Marriott Settles Lawsuit and Agrees to Include ‘Resort Fees’ in Advertised Room Rates
Last updated November 29, 2021
Consumers won their first major victory in the fight against hidden resort fees. Last week, Marriott International, one of America’s largest hotel chains, settled a consumer protection lawsuit brought by the Pennsylvania attorney general. As part of the settlement, Marriott agreed to be “upfront and transparent in the disclosure of mandatory fees, including resort fees, as part of the total price of a hotel stay,” according to the news release announcing the settlement.
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“Hotels shouldn’t be able to slap hidden fees on top of your bill at the last minute, and thanks to this settlement we’re putting the hotel industry on notice to put an end to this deceptive practice,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “Marriott has stepped up to commit itself to fix this practice and we expect more hotel chains to follow suit.”
In 2019, Checkbook checked rates at 205 hotels in eight major U.S. cities and found that more than two-thirds had mandatory resort fees. On average, these junk fees added $29—an extra 13 percent—per night.
Hotels haven’t been disclosing these types of fees in their advertised per-night rates; instead, you see them only on a different booking screen, often in small type. And because the fees aren’t included in prices displayed by travel booking sites, consumers can’t filter or sort on hotels’ actual prices.
Shapiro considers this so-called “drip pricing” used by many hotels, large and small, to be deceptive and illegal.
The hotel industry says these fees cover the cost of certain hotel services, such as internet access and use of the pool or gym. But guests pay these fees even if they don’t use those services, so it’s really part of the total room rates.
With many hotels, travelers don’t find out about the true price of the room—advertised rate plus mandatory fee—until the end of the online booking process, or, in some cases, when they arrive at the hotel.
In settling the case, Marriott agreed to prominently disclose the total price of a hotel stay, including room rate and all other mandatory fees, on the first page of its booking website as part of the total room rate. The company committed to having these changes in place within the next nine months.
In a statement, Marriott International said it has “long been committed to making sure that any resort/destination fees charged by hotels in the U.S. are separately and clearly stated.”
Shapiro commended Marriott for being the first hotel to formally commit to the upfront disclosure of resort fees as part of the initial advertised price, a practice that he believes should be considered “the industry standard “going forward.
Charlie Leocha, president and co-founder of the consumer group Travelers United, calls this settlement “a big deal.” He’s been trying to stop hidden resort fees for more than a decade.
“This is false advertising,” Leocha told Checkbook. “When hotels don’t reveal their resort fees in their initial pricing, you can’t comparison shop because there’s no way to know the true price of that room.”
A Long Time Coming
Consumer groups, including Checkbook, who had counted on federal regulators to protect travelers, have been disappointed by the lack of action. In 2012 and 2013, the Federal Trade Commission provided guidance to the hotel industry that made things a little better but didn’t solve the problem.
The FTC told hotels to disclose mandatory fees prior to booking a room, but they were not required to include those fees in the advertised room rate.
A 2017 report by the commission’s Bureau of Economics concluded that “separating mandatory resort fees from posted room rates without first disclosing the total price is likely to harm consumers” for several reasons. And yet, the FTC did not act, so consumer advocates turned to the courts.
Travelers United has sued MGM Resorts International, alleging deceptive resort fees.
“The Travelers United lawsuit asks the courts to specifically look at the issues of charging resort fees in a pandemic when all of the alleged services provided by the resort fee were eliminated,” said Lauren Wolfe, Travelers United’s general counsel.
The attorney general of Nebraska has ongoing litigation against Hilton, and the attorney general of the District of Columbia has sued Marriott.
In addition, MGM Resorts and other casino hotels, have offered “complimentary” rooms to guests who spend in their casinos, but then forced the guests to pay a resort fee on the so-called free room. “We look forward to the court addressing the issue of resort fees being changed on ‘comped’ rooms,” Wolfe added, “as the resort fee is often more than the cost of the room at some MGM properties.”
What Can You Do?
Although Marriott’s settlement with the Pennsylvania attorney general is a major victory for consumers, it has no impact on other hotel chains. That means you need to be careful when you book a room. Checkbook’s researchers found that mandatory hidden fees can turn a seemingly good deal into a bad one, by raising the daily rate by as much as $40 at some hotel properties. When researching rates, you need to compare bottom-line prices.
If you are hit with mandatory fees not clearly disclosed when you booked, demand the hotel remove them from your final bill. If it won’t, dispute those costs with your credit card company, and file a complaint with your state’s attorney general or consumer protection office.
Contributing editor Herb Weisbaum (“The ConsumerMan”) is an Emmy award-winning broadcaster and one of America's top consumer experts. He is also the consumer reporter for KOMO radio in Seattle. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and at ConsumerMan.com.