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)