Two U.S. Representatives introduced bipartisan legislation last week that would prohibit hotels from adding hidden fees to their advertised prices. The news comes less than three months after Washington, D.C., and Nebraska’s attorneys general filed lawsuits against Marriott International and Hilton, respectively, for their use of hidden fees.
The proposed law would prohibit hotels and other places of short-term lodging from advertising a rate that does not include all required fees, aside from taxes and fees imposed by the government. The Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general would have the ability to enforce the statute. State attorneys general and other authorized state officials would also be able to bring civil lawsuits on behalf of their residents once they notify the FTC of their intent. The law would not change anything regarding any ongoing lawsuits, such as those from the attorneys general of Washington, D.C., and Nebraska.
U.S. Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), introduced the Hotel Advertising Transparency Act of 2019 Sept. 25. U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) co-sponsored the bill.
“This summer, we witnessed a record number of Americans take the opportunity to travel. Unfortunately, this also meant a record number of travelers were subjected to deceptive hidden fees charged by hotels, motels and other places of accommodation,” Johnson said. “Consumers should be able to enjoy their vacation without being ripped off and financially burdened.”
The advocacy group Travelers United and nonprofit organization Consumer Reports support the legislation.
Brian Crawford, EVP of government affairs for the American Hotel & Lodging Association, responded to the legislation. “Hotels strive to create memorable experiences for all guests, every single day. That means delivering amenities and services that meet our guests’ expectations and evolving tastes; offering real, tangible value; and ensuring that booking transactions are transparent. When resort fees are applied, they are clearly and prominently displayed by hotel websites prior to the end of the booking process, in accordance with guidance issued by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. We believe that all online lodging advertisers, including third-party online travel agencies and short-term rental platforms, should be held to the same standards of transparency.”
Samantha Padgett, general counsel for the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, also commented on the proposed bill. “We believe in transparency in our transactions with our guests and we want to provide the amenities they need and desire but at all our times we want to be transparent so that they feel satisfied with their stay and their experience at our properties.”
D.C. and Nebraska Lawsuits
The lawsuits in Washington, D.C. and Nebraska came after a years-long investigation. Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine began investigating resort fees in June 2016. Since then, his investigation has grown to include attorneys general from all 50 states.
Racine’s suit asked the court to enjoin Marriott from continuing its practice of advertising daily rates that did not include mandatory resort fees, as well as to pay restitution for amounts collected from D.C. consumers, to pay statutory civil penalties in an amount to be determined at the trial and to cover the District’s costs and attorney’s fees for its investigation and its lawsuit.
Nebraska followed D.C. with a lawsuit of its own against Hilton just a couple of weeks later. Attorney General Doug Peterson said Hilton’s practices “harmed consumers and violated Nebraska’s consumer protection laws.” The Nebraska suit seeks to force Hilton to advertise what it's calling "the true prices of its hotel rooms up front, provide monetary relief to harmed Nebraska consumers and pay civil penalties."