Don’t Expect An End To Sketchy Hotel Resort Fees Anytime Soon

In spite of the fact that some hotels, like The Venetian in Las Vegas, are hiding their resort fees in microprint -- and not even including it in the total price, but charging it separately at check-in -- the Federal Trade Commission refuses to address the issue any further.

In spite of the fact that some hotels, like The Venetian in Las Vegas, are hiding their resort fees in microprint — and not even including it in the total price, but charging it separately at check-in — the Federal Trade Commission refuses to address the issue any further.

In 2012, it looked like the Federal Trade Commission might finally be cracking down on hotel “resort fees,” mandatory surcharges added above the listed price of some hotel rooms. At the time, the agency sent warnings to 22 different hotel operators warning them that they weren’t doing enough to disclose these fees, but no legal actions have been taken since, in spite of the fact that some popular tourist destinations are hiding their resort fees until the final payment screen. And judging by the FTC’s latest response to these concerns, you probably shouldn’t expect this to change in the near future.

In July, consumer advocacy group Travelers United called on the FTC to put an end to deceptive resort fees and take action against hotel operators that refused to oblige.

Some U.S. legislators followed up on this report. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania wrote the FTC [PDF], suggesting that the Commission strengthen its advertising standards to “better serve the public in making well-informed decisions regarding their hotel stays and to prevent behavior that misleads middle-class families.”

Likewise, Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri also sent a letter [PDF] to the FTC about resort fees, pointing out that while hotels may be doing a better job of publicizing resort fees, the number of hotels charging these fees has doubled in recent years.

“To further compound the problem,” writes McCaskill, “even the modest improvement in the disclosure of these fees on some booking sites has been offset by the trend of more Americans booking travel over smart phones and other mobile devices that do not have adequate space to prominently display fees.”

But in the FTC’s response [PDF] to Sen. Casey’s letter, there is an apparent lack of urgency on the Commission’s part.

While the FTC claims that it has a “strong interest protecting consumer confidence in the online marketplace,” the only specific action the agency references is the batch of 22 warning letters sent out in 2012. It mentions subsequent warning letters but provides no details on when or how many hotel operators were involved.

“These efforts have resulted in significant improvements to travel website displays,” contends the FTC. “Numerous companies now prominently disclose resort fees early in the booking process, and right next to the advertised room rate… Importantly, these websites also add the resort fee to the ‘total’ price shown for the stay.””

However, that claim does not jive in any way with our recent look at resort fees for Las Vegas hotels. We looked at three hotels on the Vegas strip and only one even listed the resort fee on the initial page with listed the listed room rate. None of them included the resort fee in the total price until it came to enter billing information. In fact, one of the three hotels didn’t even include it then, but listed it as a per-night charge to be paid separately at check-in.

Sen. Casey is not as obviously disappointed in the FTC’s “we’ve done enough, now leave us alone” response.

“Senator Casey appreciates the FTCs response and their continued attention to this issue,” reads a statement from his office, which says the senator “will continue to monitor the situation closely and press the FTC to take aggressive action to ensure consumers are given fair warning about these fees.”