Resort fees rise 25 percent as efforts to end them intensify

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If you’ve ever found a bargain on a hotel only to discover a few clicks later that the property charged a nonnegotiable “resort fee,” you’re not alone. Last year, 744 properties in the United States added these fees to their guests’ final bills, an astonishing 25 percent increase from 2014.

That’s the bad news. The good news? The harder the hotel industry pushes these unwelcome fees on consumers, the closer the government comes to banning them.

A coalition of consumer advocates, including the National Consumers League and Travelers United, is ratcheting up pressure on lawmakers to eliminate these controversial surcharges, which cover features such as wireless Internet access and towels at the hotel gym.

The coalition’s latest target: state governments. Late last year, the organizations made their pitch to a group of state attorneys general. Resort fees, they say, deceive customers, angering them and putting honest competitors at a disadvantage.

Public sentiment is on their side, they say. A national poll of registered voters released in late 2015 found that 80 percent said hotels and resorts should be required to include mandatory resort fees in the daily room rate, which would allow customers to comparison shop before they book a room. More than 20 percent of respondents said that in the past year, they’d been charged a mandatory fee in addition to the room rate and tax.

The average resort fee is $17.30 per night, up about 5 percent from a year ago, according to ResortFeeChecker.com, a site that tracks resort fees. Fees at high-end hotels are growing the fastest. A year ago, only 90 hotels charged a resort fee of $30 or more. That number has mushroomed to 142 hotels. All told, U.S. hotel guests paid an estimated $2.7 billion in resort fees last year.

“It seems like everyone is jumping on the bandwagon,” says Randy Greencorn, ResortFeeChecker.com’s publisher.

Travelers are apoplectic.

“I absolutely loathe them,” says Michelle Roberts, a travel agent from Atlanta. “It’s like double paying.”

Roberts, like other hotel guests, was so upset when she discovered a resort fee on her hotel bill that she balked at paying it — and the hotel removed it. But that was years ago, and the practice has become so common that fighting it is futile.

The problem with resort fees is that they are revealed so late in the booking process. At best, they’re disclosed after the initial rate quote but before you push the “buy” button. At worst, they’re revealed at checkout, when they’re added to your final bill.

“Resort fees make rooms appear less costly when being purchased and compared to other similar hotels online,” explains Glenn Haussman, editor in chief of the hotel trade publication Hotel Interactive. “Hotel revenue managers realize that all things being equal, people will pick the cheapest price without first mentally adding in that a specific hotel may tack on an extra $25 a night.”

Let’s say you have two hotels — one with rooms for $260 a night with no resort fee and the other with rooms at $245 a night with a required $20 per night resort fee. Guess which one will sell more rooms? That’s right, the one offering the lower initial price but with the higher overall rate.

Some hotel managers admit that the temptation to add these fees is enormous, especially because they’re legal. As Jim Smith, innkeeper at the Wine Country Inn in St. Helena, Calif., explains, they add money to the room rates that is non-commissionable to online travel agents such as Expedia and Hotels.com. In other words, the hotels don’t have to pay them a cut of the fee. But, he adds, that doesn’t make them right.

“I certainly don’t like paying resort fees when I travel,” Smith says, “so why would I want to charge my guests these silly fees?”

Some bigger hotels also don’t see a future in resort fees. The new Four Seasons Resort Orlando, located in an epicenter of resort fees, decided not to charge them in order to set itself apart from the competition.

“Some guests might book at a resort with a lower nightly rate, only to realize at checkout that they’ve been charged a daily resort fee, a fee for their pool umbrella, plus the hourly fees for the kids’ club,” resort spokeswoman Dana Berry says. “When you add it all up, it would have been less or equal to staying at a Four Seasons, where they would have likely had a much better experience.”

There is a growing realization that resort fees, at least as they are now charged, are unfair and deceptive. They would not be tolerated in almost any other business, so why are hotels allowed to get away with them? Even some hotel employees know that their guests are on to them.

Consider what happened to Allan Jordan, a consultant and corporate traveler based in Roslyn, N.Y., who found an $89 rate at a casino hotel in Mount Pocono, Pa., but soon discovered that the rate didn’t include a $15 resort fee. He phoned the property to find out what the fee covered.

“It covers our free Internet, free in-room coffee and valet parking for the hotel guests,” a reservations agent answered.

“If you charge $15,” Jordan replied, “it isn’t free.”

That left the receptionist speechless.

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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 chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

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  • Peter Varhol

    I stayed at Ballys in Las Vegas last year, attending a conference. The room rate was $38 a night, but with a $25 resort fee pushed it to $63. To be honest, still a really good deal (confession: I wasn’t there for the gambling, so they didn’t get much more out of me).

  • Sharon

    I find the title of the article a bit confusing. From the heading I assumed that resort fees have actually risen 25%. Only after reading the article did I realize that the actual number of hotels charging such fees has increased by 25%. Or am I misinterpreting this?

  • Rebecca

    When there’s polls like this one, it’s obvious only trolls vote that resort fees are “great”. Which got me thinking. Who are these people with nothing better to do? Seriously. Who goes out of their way to do that?

  • cscasi

    You are correct, the article states the number of hotels adding “resort” fees to their customers’ bills, increased by 25%; not the actual fees. However, I am sure those will undoubtedly increase as well as time goes on unless the government steps in and makes the hotels include their fees in the daily room rate they will be charging the customers.
    I
    t’s a sad fact, so many travel oriented businesses are nickel and diming their customers every chance they get, all in the name of padding their bottom lines while giving them little or nothing in return.

  • Nigel Appleby

    How long until we see the $1.00 per night rate with a resort fee of $150.00 or more?

