Marriott International Sued For Charging Deceptive Resort Fees by Attorney General of District of Columbia
The war against mandatory resort fees continues to heat up.
A lawsuit was filed against Marriott International, Incorporated earlier today, Tuesday, July 9, 2019 by Karl A. Racine, who is the current attorney general of the District of Columbia and claims that the multinational lodging corporation purposely both hid the true price of hotel rooms from consumers and charged hidden mandatory resort fees for the purpose of increasing profits.
Marriott International Sued For Charging Deceptive Resort Fees by Attorney General of District of Columbia
This lawsuit follows an investigation into the pricing practices of the lodging industry by the attorneys general in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The office of the attorney general of the District of Columbia is seeking a court order to force Marriott International, Incorporated to advertise the true prices of its hotel rooms up front; pay restitution to consumers in the District of Columbia who paid deceptive mandatory resort fees; and pay civil penalties for allegedly violating the Consumer Protection Procedures Act of the District of Columbia.
“Marriott reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in profit by deceiving consumers about the true price of its hotel rooms,” said Racine, according to this official press release. “Bait-and-switch advertising and deceptive pricing practices are illegal. With this lawsuit, we are seeking monetary relief for tens of thousands of District consumers who paid hidden resort fees and to force Marriott to be fully transparent about their prices so consumers can make informed decisions when booking hotel rooms.”
Racine claims that a minimum of “189 Marriott properties worldwide charge these hidden fees, which range from $9.00 to as much as $95.00 per room per day, and consumers only find out about these fees after they begin to book a room.” Racine is actually incorrect with part of this statement, as this article written by me and posted at The Gate on Sunday, June 16, 2019 proves that The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba resort property charges a mandatory service fee of as much as $630.00 per night. This is because the service fee charged by the resort property is based on 15 percent of the total cash rate and not on a fixed amount — meaning that for all intents and purposes, no maximum limit on how expensive the mandatory service fee can be exists.
According to this official complaint — which is available in .pdf or Portable Document Format — Marriott has charged mandatory resort fees to tens of thousands of consumers in the District of Columbia over the years, totaling millions of dollars. The office of the attorney general of the District of Columbia alleges that during the past decade, Marriott International, Incorporated has violated consumer protection laws and harmed tens of thousands of consumers by:
Intentionally hiding the true price of hotel rooms — Marriott conceals the true total price of hotel rooms by advertising one rate, then charging mandatory “resort fees,” “amenity fees,” or “destination fees” on top of the advertised price.
Failing to clearly disclose all booking fees — The room prices Marriott lists on its own official Internet web site and on third-party hotel-booking sites do not include mandatory resort fees; and these fees are not disclosed up front. Consumers do not learn the total price of their hotel rooms until they begin the booking process, and resort fee disclosures are often hidden in obscure areas, confusingly worded, or presented in smaller print than the advertised rates. This leads consumers to believe they will be paying less for a hotel room than the true total cost. It also makes it extremely difficult for consumers to gather all the information they need to compare prices and make informed choices.
Misrepresenting that resort fees are imposed by the government — In many instances, Marriott includes resort fees near the end of a hotel-booking transaction under the heading “Taxes and Fees.” By combining the amounts that consumers were asked to pay for resort fees with their tax payments under a generic heading, Marriott leads consumers to believe the resort fees were government-imposed charges, rather than additional daily charges paid to Marriott.
Misleading consumers about what resort fees actually pay for — In some instances, Marriott makes confusing or contradictory representations about why they are charging resort fees and what services or amenities consumers are actually paying for.
Past Unsuccessful Legal Attempts in Fighting Mandatory Resort Fees
Claire McCaskill wrote this letter on Thursday, July 16, 2015 to Edith Ramirez — who is now the former chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission — in a failed effort to encourage the government agency to put an end to the practice of mandatory resort fees in the lodging industry using its existing broad authority to prevent unfair and deceptive advertising. Inaction from the agency prompted McCaskill — who was a Democratic senator of the United States who represented the state of Missouri and a former chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security — to introduce legislation prohibiting management of hotel and resort properties from charging resort fees on Friday, February 26, 2016 specifically designed to be initially hidden from the consumer; requiring disclosure of said resort fees; and include the full cost of a stay in the room rate.
