Marriott’s CEO Defends Resort Fees, Says They’re Good For You

Washington DC is suing Marriott over its resort fees. “Resort fees” are extra charges, on top of a room rate, that aren’t optional. In other words they’re part of the price of a room, but the hotel advertises a lower price instead. That’s on face deceptive.

Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson, who thinks you have to enter a passport number to make a reservation at Marriott.com (so their unprecedented data breach was just the result of saving information for your booking convenience) and who thinks problems with the Bonvoy program were just “noise around the edges” gave an interview where he defended the undefendable resort fee. Naturally he did so disingenuously.


Cosmopolitan Las Vegas Charges a $39+tax Resort Fee

Resort Fees are Just Like Checked Baggage Fees

Sorenson says that resort fees are like any other extra fee in travel,

You’ve got resort fees in the hotel industry, you’ve got baggage fees in the airline space. None of us as consumers necessarily love it. But what we tried to do is to be very clear about our disclosure.

I don’t travel with checked bags often. In fact I try to avoid it whenever possible, because there’s a chance my bags could get lost and because I don’t want to wait interminably long for them on my way out of the airport.

However if an airline is going to provide this extra service to me it doesn’t surprise me that they’d charge a fee for that, just like if a hotel is going to park my car for me they’re going to charge for valet.

The issue with resort fees is that they aren’t a fee for an optional service, they are a mandatory fee. If you want to spend the night in a hotel’s room, you pay the resort fee. It’s fine for a hotel to charge whatever it wants for its rooms, but it isn’t ok for them to advertise a rate that is lower than the price you will actually pay because it doesn’t include a portion of the rate you’ll be charged under the heading of ‘resort fee’ (which may also be a trick to avoid commission to a travel agent, or avoid applying a corporate discount).

What’s more the resort fee may be disclosed prior to final booking, but because it isn’t included in the price it intentionally makes comparing the prices of hotels more cumbersome to the consumer. The very intention of resort fees is to make it harder for the consumer to know where they’re going to get the best deal.

Guests Really Want to Paddle Board

Sorenson says resort fees make hotel guests better off because they can paddle board,

The first resort fees were probably a decade ago…they were a way of saying of let’s pull in the waterfront paddle board rental or the bike rental or the other things that can be part of this package and basically our approach was to say we need to disclose it fairly, we need to deliver value to the customer so that they are saying I may not love paying it in the abstract but I see I get lots of things I can take advantage of because of this resort fee.

Resort fees often include free internet at hotels that would otherwise offer free internet to anyone who is a member of the loyalty program that books direct. The Marriott Bonvoy terms require a hotel including internet in their resort fee to offer an alternative amenity to elites that are entitled to free internet, but I’ve yet to hear of a hotel doing this.

Free local calls? I don’t remember the last time anyone used a phone to make a call outside of the hotel. Bundling spend at the hotel’s bar? Your room rate is the cover charge, but then it’s ironic for a Mormon hotel company to enforce a two drink minimum.

Resort Fees Won’t Spread to Roadside Motels That Lack Anything to Include in Those Fees

Sorenson wants to sound reasonable, that resort fees will only be offered where they ‘make sense’ for the customer, but offers only that they aren’t going to be found “at every hotel in the suburban market where there’s no extra features.”

I don’t think they’re going away. I think we do want to make sure we’re continuing to deliver value through them and you can only do that in some markets and some hotels so I don’t anticipate we’ll end up with these fees at every hotel in the suburban market where there’s no extra features that are going to be germane to that guest.

I’m sure guests appreciate that they aren’t going to charge resort fees and completely dispense with the fiction that value is provided in return. At least he seems to suggest that Marriotts won’t do this, but I’m not so sure. There’s nothing about lack of amenities that precludes resort fees. Just ask the Rodeway Inn in Kissimmee, Florida.

Here’s the full interview:

(HT: J. Scott Clark)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. @ Gary — My decision 3 years ago to never again book a paid stay at an SPG or Marriott property was one of my greatest travel decisions EVER.

