New York (Reuters) - Travel expert Tim Winship considers himself a budget-conscious travel expert, but even this editor-at-large of SmarterTravel.com was blind-sided by a mandatory resort fee.
The Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas is charging him a resort fee of nearly $30 per day for an upcoming family reunion, something he noticed only in the last stage of booking through a travel website.
Since the Luxor, which is a unit of MGM Resorts, has no golf course and it will probably be too chilly to go the outdoor pool in January, Winship is not sure what he is getting for the extra fee.
“It’s not optional,” Winship said. “It’s not a surcharge for over and above a normal hotel stay. It’s a gouge - that’s what it comes down to.”
The American Hotel & Lodging Association, an industry trade group, said mandatory resort fees pay for “a range of hotel amenities, from pool use, gym access, towel services, to Wi-Fi and newspapers.”
More U.S. hotels - particularly in Florida, California, Hawaii and Nevada - are charging resort fees, according to a new study that will be released on Tuesday by Travelers United. The consumer group found that 1,671 hotels and lodging sites in the U.S. charged resort fees, but did not include them in the nightly rate advertised online.
Overall, consumers paid an estimated $2.04 billion in mandatory resort fees in 2015, representing a rise of 35 percent compared to 2014, the group said. The typical resort fee amounted to $24.93 per day in online hotel listings tracked by Travelers United in October 2015.
Resort fees are highest in Florida - with an average of almost $29 per day. In Las Vegas and Nevada, the typical resort fee is about $21 per day, according to Travelers United.
Travelers United estimates that resort fees accounted for 16.6 percent of revenue collected in 2015 from consumer room bookings, excluding optional fees and non-room spending, up from 13.3 percent in 2014.
Winship, who is also founder of FrequentFlier.com, questions what constitutes a “resort” for these fees.
“I’m a professional. I’ve worked in the airline and hotel businesses. I’ve written about the travel industry for many years. I know that resort fees exist, but it did not occur to me that the Luxor on the strip in Las Vegas had any right to call itself a resort,” said Winship.
Resort fees bundle into one daily charge access to the services and amenities that are commonly requested, including in-room high-speed and wireless Internet, in-room local and toll-free calls, fitness center access and airline boarding pass printing, according to Yvette Monet, corporate communications manager at MGM Resorts.
“Resort fees are plainly stated on our hotel reservations websites, prior to a guest making a reservation,” Monet said. “Information about the fees is also stated by our reservation agents when a guest makes a reservation over the telephone.”
Yet consumer experts worry that people are unaware that resort fees exist because travel websites bury the fine print. “It gives them a way to pad their revenues by $15 to $25 per day without you really seeing that and factoring it in to what you are spending,” says Ben Hammer, a spokesman for Travelers United.
The group is asking the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to require hotels and resorts to include all mandatory fees in the room rates they advertise. In 2012, the FTC warned hotels that excluding mandatory fees in online listings may violate a ban on deceptive practices.
Since the FTC issued its guidance, just 7 percent of the lodging industry has charged resort fees, according to Rosanna Maietta, senior vice president of communications at the American Hotel & Lodging Association.
“We work hard to make sure our guests feel comfortable with their purchasing decisions, and so provide guests full disclosure for resort fees charged up front,” Maietta said. “Those fees, in addition to the base travel and hotel charges, remain transparent whether consumers book online or with the hotel directly.”
After taking advantage of an online spa deal at a Maryland hotel last fall, Hillary Berman, founder and small business consultant at Popcorn & Ice Cream in Bethesda, Maryland, felt a bit duped when she got the bill that included a resort fee amounting to $25 per day.
Now Berman tells her small-business clients to pay careful attention to resort fees when booking hotels for conferences and meetings.
“If you aren’t a savvy consumer, things can get very costly, very quickly,” Berman said.
Editing by Beth Pinsker and Bernard Orr