I reported in this in-depth article on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 pertaining to the proliferation of resort fees when the Federal Trade Commission of the United States finally announced that it was taking action against the practice of hotel properties — including those of Marriott International, Incorporated — to charge undisclosed mandatory resort fees to its guests.
As a result of its investigation, the Federal Trade Commission — a division of the United States government charged with protecting the American consumer — had warned 22 hotel operators that their Internet reservation web sites may violate the law by providing a deceptively low estimate of what consumers can expect to pay for their hotel rooms. “Consumers are entitled to know in advance the total cost of their hotel stays,” said Jon Leibowitz — then the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission — in this release by the Federal Trade Commission, at which a copy of the warning letter in portable document format is included. “So-called ‘drip pricing’ charges, sometimes portrayed as ‘convenience’ or ‘service’ fees, are anything but convenient, and businesses that hide them are doing a huge disservice to American consumers.”
Readers of The Gate Already Reporting Successfully Reclaiming Resort Fees They Paid
As I originally wrote in this article pertaining to how to reclaim the mandatory resort fees hotel guests were forced to pay on Sunday, June 16, 2019, “You only need to spend as few as 60 seconds worth of your time and effort to likely reclaim the mandatory resort fees which you paid when you stayed at a hotel or resort property which had the audacity to charge them.” Simply contact the attorney general in the jurisdiction in which you reside or the jurisdiction in which the mandatory resort fee was charged. Links to the attorneys general is included in the aforementioned article for your convenience; but whether or not only customers who are based in the United States can qualify to place the request — as well as a sample letter for best results — has not yet been included in that article.
According to this comment posted by Ollie — who is a reader of The Gate — success in reclaiming a paid mandatory resort fee was relatively fast and easy: “Wow. That was quick. I received a call from the hotel today (that’s within seven days of filing!) offering a refund. I’m very impressed this worked. I told her I was grateful, but that the main reason I filed was to protest against the industry practice of resort fees. It sounded like I wasn’t the first person to say this. Hopefully enough people will do this to make a difference in their practices. Thanks again Brian for suggesting this.”
If you have been forced to pay mandatory resort fees at a hotel or resort property, please refer to this article pertaining to how you can possible reclaim that money.
The office of the attorney general of the District of Columbia included the following two paragraphs in its aforementioned official press release:
Marriott International, Inc., is a Delaware corporation headquartered in Bethesda, Md., and it is one of the largest hotel companies in the world. Marriott owns, manages, and franchises more than 5,700 hotels and 1.1 million hotel rooms in over 110 countries, including at least 29 hotels in the District of Columbia. Marriott offers hotel rooms through its own websites and through other hotel-booking websites like Priceline and Expedia.
As consumers have increasingly turned to hotel-booking sites to comparison shop across brands, the hotel industry has become highly price-competitive. To lure consumers, some hotels advertise daily room rates that are lower than the true total price consumers will have to pay for a room. Then, when consumers book the room, the hotels add mandatory fees, often called “resort fees,” “amenity fees,” or “destination fees” on top of advertised rates. By charging these fees, hotels can increase profits without appearing to raise prices. Over the past decade, Marriott has increased its use of resort fees and reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in additional profits.
I personally hope that the attorneys general in the 50 states and territories in the United States follow the lead of the office of the attorney general of the District of Columbia and also take action against the lodging companies which have shamelessly engaged in this nefarious practice for years. No matter how euphemistically they are marketed or explained, mandatory resort fees and their brethren are simply deceptive at best to consumers who are price conscious and seeking value for the money they pay to stay in a hotel room. Mandatory resort fees thwarts the efforts of consumers to truly compare room rates between competing hotel and resort properties.
That I vehemently oppose the implementation of mandatory resort fees, facilities fees and now destination fees is no secret to you if you have been a reader of The Gate for years — they should either be optional or eliminated altogether — and I will just let this extensive body of work over the years pertaining to mandatory resort fees speak for me…