Susan Jay regrets picking up the phone to make a call from Harrah’s Atlantic City. But she says she had no choice. Her cell phone wasn’t getting a clear signal.
When Jay checked out, she discovered three unexpected charges — one for $26 and two for $45.
Yep, you guessed it. Harrah’s charged her about $5 a minute for the phone calls, an unconscionable markup.
“After a heated discussion with the billing department, they removed the five-minute call for $26,” she says. But that left her with a $90 bill. And the casino wouldn’t budge.
“It’s not enough,” she says.
From Jay’s perspective, these charges are a pure money grab.
We can do the math if you want. The cost of providing phone service is negligible. Even with a 100 percent markup, a reasonable hotel guest shouldn’t expect to pay more than a few cents a minute at today’s rates. Most budget hotels offer “free” local calls for guests, which is to say, they include phone calls in the cost of a room (remember, nothing is really “free”). Some hotels even offer unlimited domestic calls.
So what is Harrah’s phone charge? Is it a junk fee or legitimate?
There are many well-meaning people — some of them reading this now — who would describe this as a legitimate fee, and free-market capitalism at its finest. Harrah’s is charging what the market will bear for phone services at its hotels, and if that means marking up its phone bills 3,000 percent, God bless the USA.
I take a different view.
Jay had every reason to believe her phone calls would be included in the cost of her room. After all, many casinos charge mandatory “resort” fees that include amenities that used to be charged a la carte.
It can be a little confusing — not unlike the tourist who flies once a year and feels broadsided by a baggage fee. For two generations, luggage was part of the airfare. And now it’s being “unbundled,” or removed from the base fare, with practically no notification (and no, saying “some fees apply” is not ample notice).
My view of junk fees — and, by the way, I’m right about this — is far more inclusive. If a fee isn’t adequately disclosed, can’t be adequately explained and generates enough outrage, let’s call it what it is: junk.
Back in 2010, I wrote a story about good airline fees. Yes, they do exist. Fees for optional Wi-Fi service or special gourmet meals come to mind.
To consumers, the rest are trash. Companies charge them because they can.
Here are the questions I ask before dispatching a questionable fee to the junk yard.
Does the fee in any way relate to the cost? Fees for confirmed seat reservations are a good example of junkiness. Giving a customer a confirmed reservation next to their three-year-old costs the airline practically zero. So why charge $15 for it? Because they can. That’s worse than garbage — it’s predatory garbage.