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Hotel Resort Fees Can Be An Unwelcome Surprise During Checkout

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WASHINGTON (CBSMiami) – A growing number of travelers complain that resort, urban, or facility fees can add up to $50 to your bill.

One watchdog says the number of hotels charging extra fees has grown 26% year over year.

But an effort to crack down on those fees is hitting a road block in Washington.

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.”

“It was the most expensive hotel room I’ve ever paid for in my life,” Wolfe said. “Doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, it’s not fair and it’s just taking advantage of people.”

Wolfe’s an attorney so after getting mad, she got busy, starting the website called “Kill Resort Fees” to educate others.

And she found she’s not the only one who says they were blindsided by fees.

One customer says, “we got killed on undisclosed resort fees. Didn’t know about them till we checked out.”

Another says, “very disappointed. $25 a day “Urban Facility Fee.” I was charged this with no explanation of the benefits.”

Others complain the services they are getting for so-called resort fees don’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 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 hook the would-be buyer with a lower rate,” Racine explained. “Then at the end of the day spring the additional charge on them.”

CBS News found a Las Vegas hotel charging a room rate of $26 dollars with a “resort fee” of $34.

A San Francisco hotel adds a $20 “urban facility fee” while another 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:  CBS News found three Trump hotels in Florida and Las Vegas charge resort fees of $35 dollars, $20 dollars , and $24 dollars 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 says 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.

And Racine says the FTC was working with the states on their investigation- at least, until the Trump administration came in.

“The FTC has gone dark and I think that has given some confidence to the hospitality industry that 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.

The FTC has backed off, Racine claims, during a crucial time in negotiations with the hotel chains.

“We were headed towards what I thought would be a pretty fair settlement, and then sure enough the election hit and then all of a sudden the hospitality industry sort of dug in against our position,” he said.

CBS News asked the FTC about Racine’s allegations. Officials there 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.”

CBS News also asked the Trump organization and the White House if they had any comments but did not receive any response.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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