  2. Sorry Marriott but no one willingly wants to pay a resort fee. I will go out of my way to not stay at properties charging these bogus fees

  3. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like every statement he made in this interview is a lie.

  4. Boy the spin doctors prepped him well. when one looks at “resort fees” and what they contain its smoke and mirrors for charging you more and frankly its pure profit. “Free local and long distance” 20 years ago yes today really? Free enchanted wifi its the same damn system everyone else has. The only thing Sorenson cares about is room count, Motel 6 does a better job of policing their franchise properties than Marriott.

    One could understand a beach resort that maintains the beach provides chairs etc but DC there is no way anyone can spin that one and I grew up in Arlington !

  5. It would be even worse if he believed that resort fees provide any value to the guest. At best, it is disengenuous, or at worst, fraudulent.
    Better said would be, we do it because we are large enough and we can.

  6. I could be wrong but I don’t think Marriott as a corporation gets any money from resort or destination fees. Marriott only gets a percentage of the room rate before taxes, as I understand their licensing and franchising agreements. Maybe it’s different at the small number of Marriott-managed properties.

  7. Resort fees are a scam. Plain and simple. People may pay it, but don’t don’t even try to tell us it is good for us.
    I avoid hotels with a resort fee where ever I can.

  8. Yup. And baggage fees are good, basic economy is good, everything that hurts customers’ wallets is good.

    I just expect CEOs to lie. That’s why the T-Mobile exec is refreshing, though he’s certainly in it to make money, too.

  9. * edit regarding last post: “*for-profit* CEOs to lie.” I work at a non-profit, and my CEO rocks. 🙂

  10. @ Gary — Hopefully resort fees haven’t spread to JFK airport, where I recently used my last AMEX cert, or to Uniondale NY, where I plan to use my last gift cards ( I guess that IS technically a paid stay)….Still, I’ve always found SPG and Marriott to both be dishonest about elite benefits, so it’s a perfect marriage in my book.

  11. I won’t stay at a hotel with a resort fee. The so called benefits are already provided to me as I am Titanium for life. Not providing the full price upfront is deceptive and should be illegal.

  12. If Arne really wants to equate resort fees with baggage fees, then he needs to waive the fees for credit card holders.

    Bigger picture, I’m actually fine with the ala carte model to some extent. I don’t always check a bag (and wouldn’t necessarily do so if it were free) so when I don’t, I’m a-ok with paying less money. As a big guy, I actually *like* being able to pay for the exit row or bulkhead seat at time of booking. It used to be that you had to be an elite or on full fare Y to get them at time of booking, and those days are over for me, so I’m happy to shell out a few bucks. In fact, I’ll often “avoid” (or at least book away from) carriers who don’t make it easy for me to get those seats at time of booking.

    Make no mistake, resort fees (and now “destination fees”) cannot be equated to airline ala carte fees. Arne is better off equating resort fees to fuel surcharges, but that won’t score him any PR points.

  13. I just stayed in Key West and this fee was applied. Two free drinks at the pool bar. I don’t drink. So you are being charged a fee for something you are not always going to use. Just one more way for Marriott to get more money as far as I am concerned. Very disappointing!

  14. I’m going to start asking what the Resort Fee covers when I check in. I want to make sure I take advantage of all these great perks.

  15. Let’s hope that DC prevails in this case. It is clearly deceptive pricing designed to get someone to book without knowing the true cost of what they are buying.

  16. Marriott’s argument on resort fees is ridiculous and deceptive. Marriott has been my favorite hotel brand and I usually stay there whenever I can for business travel. But since my business travel rarely allows time for resort-like activities, I am seriously reconsidering. I may shift to another brand if I run into the resort fee too many times in the future.

