Q: Last year we went on a vacation trip and what we thought was a bargain ended up costing us 30 percent more after all the hidden fees were added. I am in the midst of planning for this year's trip, and I do not want to be taken in like last time. Does the BBB have any tips to avoid extra travel fees?
A: Going on vacation and traveling is a highlight for many families throughout the year. You work hard all year, budget wisely, and when you think you have a great deal, hidden and extra fees can make it rain on your vacation.
Hotels can charge extra fees for any number of services, including "resort fees" for hotel services ranging from Internet access, use of gym facilities, newspapers to a safe in your room. The fees may be charged whether you use the services or not.
The Federal Trade Commission says resort fees are part of a business model known as "drip pricing," in which firms advertise only part of a product's price and reveal other charges later as the customer goes through the buying process.
Extra fees ranging from $10 to $30 a day are seldom disclosed and often are not included in the checkout price on online travel booking sites. In many cases, consumers do not learn about the fees until they check into or out of a hotel or resort.
The fees can be mandatory charges, such as hotel resort fees, or fees for optional upgrades and add-ons.
Consumers have reported that extra fees were never mentioned at all or appeared separate from the quoted reservation price on an online booking site.
The FTC says other consumers "complained they did not know that they would be required to pay resort fees in addition to the quoted hotel room rate," and only found out when they checked out of the hotel.
The FTC has sent a warning letter to 22 hotel operators, warning them that they may be engaging in deceptive advertising by not including mandatory resort fees when they quote a price. However, the federal agency has no authority to regulate hotels outside the United States.
The BBB offers the following advice to avoid undisclosed hotel resort fees:
• Carefully read terms and conditions. When booking online, look for fine print which may disclose whether additional fees may be added to the nightly cost of a room.
• Contact the hotel in advance. After you have done your comparison shopping online, call the hotel or resort directly to find out what additional fees may apply and whether they can be waived if the amenities are not used.
• Reconfirm upon check-in. Bring a copy of your booking receipt when you check in, and verify the total cost of your booking. It is much easier to negotiate in advance rather than at checkout, when you may be in a rush to get to the airport. If you are told that additional charges may be placed on your credit card for resort fees, make sure the hotel customer service representative or manager understands your concerns and makes a note in your file if you wish to opt out.
Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN, 37401-1447, or by e-mailing him at dflessner@ timesfreepress.com.