Marriott Hotels Slammed for Overcharging Guests With Hidden Fees
The chain is now being fined $225,000 for failing to comply with a 2021 legal settlement.
Anyone who has made travel arrangements recently knows how hard it can be to stick to their budget amid soaring costs—especially when it comes to finding a place to stay. Data shows that in recent years, the cost of staying in a hotel has skyrocketed in many cities across the U.S. The scarcity of affordable booking options has led many to turn to the hospitality brands they trust for accommodations, ideally ensuring they'll get the best possible deal and have a pleasant experience. But now, Marriott is being slammed for overcharging guests with hidden fees in some of its hotels. Read on to see how the company landed itself in hot water.
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Marriott is being fined for violating a settlement agreement by overcharging guests with hidden fees.
No one likes a surprise on their hotel bill at the end of their stay. But Marriott is now finding itself in trouble for violating a court settlement it entered in 2021 by once again overcharging its guests with hidden fees, CBS News reports.
On April 12, Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry announced that the state had fined the hotel chain $225,000 for not complying with the agreement after it had received multiple extensions to change its practices through this past February. Under court order, Marriott now has until May 15 to meet and adhere to the terms of the settlement.
"What we asked of Marriott, and what the settlement demands, is simple: Be upfront with consumers and do not hide fees for hotel stays," Henry said in the press release. "I am thankful that Marriott has agreed to comply with the terms of [the] settlement agreement without the need for litigation."
The hotel chain was previously charged with billing guests for unnecessary charges via "drip pricing."
According to the settlement terms, Marriott must inform all guests about all included mandatory fees they'll have to pay throughout the booking process. However, officials say that Marriott regularly uses "drip pricing" to add extra charges such as "resort fees, destination fees, facility and amenities fees, and other similar fees, are not listed in the total price of the hotel room until a consumer is in the final steps of the purchasing process, or upon check-in," according to the press release.
Before it agreed to the settlement, guests complained the company was charging them beyond the initially quoted price. In some cases, "destination amenity fees" ranging from $9 to $95 were added to bills to purportedly cover amenities such as high-speed internet access and "free" water bottles during check-in, The Wall Street Journal reported.
District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A. Racine also filed a lawsuit against the company in the summer of 2019 over these hidden fees, saying: "Bait-and-switch advertising and deceptive pricing practices are illegal." As of Oct. 19, 2021, unsealed court documents showed that Racine alleged Marriott had collected more than $220 million in these "deceptive" resort fees since 2012, per The Wall Street Journal.
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Marriott has agreed to make many changes to its booking practices.
Even though the company has yet to fully comply, Marriott originally agreed to make several changes as part of its settlement that would affect the booking and billing process. The terms include the company prominently displaying the total price inclusive of fees, including when they're quoted by agents over the phone, travel rewards blog View from the Wing reports. The company also cannot lump destination or resort fees in with taxes when displaying charges to the customer.
Marriott must also list precisely what the property provides wherever they charge a mandatory resort fee at booking, not just at check-in. The company is also responsible for how its franchisees behave when displaying pricing information and must also make fee information available to booking sites and travel agencies so they can adequately advertise room rates, per View from the Wing.
When reached for comment via email, a spokesperson for Marriott told Best Life: "Marriott International has long been committed to ensuring that any resort/destination fees charged by hotels are separately and clearly stated. We have been working to update our technology and the room rate display to further enhance the way these fees are disclosed. We will be making changes to the display by May 15, 2023, per our agreement with the State of Pennsylvania."
The federal government could begin pushing back against frivolous charges with new regulations.
It's not just hotels under fire for making travelers pay too much. This February, President Joe Biden called on Congress to pass the Junk Fee Prevention Act to help cut down on unexpected charges dropped on customers, citing travel costs among other common gripes.
"You shouldn't have to pay an extra $50 to sit next to your child on the plane, pay a surprise' resort fee' for a hotel stay, pay $200 to terminate your cable plan, or pay huge service fees to buy concert tickets," Biden wrote in a tweet on Feb. 1.
So far, some companies in the travel industry have already gotten ahead of the potential legislation. On Feb. 28, American Airlines announced it had updated its policies to guarantee that children under the age of 15 traveling on flights would be seated next to an accompanying adult without any added fees.
"American Airlines lets families sit together at no additional cost," the airline said in a statement emailed to Best Life at the time. "We are proud to offer industry-leading, customer-friendly policies that ensure a positive travel experience for families traveling together. Our current policies allow families to sit together without having to pay more, and we are pleased to update our Customer Service Plan to provide additional clarity to families traveling with us."