As Congress considers whether to allow airlines to hide taxes and fees from consumers until late in the booking process, perhaps a hotel anecdote will be instructive. Hotels and the online travel agencies that sell hotel rooms are not required to breakout all-in pricing on hotel stays and the result in some cases is absolutely absurd pricing that is misleading and contravenes consumer interests.
Flight delays and cancellations last night made it a realistic possibility that I would have to spend the night in Las Vegas. Thankfully, I was in the land of cheap hotel rooms and because of the backlog of hotel reviews that have mounted up, I just wanted a cheap room–nothing fancy to review. I will typically use hotels.com to get a rough idea of pricing and was pleased to find a number of dirt cheap options.
Circus Circus sounded good and would avoid a trip to depressing Downtown Las Vegas. I clicked through and came to the following page–
Great. Sounds good. I clicked on “Book Now” and came to this page–
Ok, so no Circus Circus but a “Manor Motor Lodge” a block down the street from Circus Circus. Wait, what’s that? A $14.50 “resort” fee? Nothing like using fine print to raise the price 75%…
How about another hotel?
The Quad is only $17. Or is it?
Still showing $17, very good.
Oh no! $17 for the room and an extra hidden $22.40 for the resort fee, a 130% increase in price.
Thankfully, I made my flight and did not need a hotel.
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Now we could say that hidden resort fees and taxes are just the way things are, but I consider myself a very savvy traveler and I was shocked by these hidden fees. How can you say a room is only $17 per night when a resort fee is added that more than doubles the cost?
This is deception–bait and switch to get me to click through, knowing full well that had the real price been shown, I would not have clicked through.
And that’s the same problem with airfare pricing. What difference do base fares make when the bottom line for consumers is that they are paying 2-4x more when all the taxes/fees are added in?
But wait! Isn’t my example above different? Isn’t a resort fee different than a government tax?
Yes, a resort fee is different. But, who funds the facilities that airlines utilize in order to make airline travel possible? The runways, the towers, the terminals, the concourses? Who performs security checks and customs and border formalities? It seems to me that government taxes are very much a part of the airfare because the airlines could not survive without the programs and infrastructure those taxes support. When I hear airlines complain that they are taxed too heavily, I look at the vast real estate, equipment, and personnel necessary to run an airport and safely navigate airplanes through the skies and it is no surprise that taxes are higher than in other industries.
Congress should ground any further discussion of the Transparent Air Fare Act and focus instead on protecting consumers rather than hurting them with non-sequitur claims about oppresive taxes. Protecting consumers over deceptive hotel pricing would be a start…