An illustration of luggage on a price tag.
Illustration: John Ritter

More Truth in Cable Charges

What’s at stake: Imagine your surprise if you learned in the supermarket checkout line that the cereal you wanted to buy would incur a Cardboard Box Surcharge and a Grain Refinery Fee, adding nearly 25 percent to the purchase price. It sounds absurd, but it isn’t very different from what many consumers experience each time they pay their monthly cable bill.

That’s because pay-TV companies have increasingly imposed new fees for services once included in the base rates we see quoted in ads. With names such as Broadcast TV Fee and Regional Sports Surcharge, these add-ons often hit even customers who thought they’d locked into long-term “fixed-rate” contracts. These tactics camouflage price increases and stymie consumer efforts to comparison shop and maintain household budgets.

How CR has your back: To determine just how big a problem these fees are, CR asked consumers to send in their cable bills; we then analyzed nearly 800 bills. The results were staggering: We found that company-imposed fees (which do not include regulatory charges or taxes) in effect add a 24 percent surcharge on top of advertised prices and cost the average customer nearly $450 per year. The report also made clear that providers often bury the fees deep in the fine print of monthly bills, often provide confusing or inaccurate information about fees to prospective customers, and sometimes inaccurately blame the government for them.

The findings add momentum to the CR-backed TRUE Fees Act, currently pending in Congress, which, among other things, would require telecom providers to advertise a single price inclusive of all fees. CR’s report, tweeted bill co-sponsor Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., “sheds light on why cable is now drastically more expensive & putting increasing financial pressure on families for no good reason.”

What you can do: Sign our “Let’s End Hidden Fees!” petition demanding that telecom companies eliminate hidden fees and clearly advertise the full price of their services.

Ending Hidden Hotel Fees

What’s at stake: In 2012 and 2013, the FTC issued warnings to 34 hotels and 11 online travel agencies, asking them to refrain from charging resort fees that aren't disclosed in their advertised prices. Yet seven years later, this deceptive practice—which makes accurately budgeting for travel expenses all but impossible—remains widespread.

How CR has your back: But the tide may now be turning on resort fees. A recent CR investigation found that 31 of the 34 hotels targeted by the FTC continue to charge resort fees and fail to include them when quoting prices and that none of the 10 online agencies still operating include resort fees in their initial quoted prices.

A month later, a bipartisan bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that, if passed, would require that all fees be disclosed in advance.

In addition, in July the attorney general for Washington, D.C., filed a lawsuit accusing hotel giant Marriott International of price deception in the way it lists resort fees. And a similar suit was filed by Nebraska’s attorney general against Hilton later that month.

What you can do: For tips on avoiding hotel fees, read our report “The Sneaky Ways Hotels Are Hiding Their Resort Fees” and tell us your own hidden-fee story at “Member Stories: What the Fee?!!

Keeping Drug Costs in Check

What’s at stake: The rising cost of prescription drugs is a daily challenge for many Americans. The average annual cost of a brand-name drug has more than tripled in just over a decade, jumping from $1,868 in 2006 to $6,798 in 2017, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute.

One way people can save money on drugs is to choose a lower-priced generic version. But brand-name pharmaceutical companies can stifle such competition through a practice called “pay for delay,” whereby they cut deals with makers of generic drugs to delay putting the generics on the market. A 2010 Federal Trade Commission study projected that these deals would cost consumers $3.5 billion in higher drug costs per year for 10 years.

How CR has your back: CR has repeatedly advocated against pay-for-delay schemes. In October, California’s governor signed a CR-endorsed law that prohibits these agreements by declaring them presumptively anticompetitive.

What you can do: For more information, plus tips on keeping your drug costs in check, read our report “The Shocking Rise of Rx Drug Prices.”

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the January 2020 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.