Mandatory hotel resort fees that aren't wrapped into the advertised nightly rate can be frustrating but they don't represent a deceptive business practice.
That was the response from the Federal Trade Commission to a nonprofit group that complained last week about the expanded use of mandatory resort fees by hotels.
"It's a very simple thing," said Charlie Leocha, president of Travelers United, an advocacy group with 23,000 members. "If the fee is mandatory it must be included in the room rate."
In the case of airlines, the Transportation Department has ordered carriers and travel agents to include all mandatory fees and taxes in the advertised price of airfares.
But that isn't the case with hotel resort fees.
Ranging from about $20 to more than $100 a night, resort fees are meant to cover hotel extras such as swimming pools, saunas or fitness centers.
But in most cases, hotel guests are required to pay the fees even if they don't use the facilities.
The FTC issued a warning to 22 hotels in 2012, saying that surprising guests with hidden resort fees is deceptive and illegal.
In response, the hotels began to list their resort fees on their booking websites — often in small print. But the FTC didn't require that hotels add the fee into the rate that is advertised on travel websites and elsewhere.
Leocha's group argues that hotels refuse to wrap resort fees into the advertised room rate because they want to attract guests with what appears to be the lowest room rate.
An analysis by Leocha's group found that the percentage of hotels with mandatory resort fees is highest in vacation towns like Las Vegas, Mammoth Lakes, Miami and Orlando, Fla., as well as on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
An FTC attorney said the agency isn't insisting that hotels include the resort fees in the advertised room rate.
"At this time, we don't have evidence to prove that not including the resort fee in the room rate is deceptive if a hotel prominently discloses the resort fee upfront and includes it in the total price" when a guest checks out, attorney Annette Soberats said.