buy gas on THAT particular day, they will prepare for the boycott by getting gas the day before or after the boycott date. They are going to keep driving and that requires fuel, so in the end, if nobody changes his or her driving habits, there is little or no change in how much gas is purchased in total.
    It’s not convenient.

    Same thing with air travel or a cruise. “I’ll never use that airline or cruise company again! (until it has the best rate or I just don’t feel like driving the the next closest airport to catch a flight on a different carrier)” The boycott lasts until it’s inconvenient.
    And in the U.S., people don’t wait long when they are inconvenienced.

    I have boycotted certain companies, usually for more than a year when I am unhappy with them. It probably wasn’t noticed on the bottom line, but I knew I was not giving my money to a company which displeased me. It was inconvenient to me, but in those cases, displeasure outweighed inconvenience.

  • $16635417

    It would also need to have an impact on the company’s bottom line. Not sure that’s happening.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    What’s a telephone company?

  • sirwired

    It all adds up, both the positive and the negative… voting with just your wallet is not even a pinprick, but millions of people coming to the same conclusion really makes a difference.

  • Grant Ritchie

    A few minutes on Google shows the airline to be Southwest. And a few years of personal experience as a “passenger of size” who flies Southwest exclusively shows that, yes, they do require the purchase of a second ticket, but they also provide a full refund upon completion of the flight. Mr. Walsh took his “courageous” anti-discrimination stand for nothing.

  • Bill___A

    The purpose of regulation is to take care of absurdities that people won’t stop voluntarily. Resort fees fall into this category. They should therefore be made illegal. They are misleading and also force the customer to purchase things they do not want or do not need. I fail to see why thousands of consumers should waste time boycotting or otherwise protesting this ridiculous fee. The purpose of the government is to take care of these things, and so they should.

  • Lindabator

    But to what end? The reason they’ve added all those ancillary fees is because the travelling public want to fly around the world, first class, for 5 bucks. We need to be prepared to pay more for the basic service, and that is NOT going to happen.

  • jerryatric

    I AGREE! As someone else said- we’re to lazy to get serious.
    One thing for certain – I am now & have been retired for 18 yrs. (Yeah I’m old) & thank goodness I travelled for my business way back when. Travelled monthly to N.Y. & occasionally to H.K. Airlines & hotels very accommodating back then. AND no TSA with they’re very uneven application of the rules. At our advanced ages my wife & I have been subjected to VERY personal body searches. In my case I almost asked the young fellow if he now wanted a kiss after that body search, but thought the better of it.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    It’s interesting which straw ends up breaking the camel’s back. This one hotel the OP has been using for years starting charging an undisclosed fee like many hotels do. And that was enough to never do business with them again? It’s the OP’s choice, but if they were still a good deal even with the fee, I’d probably still be staying there.

    And on the topic of boycotts, the ones that always make me chuckle are the short-term ones, like “don’t buy gas next Monday.” A) Even if the entire country took part, it wouldn’t make any difference to the oil companies if every Monday sale was pushed to Tuesday, B) Even if you felt like taking part, there’s only a 1 in 7 chance you were going to need gas on Monday.

  • MarkieA

    “As someone who is in the size-acceptance community…” What the heck is that supposed to mean? I’ve heard some politically-correct mealy-mouthed wordsmithing before, but this one’s at the top.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Organizations, such as the NAAFP, that have the articulated goal to eradicate stereotypes and prejudices against large people.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I respectfully disagree. The purpose of legislation is protect consumers when meaningful choice is absent. Common examples would be monopolies and inadequate disclosures as they rob consumers of this ability.

    In the case of resort fees, I would like to see a system much like the airlines, where the first price advertised must be inclusive of all mandatory fees and charges.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Agreed. The don’ t buy gas on Monday is silly beyond belief.

  • Bill___A

    My point is that legislation is required to rid us of resort fees.

  • y_p_w

    I work in the electronics industry, and many customers get burned by malfunctioning equipment. The worst would be hard drives, especially since so few people bother to back them up.

    I’ve heard many complaints that someone lost all their data when a hard drive crashed with the warranty period, and the owner was angry and swore off that company’s products forever. Or maybe there was a notorious recall caused by a glaring design defect. Guess what? There are now only three manufacturers left in the world after consolidation. How can you swear off a product when it’s an oligopoly and they’ve all had the same issues?

  • MarkieA

    I guess I don’t see how calling someone “vertically challenged” instead of “short” makes you less prone to discriminate against them.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Really??? Remember High School? Derogatory language dehumanizes and encourage uncivil behavior.

    Admittedly short is generally not an insult and I am not a fan of PC-isms.

    But more specifically, in the case of size-acceptance, that’s not a label that the large folks are asking to be applied (e.g. the term fat is in the title. But rather a description of the goal, i.e. fewer negative attitudes towards large people.

  • MarkieA

    But don’t you think that, many years from now, “vertically-challenged” will be the “new” insult, just like “short” was/is? I don’t see the feelings changing, just the words.

  • RightNow9435

    And you’re missing the best chicken sandwiches that exist, Don’t deprive yourself of good food over something as trivial as politics

  • RightNow9435

    While some companies/industries are not easy to boycott(too few other choices), boycotting Vegas hotels that have resorts fees is easy. Just don’t stay at a casino-hotel. Most all the national chains are not charging resort fees.