NAV­I­GA­TOR Re­sort fees are on the rise; don’t let them take you by sur­prise.

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - El­liott is a con­sumer ad­vo­cate, jour­nal­ist and co-founder of the ad­vo­cacy group Trav­el­ers United. Email him at chris@el­liott.org. CHRISTO­PHER EL­LIOTT

Tamara My­ers thought that her ho­tel bill at the West­gate Las Ve­gas Re­sort & Casino would come to $415. At least that’s what Otel.com, the web­site through which she booked the room, promised her.

But the site glossed over a small de­tail: a manda­tory daily “re­sort fee” payable at check­out, which added $306 to the fo­lio. Gotcha. “I did my due dili­gence,” in­sists My­ers, who lives in Indianapolis and works for the mil­i­tary. She’d made the reser­va­tion for her 88-year-old mother, who was car­ing for her brother in Las Ve­gas. “The fee was listed nowhere on Otel.com.”

Manda­tory re­sort fees, tacked onto a ho­tel bill af­ter an ini­tial price quote — and some­times even later, as with My­ers — are on the rise again. A to­tal of 1,026 do­mes­tic ho­tels charged a re­sort fee for the first half of 2017, a 14 per­cent in­crease from just six months ago, ac­cord­ing to new re­search from Re­sort­feechecker.com, a site that al­lows trav­el­ers to look up re­sort fees at ho­tels world­wide. The av­er­age re­sort fee, which cov­ers ev­ery­thing from “free” WiFi to ac­cess to ex­er­cise fa­cil­i­ties, now stands at al­most $21, a jump of 8.7 per­cent from last De­cem­ber.

The big­gest in­creases came in large met­ro­pol­i­tan cities, in­clud­ing New York, San Fran­cisco and Los An­ge­les, where re­sort fees are up by a whop­ping 70 per­cent in six months. “Un­til re­cently, most ho­tels in these cities didn’t charge a fee,” says Randy Green­corn, pub­lisher of Re­sort­feechecker.com.

No won­der, then, that frus­tra­tion with re­sort fees is reach­ing a boil­ing point. They’re dif­fi­cult to fight once they’ve been added to a bill. Gov­ern­ment ac­tion on the fees, once thought to be in­evitable, has stalled.

Re­sort fees are clas­sic travel in­dus­try sleight-of-hand — you’re quoted one price, you pay an­other — yet for now they re­main per­fectly le­gal. How so? Ho­tels are only re­quired to dis­close the fee be­fore the book­ing is made, but not when the ini­tial price quote is made. The West­gate’s site warns that a re­sort fee of $29.95 plus tax a night “may” ap­ply. A search for a weekly room rate in Au­gust shows a price of $781 for a stan­dard “Sig­na­ture” room. The next screen down­plays the fi­nal room rate, which, af­ter taxes and re­sort fees, comes to $1,192, a 53 per­cent in­crease. You have to click an ar­row to get a price break­down.

Otel.com shows an as­ter­isk and refers to re­sort fees un­der “Ho­tel In­for­ma­tion” on its book­ing page. “Some ho­tels do charge a re­sort fee which must be paid to the ho­tel di­rectly,” it warns. “Otel.com is not re­spon­si­ble for re­sort fee charges and has no con­trol over their im­ple­men­ta­tion.”

A West­gate rep­re­sen­ta­tive said that the ho­tel does not con­tract di­rectly with Otel.com. “All of our di­rect book­ing part­ners and our cor­po­rate web­sites clearly mark the pres­ence of our re­sort fee, con­sis­tent with nearly ev­ery other ma­jor re­sort in Las Ve­gas,” said Jeff Klein, a re­sort spokesman. Klein says it has con­tacted Otel.com and asked it to “make this right with the cus­tomer.” I did, too, but re­ceived no re­sponse.

That’s how it goes with most at­tempts to claw back a re­sort fee. Ap­par­ently, ho­tels and their in­ter­me­di­aries feel as if as­ter­isks and hard-to-find dis­clo­sures are ad­e­quate, and they are in­ter­pret­ing the gov­ern­ment’s si­lence on the mat­ter as a tacit en­dorse­ment of their prac­tices.

Only a few months ago, re­sort fees were headed for ex­tinc­tion. The Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion sig­naled that the fees as they are cur­rently ad­ver­tised by most ho­tels were “un­fair and de­cep­tive.” The agency was poised to an­nounce a pol­icy shift that would re­quire re­sort fees to be in­cluded in the ini­tial price quote, ac­cord­ing to mul­ti­ple sources.

But af­ter the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment cooled on fur­ther reg­u­lat­ing the ho­tel in­dus­try. A na­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tion of re­sort fees, led by the at­tor­ney gen­eral for the District with par­tic­i­pa­tion of 46 state at­tor­neys gen­eral, is un­der­way. In June, the D.C. at­tor­ney gen­eral sent a sub­poena to Mar­riott, re­quir­ing it to pro­duce doc­u­ments re­lated to its in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether its prac­tice of charg­ing “undis­closed or poorly dis­closed” re­sort fees vi­o­lates the District’s con­sumer pro­tec­tion laws.

Mar­riott says it “fully” dis­closes re­sort fees to con­sumers be­fore they com­plete their book­ing on any of its di­rect chan­nels. “We have been co­op­er­at­ing with the District of Columbia’s re­quest for in­for­ma­tion in ac­cor­dance with their in­ves­ti­ga­tion into in­dus­try re­sort fee dis­clo­sure prac­tices,” says John Wolf, a spokesman for Mar­riott.

But un­til a state, the FTC or a court de­clares these fees il­le­gal, they’re bound to con­tinue mul­ti­ply­ing, in­dus­try ob­servers say. It’s a source of frus­tra­tion for trav­el­ers and em­bar­rass­ment for tourism of­fi­cials. I con­tacted rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the top three cities for re­sort fees — Or­lando, Miami and Las Ve­gas — af­ter the Re­sort­feechecker.com data was re­leased. Of­fi­cials in Or­lando and Las Ve­gas de­clined to com­ment, and Miami did not re­spond.

There are a few quick fixes. The first is ob­vi­ous: Review the fine print, es­pe­cially if you’re book­ing through a third party. Dis­count ho­tel sites may in­ten­tion­ally con­ceal re­sort fees, or they may not have ac­cess to the most cur­rent re­sort fee in­for­ma­tion from the prop­erty. You owe it to your­self to check with the ho­tel be­fore you make your reser­va­tion.

In some cases, re­sort fees can be avoided by join­ing ho­tel loy­alty pro­grams, Green­corn says. “Sign-up takes only a cou­ple of min­utes and can be done on­line. Be­fore book­ing, trav­el­ers should check with their ho­tel di­rectly to see if they pro­vide this ben­e­fit to its mem­bers.”

These are only stop­gap mea­sures, but they should help you avoid un­pleas­ant sur­prises un­til the long arm of the law catches up with ho­tels that charge re­sort fees. It’s only a mat­ter of time.

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