Last week’s introduction of the Hotel Advertising Transparency Act of 2019 by Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, and Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., triggered debate on the resort fees that are piled on top of Southern Nevada’s gradually climbing room rates.
So do consumers detest the fee itself or the advertising practices the bill would make illegal?
While at least some people likely would say “both” if asked the question, it’s important to note that the legislation Johnson and Fortenberry introduced would not make resort fees illegal. The bill would regulate the way the fees are being presented on websites and in advertisements.
Wall Street analyst Carlo Santorelli issued a report saying Caesars Entertainment Corp. and MGM Resorts International have the most to lose among Las Vegas companies if the legislation becomes law. That makes sense because those two companies have the most exposure on the Strip.
Both Caesars and MGM dispute that they’re doing anything wrong now. After going online to book rooms through both companies’ websites, perhaps the only thing both companies do that may not sit well with consumers is not put the final room rate totals in large type. But they disclose the fees.
As an experiment, I created bookings on the Caesars site for its “Extend Your Summer” promotion — a $99 nonsmoking king bed at Caesars Palace — and looked for a similar room at Bellagio. As I searched for a Bellagio room, the MGM site teased me with an enticing offer for a Park Avenue King room at New York-New York for $99 a night.
The Caesars site showed a calendar grid with the $99 price prominently displayed. If you click on a box labeled “View total price,” the $39 resort fee pops up along with the total price of $156.46 a night. Incidentally, the Johnson-Fortenberry bill wouldn’t require a resort to disclose government taxes, which, in this case, were $18.46.
Was the $99 calendar grid display misleading for the Caesars room if you can discover the total cost with one click?
New York-New York’s featured price of $99 was displayed in a gold box with smaller print saying “plus $37 resort fee plus applicable taxes.” So MGM’s resort-fee disclosure is out in front, but in smaller print.
Just for grins, I sought the same rooms on some third-party travel agency sites. I found the same Caesars Palace room for the same price on Hotels.com. The only strange thing was that it listed a different resort fee with a note that said “excludes $41.95 daily resort fee” (not $39).
The biggest surprise was finding the New York-New York room on both Hotels.com and Priceline.com for $49 a night instead of $99. It tacked on a $41.95 resort fee for a total price of $97.51. But if I were a consumer looking for a deal, I wouldn’t care. I was getting a $99 room for $97.51.
Most of the third-party sites selling Las Vegas hotel rooms are controlled by two companies, Expedia and Priceline.
Expedia owns the Hotels.com, Travelocity, Orbitz, Hotwire and Trivago brands, while Priceline has Priceline.com. All the brands eventually display a resort fee in some form or another, but it’s not at the first mention, which is what aggravates consumers and spurred the Johnson-Fortenberry bill.
Will it pass?
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said she thinks that more pressing issues may consume lawmakers’ time. “It’s just been introduced and there’s an awful lot happening in Congress right now, so I’m not sure it’s going to move,” she said.
Lauren Wolfe, legal counsel for the consumers group Travelers United, is optimistic about the bill’s chances. She’s more visible as the voice behind the Kill Resort Fees Twitter handle that has more than 2,000 followers.
“It’s important for consumers to know the price of the item they’re considering purchasing,” Wolfe said in a recent interview.
“A lot of people get very frustrated with Congress, and a lot of Congress today is very politicized, but I truly think that this is a bipartisan issue that really could reach across the aisle and move in both the House and the Senate,” she said.
“It is amazing and I know some people don’t believe it, but bipartisan bills do pass in Congress.”