Biden’s effort to target ‘junk fees’ could hit resort fees charged by several Trump hotels

In October, President Joe Biden announced a new campaign to crack down on junk fees, potentially saving American consumers billions of dollars. He announced new efforts to target the surprise fees that companies sneak onto consumer bills, such as banking overdraft fees, excessive credit card late fees, service charges for purchasing concert tickets, and hidden hotel-booking fees.

And coincidentally, as The Daily Beastpoints out, “it just so happens that Biden’s likely opponent, former President Donald Trump, has raked in a small fortune” on hidden hotel booking fees.

RELATED STORY: Biden and House Democrats want to end ‘junk fees, ‘ while Republicans defend them

The Daily Beast, in an article by Jake Lahut, wrote:

At least three of Trump’s hotel properties bill guests for a “resort fee,” a sneaky and pricey charge that covers an array of unspecified amenities, and typically only appears at the end of the online reservation process.

The October announcement by the Biden-Harris administration said the Federal Trade Commission is proposing a rule that, if finalized, would ban businesses from charging hidden and misleading fees and require them to show the full price up front. Under the proposed rule, companies that fail to comply could face monetary penalties and have to provide refunds to consumers.

Biden, speaking from the White House Rose Garden after the announcement of the new anti-junk fee campaign on Oct. 11, began his remarks by noting that it’s an issue of “simple fairness … folks are tired of being taken advantage of and being played for suckers.”

He added:

Research shows that without — without realizing it, folks can end up paying as much as 20 percent more because of hidden junk fees than they would have paid if they could see the full price upfront and compare it with other options.

It’s wrong. It’s wrong. It’s just taking advantage of people. And it makes it harder for honest businesses who are trying to do the right thing to compete with dishonest companies who trick customers into thinking their prices are lower when they, in fact, are not.

And as Conde Nast Traveler pointed out, the proposed FTC rule would “ban one of the most frustrating aspects of hotel stays: being charged misleading resort fees at checkout.”

Here’s how Conde Nast Traveler described resort fees:

Resort fees, sometimes also called “destination” or “amenity” fees, are some of the most notorious hidden charges in the travel industry. They’re mandatory fees charged on a per-room, per-night basis that suddenly show up on a hotel guest’s final bill, resulting in an unpleasant surprise for many vacationers at checkout. Hotels say the charges cover a broad range of services provided to guests, such as access to a resort’s gym, free Wi-Fi, local phone calls, and sometimes complimentary equipment rentals like snorkel gear at beachfront properties.

Depending on the length of a vacation and the type of resort, the fees can add hundreds of dollars to a traveler’s tab. The average resort fee is $42.41 per night, according to a recent study from NerdWallet, but on the higher end of the spectrum, they can reach $90 per night or more. The charges are lucrative for the hotel industry, which makes nearly $3 billion a year off of them, according to a 2018 study by lodging industry researcher Bjorn Hanson.

The Daily Beast story detailed the resort fees charged at three Trump properties:

The Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas, for instance, was built on a three-acre parking lot and doesn’t have the sprawling features and amenities of a typical resort there. But it charges a one-time resort fee of $132—nearly as much as the $159 rate for one night in a king room at the hotel in January.

Meanwhile, a room with an ocean view at the Trump International Hotel on Waikiki Beach in Hawaii might be listed for as low as $499 per night. But with a daily resort fee of $125, the total cost of a three night stay balloons closer to $2,000, once the $375 in resort fees and local taxes kick in.

Trump’s golf resort property in Doral, Florida, also charges a one-time $135 resort fee, a healthy chunk of the $319 nightly rate for a king room there.

The Daily Beast noted that Biden’s focus on pesky junk fees could open a path for the president to simultaneously turn Trump’s business practices into a political liability while burnishing the president’s own record in reducing costs for American consumers.

Biden campaign spokesman T.J. Ducklo told The Daily Beast:

“Joe Biden working to eliminate the sky-high junk fees Donald Trump greedily charges guests at his failing hotels perfectly encapsulates the difference in their values. It’s Scranton vs Park Ave., middle class vs. the billionaire class and it’s why voters can’t trust Trump in the White House to fight for them.”

The Daily Beast noted that the Biden campaign’s comments on Trump’s use of these resort fees marks the first time it’s used them as an explicit election attack. It added that the Trump campaign and Trump Organization did not return a request for comment.

And pollster Mileah Kromer, a political science professor at Goucher College in Maryland, told The Daily Beast that emphasizing junk fees provides the Biden campaign with an opportunity to refresh its economic message by highlighting the president’s efforts to lower rising prices for goods and services. “Bidenomics needs explaining; junk fees don’t,” Kromer said.

In an article for Politico, Kromer cited Republican former Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan—both of whom Biden said earned high marks for handling economic issues by eliminating costs that voters could see in their wallets. Kromer wrote:

The bipartisan lesson from Hogan and Whitmer is that voters remember and reward politicians who saved them a direct household expense more than any argument based on macro-level economic indicators. Voters care about the economy in front of them.  

Kromer told The Daily Beast that something like resort fees are exactly the kind of expenses that are visible to voters:

“I think that’s something that everyone has seen on a bill from a hotel and cringed at, and sometimes simple messages are the most effective messages. Even if it’s not an extreme amount of money, people remember the person who tried to make it a little bit cheaper for them, and the polling shows that cost-of-living indicators are the biggest economic issue for voters right now.”

There are indications that issues like resort fees resonate with consumers. In February 2016, Washington, D.C., attorney Lauren Wolfe was so outraged over resort fees added to her bill at Hilton and Hyatt hotels in Florida that she started the website Kill Resort Fees.

In August 2023, a consumer group named Travelers United filed a class action complaint against Hyatt Corp., alleging the hotel chain has been cheating guests out of millions of dollars by falsely advertising its room rates and charging hidden fees at check out.

There are also two separate bills that have been introduced in the Senate that would ban resort fees, including the bipartisan Hotel Fees Transparency Act, proposed by Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, that would require hotels and short-term rentals to display the full price, including fees, up front.

As Washington Post opinion columnist Caroline Rampell wrote in October after Biden’s announcement:

In the grand scheme of things, resort fees and the like might seem like a minor issue. But they matter to consumers, they distort markets and they’re an easy thing for policymakers to remedy. This is good government at its most boring, pedestrian best.

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