Travelers can often run into unexpected fees – such as resort fees for services and amenities like Wi-Fi access or even paying to print an airline boarding pass at home.
Those “unfair” travel costs could soon be terminated.
With inflation continuing to hurt Americans’ pocketbooks, President Joe Biden announced this week that he plans to crack down on junk fees, saying they “hit marginalized Americans the hardest.”
Hidden fees have been controversial for several years as politicians have tried to pass bills requiring hotels to share the full pre-tax price of a hotel or short-term rental. Last November, Marriott International became the first major hotel company committed to including all resort fees in the total price after being sued in 2019 by the attorney general of the District of Columbia.
Such fees are prominent in the travel industry and they’ve only been on the rise. According to a report from the NYU School of Professional Studies, in 2017, the lodging industry profited an estimated $2.7 billion from such surcharges. Profits dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic when far fewer people traveled but fees have recently returned – and with a vengeance. This year, hotel mandatory fees have reportedly gone up each month.
The average resort fee in September was $25.57 per night.
Why do hotels have hidden fees?
A junk fee is “when you think you’re paying one price to book a hotel, you only find out after checking out that there’s a ‘resort fee’ you never heard about that’s added to your bill,” Biden said. A $30 resort fee can end up making a $170 hotel room cost $400 instead of $340 for two nights.
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These charges often support services and amenities provided by the hotel or resort such as Wi-Fi access, pool service, housekeeping or complimentary coffee. In some cases, hotel fees contribute to perks like board game rentals and GoPro camera rentals that may be justifiable to some travelers.
To clarify, a “junk fee” isn’t paying extra to upgrade a room; they are “fees designed either to confuse or deceive consumers or to take advantage of lock-in or other forms of situational market power,” according to a White House briefing.
What does this mean for travelers?
The A White House briefing said the Federal Trade Commission will launch a “rulemaking process” to “broadly reduce” junk fee practices across markets, such as the lodging and airline industry.
For the former, hotel resort fees are considered “mandatory fees with little or no added value” that consumers “never consented to” at the time of purchase. Hotels and their booking sites would likely have to disclose all costs to consumers.
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For the latter, the Department of Transportation will ensure airlines and online travel agencies like Expedia disclose all fees upfront, like those for cancellation, changes and baggage.
Some believe that eliminating resort fees will only drive up room rates. Others think resort fees bring value to travelers and that most hotels are already transparent about such fees.
A spokesperson for the American Hotel and Lodging Association told USA TODAY the organization’s “most recent data shows that 93% of hotels do not charge resort fees. And 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 US Federal Trade Commission.”