Should hotels advertise “all-in” prices, too?

If you recall last month’s dust-up about airfare pricing, you’ll know that airlines feel singled out by the federal government, which is now requiring them to advertise fares that include all mandatory taxes and fees.

Here are a few details about that dispute. Never mind that other federally-regulated industries have the same pricing requirements, including anyone buying gas, cigarettes or alcohol. Airlines wanted to see other examples in travel, dammit.

And so did readers.

“Spirit’s [CEO] Baldanza is right about one thing,” says Valanie Bradley, “They should make the hotels quote an all-in price, too.”

She sent me screenshots of what she considered the most egregious example of misrepresentation: La Quinta Inns & Suites’ website.

They give you the base price and tell you it does not include applicable taxes or fees — in small print.

I intended to book a room on the La Quinta site, but was so irritated that I went with the hotel I was comparing it with. That hotel is $5 more on the base price and has some mysterious $2 fee, but at least they were up front about the fact that they were charging it.

She’s right. Hotels, which are regulated by the states and not the federal government, don’t really have to show you an all-inclusive rate until you check out.

Many don’t, pointing out that you might charge something to your room, which would change your bill. They also say there are technology reasons for waiting until the very end of the transaction to reveal your price, although I suspect it may be a psychological reason as well. People book cheap rooms, and if you start quoting rates that include taxes and mandatory “resort” fees, they’ll look elsewhere.

I looked at La Quinta’s site, and Bradley is right. Just like the airlines once did it, La Quinta currently quotes a low “base” rate that doesn’t include the required taxes and fees. That makes its rooms appear to be cheaper than they really are.

I asked La Quinta about its rate display. Teresa Ferguson, a La Quinta representative, explained that the display problem was largely technological.

“We do have some limitations in our reservation process that currently do not provide an all-in price prior to a guest providing a credit card,” she told me. “We are working to change this and happy to say that in April through a new site release, guests will be able to see the total price prior to providing their credit card.”

That’s nice, but what about the other hotel chains that continue to dangle a $19 a night rate in front of you — minus taxes, mandatory fees and required “resort fees” that eventually boost the rate to $49 a night? Can’t the government do something about that?

Maybe. If the attorney generals of several tourism-dependent states banded together to file a suit against the major hotel operators, the resulting consent agreement could mean more transparent pricing. They did it in the past on “energy” fees, for example. Also, the Federal Trade Commission could target several big hotel companies for unfair and deceptive practices, and the resulting settlement could have a ripple effect throughout the industry.

Or Congress could do something, putting pricing practices under the control of one of the federal agencies and asking it to regulate how hotel rates are displayed.

Ideally, none of this would be necessary. Instead, hotels would voluntarily display the actual rate you have to pay for a room, including all required taxes and fees. I don’t know of any hotel guests who like to be kept guessing about their final bill, even the most die-hard libertarians.

No one likes surprises.

(Photo: faungg/Flickr)

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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  • bodega3

    Tony, if I am understanding BC correctly, he wants to compare all options and as you and I know that is next to impossible.  This is what that orgainization by Charlie Leocha doesn’t get.  I just did some tickets to CPH, home from ZRH. The amount of options in flights was staggering now that cosharing is a part of it. It isn’t as easy as consumers think it should be as there are just to darn many airports, airlines that effect the the final price. UA/CO/LH/EI/LX/AC/SK/US times 4-6 segments in all the various options, plus other airline options gets one very dizzy fast.

  • dave3029

    So once the property recoups the capital cost, is the parking fee reduced or eliminated altogether?  Anyone heard of that EVER happening?

  • bodega3

    No sure why you feel you have to be harsh about TA’s.  It’s not like they are lawyers :) But a ticketing agent knows more than you do about fares and how to work them. Also, we do probono work, too. Just helped someone today on this site get money back.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    Yes, but supposed the $3.50 price is never displayed.  Suppose the pump said $2.50 plus 31.417 percent tax.  It would be maddening to figure out the total amount you are paying before you begin pumping.   So gas is one of the few items that needs to be all inclusive.  By contrast, most goods an

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    Because it is maddingly infuriating that many TAs seem genetically hard wired to simply refuse to acknowledge that there just might be a situation when doing it yourself is the best course.

    For example, I found a fare on aa.com for $29.00 one way from SFO to LAX with one day advance purchase.

    At the time I was EXP with American Airlines and had been flying that particular route for over ten years.  As an EXP I was entitled to a complimentary space available upgrade to first class.  By avoiding certain times, I received my
    upgrade 100% of the time.

    I didn’t know my return date so I didn’t book it. My old travel agent charged $25.00 flat rate for a ticket. Unless he could find a first class ticket for $4.00, his superior skills and knowledge were useless in that particular booking.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    God forbid the hotel actually make a profit?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    I don’t understand the relevance of the multiple tax jurisdictions.  The hotel is located in one tax jurisdiction so would only have to advertise one tax.

    If the total taxes for the hotel located at 101 Anystreet is 15%, then it would advertise accordingly.  That the taxes is 14% at 201 Anystreet doesn’t matter.

  • $16635417

    I agree it should be displayed at the pump so when you are pumping you know your final total. 

    I would have no issue with only the base rate being displayed prominently on the roadside sign.

  • http://twitter.com/travelingiraffe Crissy

    I think the hotel fees can add up much quicker.  A $20 resort fee a night on a 5 day trip is much worse then a $25 fee for a flight.  So yes, the hotels should be held to the same standard as airlines.