  • KennyG

    I guess you feel that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, until you find out their opinion doesn’t agree with yours. Then they become fodder for your personal ad-hominem attacks. It’s obvious that only seriously intolerant, holier than thou folks would call someone a troll simply because they don’t see things as you do. That being said, I agree resort fees for the most part are something that should be disclosed upfront so a consumer can make an educated decision. In some cases, resort fees might even be appropriate depending on what amenities come with them, but transparency and disclosure are the key in any event.

  • Alan Gore

    Why not just require that any travel fee quoted separately from the base price be for some option?

  • KanExplore

    The poll question doesn’t set up a real “choice”. The fair alternative would be something like, “I don’t mind resort fees. I get something of value for them,” or the like. I think resort fees are despicable and should be banned. The fraud involved in “resort fee” pricing, though, has nothing to do with a “free market.”

  • KanExplore

    Precisely. If it’s a separate “fee” it should be something that can be turned down. I have nothing against legitimate fees that a consumer can choose to pay or not, but these are simply quoting one price and requiring payment of another, for the purpose of deceptively showing up better on searches (as well as the commissions and the like).

  • judyserienagy

    The headline needs to read “25% more hotels charge resort fees …. ” Although I see the Waikaloa Hilton’s has increased from $25 to $30 a day since I booked. Amazing phenomenon, and you’re right it will only end with legislation. What a sad state we’ve come to.

  • Robert Delvo

    It is sad that the government has to force hotels to do the right thing. There should be a law (sad) that requires the hotel to list all “FIXED” costs in booking a room. That includes taxes etc. I have worked in Las Vegas for 31 years. To stay at a “Budget Hotel” that charges me a “RESORT” fee for the same thing two years ago were just part of staying there. And this hotel is located to the entrance to McCarran and is at best a place to stay to be at the airport asap. BUT……now they want $20 for stuff I don’t use. So they should have a pool fee $5, gym fee $5, breakfast fee $5 and so on so I can CHOOSE to pay for what I want like car options. But (sadly) till the government steps in they will continue to attempt to hide these fees at the bottom of their web pages, or when you complete your reservations etc. I guarantee you if I did the same thing in my industry with hidden fees or “checkout line” fees when you buy a gallon of milk, the Hotel industry would be up in arms.

  • TMMao

    If a $25 resort fee includes parking ($20); wifi ($12); two bottles of water ($4) and a bunch of other services, then most travelers are already ahead of the game by $11/day.

    Also, if that $25 resort fee is instead included in the room rate, then it’s taxed at the combined hotel+sales tax rate which can be 10-15% higher than just the sales tax rate. Be careful of what you wish for.

  • TMMao

    Actually, that would be a great deal because the hotel tax will drop to $0.10 instead of $15.

  • TMMao

    They’re building a new intersection into the Waikoloa Beach Resort and it’s partly because Hilton is booking so much business that it’s overloading the single access road. As long as people are okay with paying the resort fee, they’ll continue to charge it.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    I’m reminded of the “4 out of 5 dentists surveyed” commercials. 4 out of 5 people hate resort fees but I wonder what goes through the mind of the 1 person out of 5 who likes them? They’re not getting anything for “free” and the purpose of the fees is to drive prices up via deceptive marketing.

    This reminds me, a little, of the tiny economy seat controversy that appears regularly on Elliott. In that case, it’s “voluntary”, kind of, that you only pay to get a regular sized seat if you CHOOSE to pay for it but with the deceptive marketing (it’s a reduced size seat) and paying more to upgrade, the end result is the same: You pay more due to deceptive marketing.

    Rather than try to force the size of all seats to be at least X, try instead to simply declare that airlines must advertiize all seats smaller than X as “sub-economy” and they cannot use the term “economy plus” to describe what are “economy” seats. Don’t underestimate the power of a truth-in-advertising. Consider how “used” car dealerships started trying to claim they were “pre-owned” (Aren’t all cars, by definition, “pre-owned” by the company that sells them? :-)

  • stephen_nyc

    Yeah, I clicked because of the headline only to discover what was happening.
    Still, not happy about the resort fee problem.

  • stephen_nyc

    I get your point about the Trident ad (actually I had to look up to see which gum it was), but to be picky, maybe that 5th dentist just didn’t like the gum or want their patients to chew any gum? Now, apply the logic to the resort fee problem, and it’s a little bit different. Yeah, what customer really wants to be surprised.
    As for the cars analogy, I think they did the ‘pre-owned’ thing as a way to get away from the scammy heritage of ‘used-car’ sales folks. Pre-owned or otherwise, they have not succeeded in that goal. No one likes the car-buying process.
    I like your idea of sub-economy and such.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    The airlines calling a seat “economy plus” is an example of marketing dishonesty at it’s finest. They’ve shrunk a product and to pay for it back, you have to pay for “plus”.

    Another fun example: Bags of sugar now sell for 4lbs. They used to be 5 pounds but tried to trick the consumer. Here’s the thing: Even the most low-information shopper is going to figure out, in a month or two, that they’re getting less sugar than they used to. But the store brand I buy dropped theirs to 4 pounds as well in order to match the name brand playing the game.

    So where’s there left to go? To 3 pounds? To 2 pounds? Will large bags of sugar not be sold anymore? Or will they be labeled “plus” size with “1 lb “free””? :-)

    The same thing happened to toilet paper. A standard roll today is a ‘double roll’ and “double roll” is the new standard because most shoppers buy the double rolls (I do) because even for the manufacturer, it’s cheaper to make “double” rolls rather than single rolls.

    Regarding auto dealerships: Like the NAR, you have a choice of whom to buy your home/car from and not pay a 5 percent commission even if they don’t do a thing: NOBODY. You can maybe go to someone more discount, but the cartel has it locked down.