An attempted crackdown on hidden hotel charges now faces a potential roadblock in Washington, as a growing number of travelers complain that resort, urban or facility fees can add up to $50 to your bill. Even lower-priced hotels are adding the fees to room charges. One watchdog says the number of hotels charging extra fees has grown 26 percent year-over-year. The size of the fees has risen 12 percent.
When Lauren Wolfe vacationed in Key West last year, she knew her $400 hotel room wasn't a bargain. But when she arrived at the front desk, she learned she'd also be required to pay a $20 "resort fee," reports CBS News correspondent Anna Werner.
"Doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. It's not fair and it's just taking advantage of people," Wolfe said.
After getting mad at what she calls "the most expensive hotel room" she's ever paid for, the attorney got busy starting the website called KillResortFees.com to educate others. Wolfe found she's not the only one saying they were blindsided by fees.
One customer said, "We got killed on undisclosed resort fees. Didn't know about them 'till we checked out." Another said: "Very disappointed… $25/day 'urban facility fee.' I was charged this with no explanation of the benefits." Others complained the services they were getting for so-called resort fees didn't add up. "Resort fee included 2 beach chairs. … There was neither a beach nor pool." Another guest writes, "If you charge $29 for complementary [sic] recreation activities, then they aren't complementary."
District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine is helping lead an investigation, along with the attorneys general in 47 states, into a dozen major hotel chains.
"What these lodging companies do is they hook the would-be buyer with a lower rate … then spring the additional charge on them," Racine said.
We found one Las Vegas hotel charging a room rate of $26 with a "resort fee" of $34. One San Francisco hotel adds a $20 "urban facility fee" and another hotel in Arizona listed its resort fee of $50 underneath taxes.
"What's illegal about it is that it misleads consumers as to what the actual price of a hotel room is," Racine said.
Even properties with a certain famous name make money off resort fees. We found three Trump hotels in Florida and Las Vegas charge resort fees of $35, $20 and $24 for a potential $66,000 in charges per day.
The American Hotel and Lodging Association told CBS News, "The hotel industry provides guests full disclosure for mandatory resort fees charged up front" and said the hotels wanted to "provide consumers with the best value by grouping amenity fees into one cost" following the FTC's guidance.
But in January this year, the FTC found charging resort fees separately without first disclosing the total hotel price likely harms consumers. Racine said the FTC was working with the states on their investigation – at least, he said, until the Trump administration came in.
"The FTC in a way has gone dark and I think that to be honest, that has given some confidence to the hospitality industry perhaps they're going to be able to wait out or otherwise evade the efforts of the 47 states because the FTC is no longer our partner," Racine said.
"You're saying the FTC backed off?" Werner asked.
"That is the case," Racine said.
Backed off, he claimed, during a crucial time in negotiations with the hotel chains.
"We were headed towards what I thought would be a pretty fair settlement... The election hit and then all of a sudden, the hospitality industry sort of dug in against our position," Racine said.
We asked the FTC about Racine's allegations. Officials responded with a statement saying the agency was "never a co-plaintiff" with the attorneys general but "has worked with the industry and state AGs to try improve disclosures about resort fees." We asked the Trump Organization and the White House if they had any comments but did not receive any response.