ROCKVILLE — The District of Columbia is suing Bethesda-based hotel giant Marriott International, claiming it has misled consumers about resort fees.
The lawsuit, filed in the D.C. Superior Court on July 9, alleges that Marriott has hid the true cost of its hotel rooms from consumers, charging them more than what was originally advertised. D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine said that Marriott was using a “bait and switch” tactic to fool consumers.
“Marriott reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in profit by deceiving consumers about the true price of its hotel rooms,” Racine said. “Bait-and-switch advertising and deceptive pricing practices are illegal. With this lawsuit, we are seeking monetary relief for tens of thousands of District consumers who paid hidden resort fees and to force Marriott to be fully transparent about their prices so consumers can make informed decisions when booking hotel rooms.”
Resort fees can be pesky for customers who do not read their bills closely. While Marriott may advertise one price online on their website or on one of the many online booking websites, such as expedia.com or travelocity.com, for one of its hotel rooms, the company can add on other fees under the label of “resort fees,” “destination fees” or “amenity fees,” Racine said.
The lawsuit alleges that Marriott’s resort fees can range anywhere from $9 to $95 per day, per room, something that would violate D.C. consumer protection laws.
One of the issues with the fees, Racine , is that Marriott was able to convince some customers the additional fees on their bills were imposed by the government as an additional tax, when instead it was an additional charge from the hotel company.
“By charging resort fees and by failing to clearly disclose them to consumers up front, Marriott has found a way to increase profits without appearing to raise prices,” Racine said. “In some cases, Marriott even leads consumers to believe that resort fees are charges imposed by the government.”
Ben Gerow, a spokesman for Marriott, declined to comment, saying Marriott does not comment on pending lawsuits.
“We don’t comment on pending litigation, but we look forward to continuing our discussions with other state AGs,” he said.
D.C. is not the only one looking into the practice, as other attorneys general have discussed it with Marriott.
While Marriott declined to comment, its CEO, Arne M. Sorenson, spoke to LinkedIn about the practice, likening resort fees that hotel chains like Marriott charge its customers to the baggage fees that airlines charge. He also said that Marriott is transparent about how it charges customers.
“This is a tough one, of course. You got resort fees in the hotel industry, you got baggage fees in the airlines space,” Sorenson told LinkedIn. “None of us as consumers necessarily love it. What we’ve tried to do is to be very clear about disclosure. It’s one of the frustrating things about this lawsuit.”
Sorenson said the resort fees started over a decade ago at Marriott as a way to include add-ons from a hotel stay, such as a bike or waterfront paddle board rentals.
In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission warned Marriott, along with 21 other hotel chains, that their price practices may be in violation of federal consumer protection laws, saying the additional fees mislead customers about the true price for a room.
As a major employer in the county, Marriott — and its thousands of corporate employees — is based in its headquarters on Fernwood Road. Thanks to government subsidies, the hotel giant will remain in Bethesda for a long time to come and will move to a new location on Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda in 2022.