  17. I remember J.Willard Marriott when he started the hot dog stand and I believe A&W root beer also, he was a very well like and honest man, he would be turning over in his grave if he knew how they were running his company today, this was in Washington, D.C. in the 1950s

  18. Could he possible actually believe what he is saying???? If so, that is really scary. Either he is so cut off from the actual hotel reservation and stay experience that he has drunk the KoolAid being pumped by PR staff trying to justify these absurd and deceptive fees or he thinks we are all idiots. When I pay close to $400 for a night at the NY JW Marriott (Essex House), why am I charged a destination fee? The destination fee is already included in the per night charge which is considerably more than the $190 a night charge for the JW in Washington, DC.

  19. And to think this idiot was somehow named CEO of the year, while almost all of his chain’s most valuable customers don’t like him.

  20. Somehow people here seem to think only Marriott has resort fees . They must not travel much, just read the blogs . Many brands charge then including Hilton and Hyatt. Vegas hotels charge 40-50 bucks a night in resort fees .A room in two weeks at Excalibur may run you 29 bucks but 40 a night in resort fees .

  21. Go a la carte instead of a bundled fee…
    At most if I stay in a hotel I accept the bottled water, wifi, and maybe a newspaper.
    Don’t charge me for the free drinks, pool, or weight room I don’t use.

  22. I don’t paddle board Arne. And I don’t want to stay at Marriott properties anymore.
    Do you read me Arne?

  23. @robertw – although neither Hyatt nor Hilton charges resort fees on award stays while Marriott does (and Hyatt waives them on paid stays for top tier elites as well)

  24. I’m sorely disappointed that the Marriott family has left this weasel running the family business.

  25. If resort fees are like checked baggage fees, then why don’t I have the option to opt out if I don’t want to use the “benefits” they provide, similar to if I don’t want to check a bag then I don’t need to pay for it….?

  26. We recently stayed at a Marriott in New York prior to a trip abroad, paying with Marriott points, and were charged a resort fee. I was reminded of the ludicrous fuel surcharges BA levies on award bookings. And not a paddleboard in sight…

  27. @Gary Leff

    Hyatt will charge a destination fee in NYC. After I made a points reservation at the Gild House, my confirmation email indicated a $25/night fee that would be charged. It’s possible that the wires got crossed (this is a new addition to the Hyatt portfolio) but right now, that confirmation email says what it says, and I cancelled the reservation accordingly.

    Apparently not all Marriott properties in the City charge the fee; I switched my reservation to a Courtyard in midtown, and no fee was disclosed.

  28. This guy is a self absorbed jerk. I fly on a plane, I dont have to pay for checked baggage if I choose to carry on (and I don’t pay because of my status).
    I check into one of his resorts whether for pleasure or business and I have no choice regardless of my status.

    Last check in at a Westin, the first item on the ‘goodies’ I get for my 65 a day resort fee was a mini fridge in the room. Next I expect to be charged for the coffee maker, the towels, the electricity and the safe in the room (usually placed where it is damn near impossible to reach.

    I used NONE of the items on the list of worthless crap on the ‘what you get for the resort fee’ but nevertheless had to pay the hotel $325.00 for the five night.

    I want government out of our lives but in this case, the consumer is getting screwed and Marriott is the biggest offender.

  29. Arne, 99.9999999999999% of the time I avoid hotels with resort fees. RESORT FEES ARE AN ABSOLUTE SCAM. They were invented by the hotel industry to increase revenue per room. They are not intended to benefit the customer/ guest. They overwhelmingly benefit the hotel.

  30. Next time the Royal Hawaiian slugs me a $50 charge for a beach chair and umbrella, I will refer them to Arne and the fact that I’m already paying a Resort Fee.

  31. In other words, resort fees are good for you if you are an executive – gotta pay those executive bonuses somehow.

    I’d say resort fees are like British Airways “fuel surcharges” – just a money grab.

  32. Quit w the Marriott bashing PLEASE!!! Agree resort fees are a pain and , Luckily, due to my status rarely, if ever, pay them. However Marriott is a small player in this game. To attack them and not many LA, LV or NY based properties is a sham job. Either go after them industry wide (which would likely require an act of Congress) or get off Marriott’s back. All you are doing is easy click bait and it so SO LAZY and deceptive.

