Watch Out For Undisclosed Resort Fees When Using Sites Like Priceline

Travel consumer advocate Christopher Elliott has a new post about an undisclosed $15/day “resort fee” that Trump International Hotel Las Vegas plans to tack onto a customer’s bill. The surprise is that the customer reserved the room through Priceline, and thought when he made the reservation that Priceline was telling him the final room rate.

The customer thinks Priceline should list such fees on its site in advance, so customers can know the true daily rate. Priceline counters that its Terms and Conditions clearly state there may be undisclosed fees like that. But how can you rely on Priceline if it won’t disclose the real room rate?

Even worse, Elliott points out that the deal they offered was actually higher than the hotel’s base rate right now.

“Vegas hotel + opaque site + resort fee = T-R-O-U-B-L-E” [Elliott.org]

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  1. temporaryscars says:

    Captain Kirk has some splainin’ to do.

  2. gparlett says:

    And of course just by the design of PriceLine you have no idea which hotel you are getting until you accept the rate. If you use the site and choose a Las Vegas hotel with x-number of stars there is no way to avoid the Trump International.

    • Brazell says:

      Hm, I did not know that about Priceline. I use Travelocity usually, and used it to good success when I went to Vegas last year. Will definitely avoid Priceline then.

  3. rpm773 says:

    But how can you rely on Priceline if it won’t disclose the real room rate?

    That’s the question. Priceline may have no control over these fees that are added on by the hotel, but if such fees offset the benefit of using Priceline, then there’ll be no reason to use them.

    Priceline had better get a handle on this situation, or risk becoming obsolete.

    Also, I’ve found that when times are tough in the tourist industry, one can cut some pretty good deals if working with the hotel directly (as opposed to brokerage services like Priceline).

    • rpm773 says:

      After reading a little more closely, this resort fee sounds more like a standard fee, as opposed to one that is exclusively applied on to reservations made through sites like Priceline (upon which my comment was mainly focused).

    • Corporate_guy says:

      These sites are already obsolete. Anyone that uses these sites without calling the actual hotel to find the true price is dumb. Even if a site like priceline is cheaper, they will most likely just match the rate over the phone. Then because you booked through the hotel, you don’t have to go through priceline if there is a problem and you know the reservation made it into their system.

      • rpm773 says:

        I agree. When booking your own travel, keeping things as simple as possible and dealing directly is the way to go.

      • Nogard13 says:

        I have used Priceline Name Your Own Price dozens of times, and I’ve never had a problem. I always look into the hotels that I’m planning on staying at and use a website (better bidding dot com) to find what the going lowest bid price is and what hotel is being given out. I have paid $50 a night for 4-star hotels that charge $300 a night if you book directly with them. I’ve also tried calling the hotels directly to negotiate these prices and I’ve ALWAYS been shot down. The hotel usually says that they sell blocks of rooms for a discounted rate and therefore will not take the hit/loss on the rooms they have left. So, I just use Priceline and save me some mullah.

        • Corporate_guy says:

          Ok, so you did both. As I said. Do both. But as for the price match, that was from a previous consumerist story. So some do price match the internet. I am not sure why all wouldn’t. They don’t have to pay a commission if they price match it directly and bypass the website.

  4. rrapynot says:

    Priceline disclose this when you select the “resort” category.

    • ColoradoShark says:

      But they don’t disclose *how much* this fee is. For the original story it was $15 a day. It could have been $5 a day or $1000 a day, it just doesn’t say.

      There is also the weasel phrase of *might* charge you when they *will* charge you an unknowable fee.

    • datapants says:

      Even if you avoid the resort category, it is still possible for Priceline to stick you with a property that charges a resort fee. The only way to avoid the resort fee is to not use Priceline’s Name Your Own Price feature.

  5. ckaught78 says:

    Don’t forget about parking fees. Booked a hotel room off hotwire for the San Fran area and while the rate was $70 a night, parking was an additional $20, but they don’t tell you that when you book. Oh well, I figured I would have to pay for parking anyway.

