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A complaint about resort fees

When I posted on this blog a few days ago my list of what I dislike about hotels, with resort fees at the top of the list, I didn't know I was being charged resort fees that very day. But it is an excellent example of why I think they're dishonest.

I got the hotel by making a $120-a-night bid on Priceline for a room in a hotel rated at least 3 1/2 stars in either Mt. Pleasant or downtown Charleston, S.C. The Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina in Mt. Pleasant accepted my bid.

Priceline gave me a to-the-penny breakdown of what taxes and fees would be, but it didn't say whether the hotel charges a resort fee. No one at the hotel told me either, although it was in the fine print of the paperwork I signed when I checked in -- I missed it amid the disclaimers about deposits, thefts, liability, smoking and the rest of the usual boilerplate, and I'll take responsibility for not reading all the fine print. The hotel clerk said he was making an imprint of my credit card and that the hotel would put a hold on $50 to cover "any incidental fees," but he didn't say what he must have known -- that it would include $36 in resort fees. I didn't know until the morning I checked out, when my statement slid under the door showed a $12-a-night resort fee.

Resort fee aside, I liked the hotel and would stay there again. My room was pleasant and comfortable, the hotel was quiet, the public rooms were attractive, and the location -- six miles from the noise and bustle of downtown Charleston -- was convenient.

I liked having free Wi-Fi in my room and free self-parking. Although I didn't use the services, I also appreciated that the hotel provided trolley service to the historic downtown area and access to an off-property gym. But it definitely put a damper on my good feelings when I learned I was paying a $12-a-day fee for those services. I think it's dishonest to draw a line around certain hotel services and say that they're not covered by the room rate but by an extra, mandatory fee.  Baloney! If it's mandatory, it should be included in the basic room rate. But this is an increasingly common practice, especially by higher-end hotels.

And it's worse when the travel agency that books the room -- in this case Priceline -- doesn't reveal the fee to the client. 

Christopher Elliott, who writes the syndicated Travel Troubleshooter column that runs in the Miami Herald Travel section, reports that the Federal Trade Commission has received complaints about this practice and is investigating.

But there's also a bit of good news. When I looked at prices on Hotwire, a Priceline competitor that in the past did not reveal resort fees, it alerted me that particular hotels I was interested in charged a resort fee and gave an approximate amount.

So what am I going to do? Next time I want to use one of the "opaque" sites to get a discounted rate on a hotel room, I'll vote with my wallet and use the site that is honest about resort fees. I'll book with Hotwire.