  33. Those who would say quit bashing Marriott must not understand they are the 800 pound gorilla. As Marriott goes, so goes most of the industry.

    I don’t know what status you are, but I’m a lifetime titanium and Ambassador and every damn hotel slams me with the resort fee regardless ho much I complain.

    Take down Marriott and you tackle down the industry!

  34. @AC – Marriott status does not waive resort fees. I have written that there’s little reason to single Marriott out the DC suit happens to be against Marriott because that’s the division of labor DC focused on as part of a larger investigation of states attorneys general.

    However I’m focused on Marriott here because of the ridiculous claims its CEO makes. If he wouldn’t say such absurd things I wouldn’t be writing about them.

  35. AC
    I’m Ambassador and the Marriott liars make me pay them, how do you avoid them?

    And like Gary, against the rules, have paid fees with no alternative gift

    Not that it’s as bad as properties that absolutely refuse to upgrade to best available room ever. As if Marriott can’t tell a large property with lifetime upgrades to suites = zero due to their worst in class IT status . . . . . .

  36. If Sorenson wants to sound reasonable, he should remind guests that the Marriott resort fee now includes two-ply toilet paper next to every toilet on Marriott properties in the U.S. and Canada. #bonvoyed

  37. Ever since Arne Sorensen has taken over he has destroyed the Marriott name…he has devalued the reward points….why Bill Marriott doesn’t put a stop to what he has done to his company I don’t understand…Is he too old to realize how his company is being destroyed ..I am thoroughly discussed with Marriott and have been a Loyal member for 23 years..Time for a change ..

  38. I’m not so sure the suburban hotels are going to be left out of this game. I noticed this week a new $7 daily parking charge at Courtyard I frequently use in Las Colinas (Dallas). Seriously? In the middle of typical suburban retail with ample parking everywhere. Total money grab.

  39. And I see a parking charge at the Newton, Massachusetts Marriott of $11.00 per day. Wasn’t too long ago parking was free.

  40. I think we may be being too hard on Marriott. If you look under all their hotel amenities/key amenities, you will notice that Marriott is giving us “complimentary public area”. Do we expect them to give us everything? Be thankful they have not found a way to charge you for ck-in/ck-out, restrooms or being able to get to your room in addition to the room charge and resort fees. What a DUMB amenity. But that is the new mindset. Only wish old Bill Marriott was still running the company. He had a company that was loyal to his customers and we were loyal back to him.

  41. I remember being at a Marriott hotel in Irvine CA years ago when they tried to hit me with a $5 a day Energy charge. Told them NO WAY it was not on my reservation. Then they tired to hit me with $20 a day to park in the garage. Told them NO WAY we did not park once in the garage (we parked out in front of the hotel in the Handicap parking spaces). ….. I did have a person with a valid handicap Placard with me at the time.

  42. Have been a Marriott rewards member since 1983 Current status lifetime titanium elite and I fired Marriott about a dozen years ago because they continued to devalue their frequent stayer programs. They continue to increase the amount of points required and the number of levels of hotel tiers to the point of almost no value .Switched to SPG 11 years ago and was rewarded in more ways than ever until Marriott put their money grubbing hands on that wonderful program as well. Even when I utilize my now devalued once again membership rewards points ( some rooms at 85,000 points per night aargh ) The resorts still charge a mandatory fee most recently a stay at the Westin Grand Cayman at $69 US resort fee per night for a lounge chair and umbrella. What a rip off Marriott you should be ashamed of yourself. I have begun switching my loyalty to other hotel chains and once again Marriott has lost my loyalty trust and more importantly business .

  43. ODD EXPERIENCE? Well, *I* have not seen this before….

    I’m presently staying at a Marriott…the “resort fee” is $25/day. But it’s offset by a $30/day credit for food and beverage (incl. liquor), which is cumulative (i.e.: if I don’t use it on Days 1 and 2, I have $90 to spend on Day 3) and deducted from the bill at checkout.

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