    • Anathema777 says:

      The undisclosed fees for some places are ridiculous. A bunch of people from my company were working a conference in Miami. The hotel we were in had a great rate…until all of the fees go added on. There was a pool fee that got added to your total whether or not you used the pool (and since the pool was only open when we were at the conference, we never got near it.) I feel that a fee like that, that gets charged no matter what, should be part of the room price, but apparently the hotel didn’t feel that way.

      The annoying part was that our company pre-paid for our rooms, but the hotel charged all of our credit cards for that random $20 pool fee. (For the record, our company immediately stepped up and reimbursed us for that fee, but the higher ups weren’t amused by the hotel’s bait-and-switch pricing. We never used them again and they lost out on a LOT of business.)

    • evilrobot says:

      FWIW, $20 a night in SF for daily parking is a really good deal especially if you were staying downtown.

    • Seanumich says:

      Parking is additional to a room rate ALWAYS. It would be like you saying you ordered room service and they charged you for it. A hotel room does not come with a parking space in most urban areas.

  6. stuckinms says:

    Those websites like Expedia, Priceline, etc., aren’t always informed of the business practices of the hotel/airline/car rental companies. We tried to rent a car from Enterprise and chose unlimited miles. When we went to pick up the car, they told us they don’t do unlimited mileage and that we’d have to pay a certain amount per mile. We were taking a 650 mile (1300 mile round-trip) trip, and were not going to pay that. We asked them why our reservation from Expedia showed unlimited miles and they said they didn’t know, but they don’t do that. We chose a different car rental place next door and they actually gave us a better deal than we were going to get.

    Next time I make a reservation through one of those sites I’m going to call the places first to make sure there aren’t any discrepancies in cost. Or, like someone on a different post suggested, use those websites to compare prices and then call directly to make reservations.

    • Chmeeee says:

      In general, there’s really no good reason to book through a traditional travel website like Expedia and Travelocity. They make for good search engines, helping you find the cheapest fare/rate, but once you find that fare, it’s generally same or cheaper if you go to the airline/hotel/car rental agency website directly and book, with the bonus of not having to deal with multiple customer service depts if something gets screwy.

      Priceline and Hotwire are a seperate issue, since they typically offer lower rates than you can get anywhere else in exchange for prepaying and not knowing what you are getting until you purchase. I’ve gotten some rates that were more than worth it though. My latest was two nights, three rooms at the Hilton across the street from Camden Yards in Baltimore on a Red Sox weekend for $600 total. Booking through Travelocity or Hilton directly, that would have been $1,400.

    • leprofie says:

      I rent from Enterprise all the time and always get unlimited miles … if renting in a particular state and traveling only to surrounding states.

      • stuckinms says:

        We were renting in MO and driving to MS, which meant that at some point we were going from west of the Mississippi river to east of it. I know some car companies have weird rules about staying on one side of the Mississippi river or the other. But, if I recall correctly, Enterprise said that if we stayed in MO with the car then it was unlimited miles.

  7. CherieBerry says:

    I’ve never been comfortable using Priceline for hotels. My brother-in-law once got “Shatnered” by a bad hotel.

    • SunnyLea says:

      Priceline is great if 1)You know how to game the system and 2)You are looking at high-end hotels. In fact, it is easier to game the system with high-end hotels.

    • dantsea says:

      My lone experience with Priceline was booking a hotel in San Francisco that promised a two-star “boutique” property near Union Square. As an on again/off again resident of SF, I should have known this meant a residential hotel located in the Tenderloin, the neighborhood next to Union Square, chock full of crack addict zombies. Won’t do that twice.

  8. lotussix says:

    some of our resorts charge resort fees which are not included when sold through expedia, hotels.com, priceline, etc.

    these resort fees are non waivable and are a “blanket” type of charge for use of some of the additional services. basically, you pay it whether or not you use the services. if you don’t use the services, you are just subsidizing the people who do.

    these charges are not hidden and are disclosed on our website and in confirmations.

    • RPHP says:

      I guess you work for one of these site or something so I understand your defense. The idea is not that you say “There may be fees added” etc or whatever. We are not debating that such a disclaimer is present. We are saying it is not right that the amount of those fees is not disclosed. This may mean when one books they are getting a significantly worse deal than they thought they bargained for.

      If travel sites are going to deal with these hotels/airlines/etc that tack these fees on then find out the fees and disclose exactly what they are!

