There’s sometimes a big difference between a hotel’s advertised price and what you end up paying for a room.
It’s an ongoing concern not only for consumer watchdog groups but for the federal government, according to a report that the White House’s National Economic Council released last month under the Obama administration.
“In many industries, businesses use so-called ‘hidden fees’ … in order to drive down the perceived price and lure consumers to make purchasing decisions based on misinformation,” according to the report, called “The Competition Initiative and Hidden Fees.”
The report was the result of ongoing complaints about charges that are added to the advertised rate. Extra charges come from hotels, airlines and event ticketing services, car dealers, schools, colleges, banks and cable and telephone companies.
For hotel rooms, extra fees can sometimes cost nearly as much as the advertised rate.
For example, the Excalibur Hotel in Las Vegas was advertising a room rate of $33 a night, a price point designed to get hits on search engines. But once a person starts making a reservation, the customer discovers there's also a mandatory resort fee of $32, “which essentially doubles the published rate,” according to Randy Greencorn of Resort Fee Checker.
At least the extra charge is usually disclosed before the customer arrives at the hotel. Before the Federal Trade Commission issued a warning in 2012, customers sometimes didn't learn of the added fees until they arrived. They still might not if they're not paying close attention.
A survey of the reservation pages of Charleston hotels shows few extra charges beyond the room rate and sales taxes. But there is one extra fee that's not always explained accurately. Many hotels show an extra charge of $1.08 or so a night. Sometimes it's called a "destination fee" and sometimes included under tax. The extra fee is a $1 plus tax collected for the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau's advertising budget, according to Alan Strozier, sales and marketing manager for the North Charleston Marriott.
The fee is collected by 71 hotels, according to Perrin Lawson, the bureau's deputy director. Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head, Columbia and Greenville have similar programs, he said.
A few local hotels charge a resort fee for extra services. For example, the Harborside at Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina and The Beach Club charge $18 a night extra for services that include the pool, spa and fitness center. It's standard for resorts to separate those fees from the room charge, General Manager Nick Saltmarsh said.
"Because we have multiple amenities, there are additional fees for the use of those," he said, “It’s put out there for the world to see. We’re not trying to pull a fast one on anyone. There are no secrets.”
Because of the abuse of extra fees in some markets, some consumer groups are pressuring the federal government to force hotels to include all fees in the advertised price.
“Hotels can advertise a $20 room and then charge guests $30 a night for a resort fee," according to the blog for a group called Kill Resort Fees. "Indeed, this practice is very common in Las Vegas. Many of the guests do not know their hotel actually costs $50 until they arrive at the hotel.”
Obviously, the political atmosphere on government intervention has changed since the Economic Council released its report in December. The Trump administration has already moved the report from the main White House website into the Obama administration archives.
Gentry gets green light
Plans for the Gentry Hotel at 180 East Bay St. are moving ahead.
The Board of Architectural Review, at its meeting last week, approved replacing a 1973 three-story addition in the rear of the 18th-century building with 18 hotel rooms. The board approved the demolition and gave the building plan conceptual approval.
John David Madison of Mount Pleasant owns the hotel, which bears the horse head logo of his locally made Gentry Bourbon. The horse head will also appear on a restaurant called Gentry Cocktail and Comfort Food that’s scheduled to open in March in the former Sermet’s space at 276 King St.
Vic Brandt owns the Gentry Hotel building, and Neil Stevenson Architects has been hired to design the renovation.
A number of downtown Charleston hotels and restaurants earned spots in Trip Advisor’s 2017 Travelers' Choice Awards.
Charleston itself was No. 9 among the top 25 U.S. destinations.
Four Charleston restaurants were among the top 25 fine dining establishments in America: Halls Chophouse (No. 4), Charleston Grill (No. 6), Circa 1886 (No. 16) and FIG (No. 23).
Circa 1886 is associated with the Wentworth Mansion, which also earned spots in three separate categories for top 25 U.S. hotels.
- Top Hotels: French Quarter Inn (No. 6)
- Top Luxury Hotels: Wentworth Mansion (No. 2), The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort (No. 23)
- Top Small Hotels: Wentworth Mansion (No. 15), Zero George Street (No. 19)
- Top Hotels for Service: French Quarter Inn (No. 10), The Spectator Hotel (No. 16)
- Top Hotels for Romance: Wentworth Mansion (No. 15)