image of front desk at a swanky hotel

Hotel resort fee, amenities fee, facilities fee. These add-on charges go by many names, but more and more consumers are finding one or another form of them added to their hotel bills. 

And all too often, consumers only realize they are being charged a resort fee when they check out, according to 2018 nationally representative survey conducted by Consumer Reports. Yet regulators have been slow to act, despite evidence that hotels and travel agencies are not always clearly disclosing prices. 

That's why Consumer Reports delivered a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Tuesday asking the agency to take enforcement action against hotels charging mandatory resort fees that are not included in the advertised room rate.

The letter also asks the FTC to issue a clear statement that advertisements for hotel rooms that do not include these mandatory fees in the quoted price violate the agency's rules against unfair and deceptive practices.

"Hotels are inflating the cost of rooms with added fees, making it difficult for consumers to discover the full cost of a room or to comparison shop," says Anna Laitin, director for financial policy at Consumer Reports. "The FTC should ban this unfair practice."

More on Fees

Just a few years ago, federal regulators appeared poised to crack down on hidden resort fees. In 2012 and 2013, the Federal Trade Commission sent warning letters to hotels and online travel agencies that did not adequately disclose these fees. 

Consumer Reports recently examined the fee disclosure of the 34 hotels and 11 online travel agencies that were sent those FTC warning letters. Among the 31 hotels that continue to charge resort fees, none included those fees in the initial online price shown to consumers, CR advocates found.

Instead, the hotels show only the base cost of the room on the first pricing page, without including additional mandatory charges, though some mentioned the existence of fees in small print or via a hyperlink, CR research shows. Customers have to make multiple clicks to arrive at a checkout page to see the total costs, including fees.

Among the hotels surveyed, those add-on expenses, including resort fees and other surcharges, as well as taxes, ballooned the total costs by 11 percent to more than 100 percent.

Hard-to-Find Fees

Although all the hotel websites reviewed by CR failed to show the additional fees and charges clearly, some were even less clear than others. Four hotels, including Atlantis Casino Resort Spa, Eldorado Hotel Casino in Reno, Nev., Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn., and Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Hotel made no mention of their resort fees when presenting the initial room rate, delaying notification until customers reach the checkout page.

In an email, a spokesperson for Atlantis said, “We are in compliance with the FTC’s letter," noting that the resort fee "is prominently displayed to the guest before the guest is asked to pay for the room." 

A Wynn spokesperson acknowledged in an email that a guest making a reservation on the hotel’s website must click the “book now” link to reach an order summary outlining the fees.

Eldorado and Mohegan Sun did not respond to requests for comment.

Other hotels mentioned the existence of add-on fees on the first pricing page, but those details are difficult to see. The Four Seasons Scottsdale noted other fees and charges at the bottom of the room rate page, but customers have to click through a hyperlink for details. The Tuscana Resort in Orlando provided a small-print reference to fees and taxes, which was visible only if customers scrolled down below the room rate information.

Neither hotel responded to requests for comment.

A similar lack of fee disclosure was found at all 10 online travel agencies that are still operating, including Booking.com and Expedia, which both own several of the agencies. These websites showcase initial room rates without including mandatory fees, which appear only after customers clicked through additional pages.

Expedia did not return a request for comment on CR's findings. A Booking.com spokesperson said that customers always see the total price before check-out. Both companies have previously announced changes that could improve fee disclosure; more on that below.

A Growing Backlash

There's no question that hotel add-on charges have caused plenty of frustration for consumers. As a our 2018 survey found, 34 percent of respondents said they had encountered a hidden or surprise fee at a hotel in the past two years. And more than half said those fees had caused them to go over budget.

That consumer dissatisfaction has help prompt some state regulators to take action. In July, the attorney general for Washington, D.C. filed a lawsuit against hotel giant Marriott International, accusing it of "price deception" in the way it lists resort fees.

A similar lawsuit was filed soon after by the Nevada attorney general against Hilton. These suits follow an investigation into hotel pricing practices by attorneys general in all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia.

Some travel agencies are starting make changes. For example, Expedia says it will begin looking at how hotels with mandatory fees "appear in our sort order next to those that do not have those fees," according to spokesperson Christie Hudson. That change would give hotels with extra fees less prominence on the site. 

Booking.com is planning to charge commissions on mandatory extra fees that customers are asked to pay at the property. "We hope this move helps further push properties to be transparent and include the entire price upfront," a Booking.com spokesperson said.

Still, hotels may be slow to eliminate resort fees, which have been a steadily increasing source of revenues. Last year alone, the hotel industry pulled in a record $2.9 billion in revenues from resort fees, other fees and surcharges, with even more expected this year, according to Bjorn Hanson, Ph.D., a hotel consultant.

How to Fight Hotel Fees

Resort fees are only one of the frustrating add-ons you may find on your hotel bill. Here are some steps you can take to minimize these costs, or at least avoid unpleasant surprises:

Dig into the pricing. Be sure to research the fees before you book. Online travel websites can provide a comprehensive look at promising room rates, and the hotel websites may list add-on charges, if you keep clicking. Take a screenshot of the charges on the day you book, in case of disputes later, says Hanson.

You can also call the hotel directly to get a fully tally of fees. Get the name of the person you speak to, and request an email confirming these charges. 

Ask about the services. If the hotel charges a resort fee, find out what services those charges cover, such as use of a pool or access to special tours.

That’s what Doug Koch, an IT manager, wishes he had done when he vacationed with his family at a South Carolina hotel for several days. The 56-year-old Minneapolis resident knew the total cost of his stay, which was booked through a travel agent. But he didn’t realize which specific fees he was paying, including a $40-a-day resort fee.

He learned toward the end of his stay that the fee gave him the opportunity to participate in chef’s tastings, evening bonfires, as well as other activities. “No one explained it to me when I checked in,” says Koch. “I only found out midway through our stay, so I missed out.”

If there are no services being offered that you will use, it’s worth asking for a fee waiver. Be aware, most hotels are reluctant to do this, but you’ll have your best shot if you call before checking in.

Consider joining a hotel loyalty program. Pearl-level members of MGM Resorts’ loyalty program get complimentary self-parking, for example, and Gold members of the Wyndham Rewards program don’t have to pay extra for late checkouts.

Other Fees You Might Be Charged
Parking: Some hotels charge this even if you park yourself.

Safe: You can be charged for this extra even if you don’t use the one in your room. The charge is sometimes just a few dollars but is a particularly maddening one, consumers told us.

Online reservation or booking: Travelers might be surprised to find a $25 per-night fee for booking their reservation online. Some also are surprised by reservation fees for booking over the phone.

WiFi: Though many hotels now provide free internet, you may have to pay a premium for high-speed connections.