      • lotussix says:

        negative. i work for a hotel company that advises of these fees up front when YOU CALL US. these may not be disclosed through the third party.

        • datapants says:

          A hotel that plays the game of charging mandatory fees can’t help but look bad when they agree to work with Priceline, which consistently fails to disclose that information. Even when a hotel discloses the info over the phone (or better yet, on their website), that goodwill is undone by the current design of Priceline’s opaque bidding engine.

    • AustinTXProgrammer says:

      Disclosed or not, the only purpose of these fees is to advertise a lower rate. If its mandatory for every room, it should be part of the room rate.

      First it was A Fee and Fee, now its everyone. When will truth in advertising and pricing ever return? I wouldn’t want more regulation, but somewhere we as consumers need to take a stand. Ask questions, and refuse to do business with anyone charging bogus fees!

      I hope you sleep well knowing that your employer uses fees to advertise deceptive rates!

    • jamar0303 says:

      So remind me why this isn’t being rolled into the room rate? This really should be regulated.

  9. Jbondkicks says:

    I’ve previously been subject to a resort fee of $30 per night when I booked a hotel in Miami. Fortunately, whatever site I booked it through was clear about this from the outset. Still, it seems like any fees for beach towels and stuff should be built in to the price of the room.

    • dantsea says:

      Yowch. About the highest resort fee I’ve ever encountered was $5/day. Hope you got your thirty bucks worth.

  10. StatusfriedCrustomer says:

    Priceline, Expedia, Hotels.com, etc. are all charging more hotel fees because of higher fuel costs nowadays.

    • admiral_stabbin says:

      What higher fuel costs these days? A gallon of 89 octane “Super Unleaded” is $2.33/gallon up the street from me.

      I’m livid that companies are still milking people with a “fuel surcharge”.

    • dantsea says:

      I suppose it takes some serious amount of fuel to move that hotel around.

  11. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    IIRC, many states/municipalities have weird fees/taxes that vary from location to location. NY State has this real high hotel/B&B tax.

    • ChunkyBarf says:

      You are correct that taxes are levied municipality-wide. However, that would be consistent with any property in that given state. The meat of this story is the ‘undisclosed’ fees levied by the properties themselves (that presumably would not occur at competitor X across the street).
      I have heard of places charging resort fees when the patrons do not use the spa/salon/pool, etc. Generally it is in your best interest to argue this point at check-out so as to not have to over-pay. That would be my advice anyway.

  12. Buckus says:

    I never use Expedia, Priceline, etc. I always deal directly with the hotel. But even on the hotel’s website they don’t always show the “Fees.” IMHO, if you plan to charge a “Fee” to everyone regardless of whether they use the service or not (example: Resort, parking, energy “fees”) then they should be included in the price you advertise. By not including them you are able to advertise a lower price but make consumers feel like you’re trying to pull the rug over their eyes. Airlines, Auto Rentals, Hotels, it seems everyone in the tourism industry is doing this, and it’s just plain stupid. The price we pay should be the cost for the company to do business, not some artificially lowered price that makes it look like we’re getting a bargain.

    • enabler says:

      “Artificially lowered price” is spot on and I hate not seeing a true price upfront. It’s like booking a hotel (or airfare, or car rental, etc.) from Ticketmaster.

    • lotussix says:

      i know i stated that our resort fees are not waivable, but i digress, they are waivable for large convention groups sometimes. and by sometimes – i mean rarely.

      • jamar0303 says:

        So how many convention customers do you get with a policy like that? I know I’d never be coming. When I buy a hotel stay I expect an all-in price. It works like this in China and Japan, why do resort hotels in America have a problem with this? THROW IT INTO THE BORKING ROOM PRICE IF IT’S NON-WAIVABLE.

  13. wcnghj says:

    That’s why you should always check the hotels website first.

    • Pinkbox says:

      The problem with that is that Priceline doesn’t let you know which hotel you are booking until you’ve already committed to paying.

    • RandomHookup says:

      And it sounds like many of the hotels don’t disclose the mandatory extra fees, even on their web sites.

    • datapants says:

      I agree.

      So what you’re saying is that nobody should ever use an opaque service such as Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” feature.

