Washington Post: Resort Fees Facing Fresh Crackdown from Members of Congress

Oct 4, 2019
In The News

Already the subject of lawsuits and consumer ire, resort fees are now the target of a new federal bipartisan bill. The Hotel Advertising Transparency Act of 2019 seeks to do away with the practice of tacking on extra charges that aren’t shown in the upfront room rate for hotels.

Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) filed the legislation last week. It would require any mandatory fees, aside from taxes, to be shown in the price of a hotel room that is advertised to consumers. According to a news release, the proposed law would also apply to “other places of short-term lodging,” which includes hotels or other accommodations that advertise a nightly, hourly or weekly rate.

“When travelers search for hotel options, they deserve to see straightforward prices," Fortenberry said in a statement. "They should not get hit with hidden fees that are designed to confuse consumers and distort the actual price. I am pleased to support this legislation that will result in greater transparency for the traveling public.”

There is no companion bill in the Senate yet, but efforts are underway to get similar legislation filed. The bill has the support of consumer-advocacy groups including Travelers United and Consumer Reports.

“I believe that this bill will pass,” Lauren Wolfe, a lawyer with Travelers United who founded the site Kill Resort Fees, said in an email. “People want to know the price of a room — it is as simple as that. American consumers should be able to know the price of a good before they buy it. The hotels here have shown that they cannot act by themselves. It is time for Congress to step in."

This isn’t the first time federal legislation has taken aim at the pricing practice: a 2016 attempt in the Senate failed to gain traction. More recently, states have taken on the issue, with attorneys general from all 50 states and the District of Columbia investigating resort fees. In July, the Nebraska and Washington, D.C., attorneys general filed lawsuits against Hilton and Marriott International, respectively, accusing the companies of deceptive and misleading pricing practices.

And operators got a warning years ago when the Federal Trade Commission sent notices in 2012 and 2013 telling 35 hotels and 11 online booking sites that they were not properly disclosing resort fees on their websites.

“In response to these warning letters, many hotels and online travel agents modified their resort fee disclosures,” according to the announcement from the Congress members. “But consumer complaints about the disclosure of these rates continue.”

In a statement, Brian Crawford, the executive vice president of government affairs for the American Hotel & Lodging Association, defended hotel practices. The group has not taken a stance on the proposed legislation.

“When resort fees are applied, they are clearly and prominently displayed by hotel websites prior to the end of the booking process, in accordance with guidance issued by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission,” he said. "We believe that all online lodging advertisers, including third-party online travel agencies and short-term rental platforms, should be held to the same standards of transparency.”

But Anna Laitin, director of financial policy for Consumer Reports, says hotels are highly unlikely to include resort fees in their advertised price — rather than just before they book — without being forced to.

“They have shown no interest in backing off and, in fact, in a competitive consumer shopping environment, I think it would be very hard for a single hotel chain to say, ‘We’re not going to do it,’” she says. “The way people shop for hotels is by price. If you search for a bunch of hotels and one is significantly more expensive than the others simply because they’re being more honest about their pricing, people probably won’t go there.”

 

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