5 On Your Side

Watch out for hidden resort fees

Posted August 4, 2015 6:20 p.m. EDT
Updated August 4, 2015 7:05 p.m. EDT

North Carolina has plenty of destinations and plenty of hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts where travelers could be charged an unexpected “resort fee.”

It's become a problem across the country.

"I checked in and they tried to get me to sign a piece of paper to pay $25 for free coffee and newspapers and other things,” Ben Hammer said. “I said, ‘I'm not going to pay that.’ They said, ‘Well, you have to pay it.’ I said, ‘Well, I'm not going to pay that.’”

Hammer travels a lot for Travelers United, a nonprofit out of Washington, D.C. The group is working with the North Carolina Consumers Council, urging hotels to be upfront about the fees, which are charged nightly for items such as a newspaper or WiFi, pool or beach access.

“It's hard to comparison shop if you don't know what's a real price,” Hammer said.

Brian Reitter with the North Carolina Consumers Council said travelers often see an advertised price online but need to click through a few screens before seeing a warning that the price excludes the resort fee.

"When you go online to book an airline ticket, the total price has to be displayed by law. So, why should it be any different for hotel operators?” Reitter said.

The Federal Trade Commission calls it "drip pricing" because only a portion of the price is initially advertised.

In 2012, the FTC sent a letter to 22 hotel chains warning the practice could be illegal. The FTC hasn't done anything since.

Right now, consumers are urged to call ahead to confirm charges. They can also try to dispute the fee at the hotel.

But consumer groups want more to be done.

“If you're going to charge that fee to everyone, every day, there's really no reason that it shouldn't be just part of the total nightly cost,” Reitter said.

Travelers United has posted some fees charged at North Carolina hotels and other popular destinations online.

The North Carolina Consumers Council offers these tips to avoid hidden resort fees:

  • Stay alert when comparison shopping to identify all fees before buying.
  • Call ahead and ask if there are additional mandatory resort fees.
  • Dispute the charge with your bank or credit card company.
  • Share your concerns with a manager, hotel chain, attorney general or congressional representative.