  14. jp says:

    Nonsense – Hotels like airlines believe most consumers are fools. Book a room rate, and then find out that they charge extra for things like a toilet that flushes and hot water for the shower. Stop the shenanigans and put the total cost up front. Disney tried this with a $25 fee for one additional adult in the room. Treasure Island started with their resort for on 10/1 as well. Cheesy tricks like this are met with results that should be expected. These hotels aren’t getting the clientele they really want – the one’s that leave a tidy profit in the owners pockets when they leave and share their terrific experience with their equally profitable friends.

  15. bdgbill says:

    I use Hotwire for myself or my coworkers almost everyday. These fees are usually a problem with 4 star properties. I have had to pay outrageous parking fees ($25.00 a night in Providence R.I??), the above mentioned “resort fees”, “security fees” and “energy fees”. Plus the old standbys of the fee for the useless in room safe or a dollar a day to have the USA Today delivered to your room.

    All of these are just a tool for hotels to advertise a low rate when you are shopping online 1000 miles away and charge a much higher rate when you are standing in the lobby with all your luggage and few options. As far as I’m concerned, if a “fee” is not attached to some optional service or product than it is simply a hidden part of the rate to sleep at the hotel. This is classic bait and switch and is only quasi-legal because of some statements buried in the fineprint on the website’s terms of use.

    I have had good success getting these fees waived by threatening to post negative reviews on Tripadvisor.

  16. coren says:

    Considering you have no idea which hotel you’ll be at until you book with priceline (thus giving you no way to scout out these other fees) this strikes me as a bit shady…

  17. pop top says:

    I just stayed in Las Vegas earlier this month and it seems as though these resort fees are something new that are being collected as part of a tax or some law that was recently passed there. I booked online directly through the hotel’s website (which is what you should do anyway), so I was told upfront that there would be a $9.50/day resort fee. When we checked in the lady at the front desk even reminded us, but it was nice because paying that fee meant that we could use the basic spa services all we wanted, get free newspapers and [something else I can't remember]. It was really cool to know that this place was actually giving you something in return for taking your money.

    It was the Monte Carlo in case anyone wants to know. I love that place and have only great things to say about them, the hotel and its staff.

  18. Geekybiker says:

    If the site didn’t disclose a “required” fee then you should refuse to pay. I know I’ve heard of many cases of people getting resort fees waived. If anything priceline should be the one covering the fees if there was no disclosure.

  19. Serenefengshui says:

    never use Priceline for Las Vegas. Cheaper to book through hotels directly, plus if the price goes down, you can get the new, lower rate.

  20. pterrell says:

    I agree with Nogard13’s comments. It’s about being an informed consumer.

    I often will bid on a lower star hotel knowing that I’ll get a place that doesn’t charge fees for Internet and that may have a free breakfast.

    If a bad hotel is reported for an area, I won’t bid there.

    I’ll hit a few hotel websites and compare rates. I’ve only found better deals about 5% of the time.

    And when I have gotten a bad deal, I think about it balancing out the dozens of times I’ve gotten a great deal.

  21. Megalomania says:

    This sidesteps the issue of whether the hotels even disclose these fees to Priceline. I would guess not.

    • datapants says:

      I doubt that Priceline cares. They’ve abdicated any role in informing the consumer of any specific fees, and they give the consumer no option to avoid properties that charge them, so it would be pointless to collect that information from the properties.

  22. BoredOOMM says:

    All Las Vegas hotels have this stupid daily fee added on the cost of a room. $39.99 rates are then actually $9.95 higher and the $27.95 next door gets $12.95 a day tacked on for a paper I don’t read and long distance I don’t use. Unsecured wireless access is a bonus I guess…… I don’t use the TV either.

    • cash_da_pibble says:

      Yeah- the Grant County Tax.
      It’s 10% of your room cost for each day.
      While the sites don’t regularly dislcose it, you go to Vegas enough, you remember.

  23. datapants says:

    This is why I don’t use Priceline anymore. I encountered the exact same bait and switch on a resort in Scottsdale, which demanded a $15/day resort fee at checkin. What makes this particularly egregious is Priceline’s practice of “upgrading” you to a resort even if you don’t ask for one. Because Priceline remains willfully ignorant of fee shenanigans of the hotels, a scammy “resort” can swoop in and underbid a reputable hotel with a lower total rate, even though they’re actually more expensive when the fees are factored in.

