When news came out that Marriott had settled with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania over resort fees, I was skeptical that much of anything would change.
- Marriott already has a check box to toggle all-in pricing on the Marriott.com hotel search display. Promising to make resort fees transparent on their own website seemed like just showing this pricing, that’s already available, by default.
- Marriott hotels will continue to charge resort fees, Bonvoy redemptions will continue to be taxed by resort fees.
- Consumers comparing hotels across chains (which can only happen off of Marriott.com) will still see room rates for Marriott and other properties artificially lower than what they’ll actually be charged (and lower than what’s displayed on the final checkout screen) when they’re comparing hotels.
News coverage of the Pennsylvania settlement was very non-specific, and I was skeptical of takes like One Mile at a Time declaring “Finally” and The Points Guy “Marriott is finally making [resort fees] more transparent in bookings.”
Marriott’s statement on what they’re actually doing didn’t tell us much.
Our agreement with the State of Pennsylvania further enhances the way resort/destination fees are fully disclosed on our U.S. channels and we will be working over the next several months to update the room rate display in accordance with that agreement.
I followed up with Marriott to try to learn more about what would be different as a result of this settlement, and all I could get was a re-iteration of the same,
As we said in our statement, for many years we have clearly disclosed resort/destination fees, and we will be working over the next several months to update the room rate display in accordance with our agreement with the Pennsylvania AG. We are working on the specifics of the updated display.
So I went ahead and read the actual settlement agreement which is on the Pennsylvania attorney general’s website. Here’s what it requires,
- All rate displays have to include total price and it has to be the most prominently displayed price.
- Call center agents have to quote prices inclusive of fees, too.
- Rate displays sorted by price have to be sorted by total price inclusive of all costs
- Resort and destination fees cannot be lumped in with taxes in any display
- Prior to completing a booking Marriott has to display what’s provided by the property in exchange for the mandatory fee. This isn’t only something you’ll find out at check-in anymore, once implemented.
- Pennsylvania will take complaints regarding these practices, forward them to Marriott, and Marriott has 30 days to respond and attempt to resolve the complaint in good faith.
- Marriott is responsible for the behavior of its franchisees, although they can rely on information provided by franchisees in displaying information (e.g. if a hotel gives information which Marriott does not know to be false about what’s included in a resort fee, Marriott isn’t liable when it turns out the hotel lied).
- Marriott has to make data on resort fees available to online travel agencies and other parties who sell Marriott rooms. This largely happens already, but the goal is to allow OTAs to display all-in pricing, too.
- Marriott agrees not to engage in deceptive or unfair practices with respect to advertising mandatory fees like resort fees. That’s potentially significant to Bonvoy members.
All members booking direct receive free internet for their stays, and Gold elites and higher receive whatever ‘enhanced’ internet is offered. According to Marriott when hotel resort or destination fees specify that they include internet, they have to offer a replacement benefit for members and elites (1.3.c.iv):
Participating Properties that have mandatory resort charges, which include internet access, will provide a replacement benefit, to be determined at each Participating Property’s discretion.
Almost no property does this, Marriott knows this based on having received numerous complaints, and so continued advertising of how the resort or destination fee works that’s known to be false may be a deceptive or unfair practice in violation of this settlement.
I bet Marriott will argue this last is outside the scope of the settlement, but it certainly seems a reasonable reading. Ultimately the settlement agreement is not on its own revolutionary. This doesn’t help limit deceptive practices on the part of hotels when hotels are being compared across chains. But it is progress and something other chains should do.
Much ire needs to be aimed at OTAs for displaying incomplete and deceptive pricing. And Marriott still deserves to be shamed for making supposedly free room night awards, in effect, cash and points awards since they tax members on free stays with these fees (something neither Hilton nor Hyatt does).
Ultiamtely I’m surprised Marriott hasn’t touted its specific commitments in the settlement and come out as championing industry-leading best practices. They could even still hunker down insisting they’ve always been good actors, as their statements to date have done, and just claim the mantle of being better. Because there are really gains.