by Eric Jordan, Condé Nast Traveler
Extra fees at hotels have become a big money maker. Check the terms and conditions of your potential reservation before you unwittingly agree to pay for something you may not want.
"[Benjamin Brin], a traveler stung by a $28-a-night resort fee at the Palazzo in Las Vegas has filed suit alleging 'that the resort is guilty of false and misleading advertising for failing to clearly disclose a mandatory resort fee at the time that he booked the room,' Hugo Martin writes."
If there's one thing I've seen too much of as the Ombudsman, it's fine print; but I couldn't resist the opportunity to check out the Palazzo's reservation process to see how much disclosure is on offer. First, I searched for a room. I arrived at the "Select Rates & Suites" page, where I found a number of rate choices, but no mention of a resort fee. When I clicked, "Select Offer," the offer expanded and showed suite options. At the bottom of each option, in small print, it read, "Rates do not include a resort fee of $29 plus applicable tax per night, payable upon check-in." Then there's a little "i" symbol, which, when clicked, takes you to:
"Rates do not include a resort fee of $29 plus applicable tax per night, payable upon check-in. For full description of the amenities included in the Resort Fee, please refer to the offer Terms & Conditions on the Reservation & Payment Details page."
Has the fee now been fully disclosed? You might say yes. I'm not so sure. Let's finish the process before we make a final determination. Next, I clicked "Book," and off to the Reservation & Payment page I went (after a brief stint on an upgrade page--I upgraded, because, what the heck, this is for research purposes, might as well live large in my mind). I then clicked the "Terms & Conditions" link. As expected, it was not scintillating reading, but here's what it said about the resort fee:
"Rates do not include a resort fee of $29 plus applicable tax per night, payable upon check-in. The Resort Fee includes:
"Access for two to the fitness facility within the Canyon Ranch SpaClub®, in-suite internet access (Wi-Fi or Ethernet), boarding pass printing, unlimited local and toll-free calls, daily newspaper, a complimentary coffee or tea at Café Presse, and one two-for-one drink coupon for well drinks, domestic beer or wine at any casino bar excluding The Bourbon Room (must be 21 or older to redeem drink coupon).
"The Resort Fee is not reflected in the grand total quoted on your reservation. If you have questions about the Resort Fee, please inquire with the Front Desk Agent upon check-in."
While we have now seen three times that the resort fee is not included in the room rate, it still seems somewhat lacking in transparency, because I don't know if the fee is mandatory (although we know from the lawsuit that it is). What if I don't want the items included in it? Maybe I don't care about my fitness. I may use my phone's data plan for access to the internet, which I can also use to download my boarding pass (is this really part of the resort fee?). And, uh, again, I have my own phone; free calls are useless to me. I'll be in Vegas, so I may not care about the news for a few days, but even if I do, you guessed it, I have my own phone, with access to lots of newspapers (I still prefer to read my newspaper as a broadsheet, but this is a hypothetical exercise). I'd also be willing to bet I could buy a coffee (at a coffeehouse with free Wi-Fi access) and a drink for less than $29. So, Front Desk Agent, I don't want to pay the resort fee. "Oh, I'm terribly sorry, sir, but you must."
An article at Legal Newsline gives a bit more detail about the possible misrepresentation of prices at the Palazzo:
"The lawsuit alleged Las Vegas Sands [owner of the Palazzo] uses a dip pricing technique, which was recently addressed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Dip pricing occurs when a company advertises only a portion of a product's true price, and then adds additional fees later when the customer goes to pay for the product."
Okay, let's step back for a minute and look at the larger picture. Resort fees and other add-ons, some optional, have become ubiquitous. Personally, as you may have gleaned, I'm not in favor of them, particularly when they aren't transparent. If you want to compare room to room, hotel to hotel, they force you to pay attention to the fine print too early in the process. So for now, at least until Benjamin Brin's class action works its way through the courts, put on your reading glasses for some eight point font. And if a hotel refers to a resort fee, unless it's clear that it's optional, assume it's mandatory.