    As for Las Vegas, I don’t remember resort fees being that much of a problem until recently, when even the off-strip Orleans charged me $5 a night for some lame nonsense.

  24. steamboatdevil says:

    I work for one of the largest hotel companies in the world. Hotels would love for you to call them directly or book from their website. This translates into higher room rates.

    90% of the time priceline (bidding side) will have the lowest rate. You just have to know what you are doing (it takes a bit of work the bidding websites help a lot). Hotels will not give the lowest price over the phone because they do not want the competition getting the scoop on their rates. At most hotels they assign someone to call every hotel in the area every day to get to lowest rates. This is why the Priceline bidding service is blind and you only know the star level and general area. For the competition to find out your best rate they would have to actually bid. No one is willing to do this because it would be costly.

    I get an great employee discount and I still use priceline.. Here are two of my last accepted bids..

    Marriott San Diego – Downtown $39
    Atlanta Buckhead W – $35
    NYC Times Square Hilton – $75

  25. SunnyLea says:

    Frankly, if his bid was higher than the resorts own website quote, then the consumer didn’t make a very good bid. The first thing you do is find out the going rate for the properties you are interested in.

    Most of the time, the rates I can get with Priceline are unbeatable, even *if* you tacked on a $15 fee.

    In many cities (I admit, Vegas is trickier), if you are interested in staying in nicer properties, you can pretty much guarantee what hotel you will be getting (or narrow it down to 2 or 3), and can thus learn about fees, parking rates, etc ahead of time, and really score some killer deals.

    If any of this worries you, don’t use Priceline.

    That said, I agree that the fee should be considered part of the room’s cost. However, this isn’t just Priceline’s game. Resorts should be including these bogus fees in their rates to being with.

  26. Caroofikus says:

    Simple… BetterBidding.com

  27. AndyD says:

    Another weird thing these websites do is they do not break down a package into an itemized bill with separate hotel and flight and rental car and whatnot.

    I had a business trip where I booked a whole package with all three, and when I tried to file for reimbursement they asked for itemized invoices. The airline, the hotel, the car rental and the website all refused to give me separate invoices. I guess they all negotiate special rates that we cannot see, but still.

  28. Ronin Democrat says:

    Rule 1:
    Know what the price from the original source is…..
    How else do you know whether you are getting a deal.

  29. twritersf says:

    “Resort” fees are the same dishonest BS that (some) hotels try to add that are really part of their cost of doing business (CODB).

    A couple of useful links that you can use to (hopefully) avoid these fees:

    http://www.vegasmessageboard.com/forums/showthread.php?t=50749&highlight=resort+fees
    http://www.vegas.com/incl/resortfees.html

  30. carlogesualdo says:

    You’re just now talking about this? Chris Elliott’s been talking about this for a long time. Resort fees have been a scam hotels have used to squeeze extra money out of unsuspecting travelers for a long time. The twist that Chris started talking about last year, I think, is that some “resorts” (and he used that term loosely) were no longer just rolling over and refunding the money when the traveler noticed and objected to the fee, even though they weren’t notified about it in advance, or in some cases, where the resort amenities were extremely questionable (a DIY waffle bar does not a resort, make).

  31. Hands says:

    This isn’t limited to Priceline nor to the Trump Hotel. I’ve worked at several hotels that charge a resort fee guests don’t know about until they get their final bill. Make sure you ask about it when you make your reservation so you’ll know in advance what to expect.

  32. all4jcvette says:

    I’m amazed that people still use this website. You don’t know anything about your bid until you accept. That’s like listing a mystery item on say Ebay, then only telling people what it was once the auction is over. It could be nice or just crap, and then telling them that you are charging an additional shipping and handling fee.

  33. super8 says:

    yeah, just got stuck for $28 at red rocks in vegas after booking through last minute.

  34. tackett says:

    Same thing happened to me with one of Priceline’s competitors. My girlfriend and I stayed in Reno, and were charged $30 ($15 each) over and above what the website said.

    We won’t be using any of those services again. It’s simply dishonest.