  • Nikki

    Being the one on the other side of the desk, I am pained every single time I’m having to explain to a guest that my city charges a 13% tax for rooms – only to have the guest turn on me and tell me that I’m full of it. 

    My biggest beef though, is with the hotel websites that tell you the displayed rate is their “best available rate”.  It’s not listed/quoted as the rack rate, which, 9 times out of 10, that’s exactly what that “best available rate” is.  It’s misleading, and makes me wonder what the hotel has to hide.  It also gives us (behind the desk) a hard time because we’re having to explain that “misleading” rate.  Now I could play stupid and make the rate sound like the best thing since sliced bread, but I prefer not to treat any guest like they’re idiots.  The possibility that they could compare that rate to other hotels’ websites is too great.  And personally, if I was that guest, I sure would compare the rates till I found something that didn’t insult my intelligence and my wallet.

    All in one?  Oh yeah, let’s do this.  There are desk clerks around the country that would appreciate one less reason to be screamed at over something they were not responsible for.

  • Andrew F

    Surprise it is not.  A great annoyance, maybe?  I grew up in a country where what you see is what you pay; even tips were frowned upon.  There were no 99.99 tricks either!  I don’t understand why consumers in the great U.S. put up with a world where the final price has to be calculated or estimated.  This estimation usually possible, but rarely easy.  E.g., when grocery shopping, you have to remember which goods are taxed and which aren’t.  And yes, whether there is a “deposit” on cans or bottles.  Clothes?  Sometimes there is a “tax holiday” for certain items.  Of course, all that is chump change compared to telecom companies, hotels, and car rentals…  The point I’m trying to make is this: in the vast majority of the cases, the BUSINESS knows EXACTLY how much you will have to pay, including what will go to the government.  Optional items?  Same thing — the business knows how much you will pay for those after tax.  Just put up the final price, like gas stations do!!!

  • DavidYoung2

    Just in case you missed it on check-out or did express check-out without being able to review the final bill.

    By the way, Brazil includes a Taxa de Turismo at R$ 2,00 per day on your bill.  It’s optional, but you have to ask to have it removed.  So this arrangement IS possible.

  • DavidYoung2

    It’s always included in the posted price.  

    For commercial transactions, they may quote an ‘ex-tax’ price.  The VAT appears separately on receipts because businesses that pay VAT can reduce their VAT obligation by the amount of VAT paid on qualified purchases (ie, VAT inputs.)  They pay only the NET VAT (VAT collected – VAT paid)

  • bodega3

    So one example makes you a critic?  Same could be said for the use of lawyer for something similar.

  • $16635417
  • Extramail

    I still say that I should NOT have to ask to have something removed from my bill because it is an “optional” fee. It also seems like the brazilians are really just hoping that you don’t know the fees are optional so you don’t ask to have them removed from the bill.

  • Lindabator

    I would have no problem with that – I do prefer shopping overseas for that reason alone!

  • Lindabator

    Why not?  Just a *disclaimer would be sufficient.

  • Tygar

    It really sucks.  Every business should show the total cost for an item period!

    Funny thing, we went to Puerto Rico for a few days prior to a cruise & I booked a room on the Army base there & was surprised to be hit with extra fees.

    I had previously stayed at rec center hotels on other bases & didn’t get stuck with these add ons.

    Also got a rental vehicle there & had the same add on BS which I don’t remember being on other base rentals.

    Something needs to be done.

  • Joe Farrell

     hey, go to Eastern Europe and Asia, u get charged for heat and light . . .

  • Joe Farrell

    try the 99 cent store . . . they have these little signs that say that everything is 99.99 cents . . . ok then.  just call it the Dollar Store, ok?

  • dave3029

    I don’t have a problem with a hotel making a profit, but the issue here is the parking fee.  Once the parking lot construction fees have been recouped, and the annual maintenance for it recovered, why keep charging such high fees?  $30 and up per day seems very excessive. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    One example is all I have space for.  But yes, one does not always need an attorney. A fact that I am very happy to admit to, even though I have far greater knowledge of the law than a layperson.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    Depends on the market.   IF it were excessive then no one would pay it.  I paid $35/day for downtown Los Angeles, $17 for Pasadena, and Zero for Arcadia.

  • dave3029

    Is that for parking at a hotel you are staying at or for just parking in a general lot?

  • bodega3

    But even the lay person can find a lot of it online these days.  

  • Lindabator

    haha – no doubt.

  • skoc50

    I definitely feel an all-inclusive price is the only fair way to price a room.  But I also think the price needs to be broken down somewhere so I can see how much I’m being gouged for.  If I’m being charged for a multitude of things I know I won’t use (pool access, fitness center, newspaper, mini-bar, bottled water, etc.), I’ll look elsewhere.  I resent paying for things I don’t use.  These are optional things that I can easily live without on a trip unlike a piece of baggage on a 7-day trip which should be included in the price.  A piece of checked baggage on anything more than a 2-day trip could hardly be considered an option.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    That’s why we like the market. If its truly excessive then people will make alernative arrangements.  But if every other parking lot is charging $30, why should the hotel charge less?

  • dave3029

    You didn’t answer the last question – – were the amounts you stated for parking at a hotel you are staying at or for just parking in a general lot?

    Regarding whether the hotel should charge less than the other lots, are people who are not staying at the hotel allowed to park in the hotel parking lot?  If yes, then it would make sense to base the price on  what other lots in the area charge.  If not, then the charge should be based on what is a good value for the customer since they are already patronizing the hotel.