The District of Colombia is suing Marriott for alleged "price deception" over its resort fees, which are not disclosed to customers upfront when booking their rooms.
D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine alleged that Marriott, the world's largest hotel chain, has reaped "hundreds of millions of dollars" using the unlawful practice of "drip pricing", in which fees are added to an advertised price.
According to the lawsuit, "Marriott charges additional mandatory fees that it refers to as “resort fees,” “destination amenity fees,” or “amenity fees” on a daily basis for a room at many of its hotels.
"However, Marriott does not include these daily, mandatory fees in the room rate it advertises on its website and does not include them in the room rate advertised by the OTAs, thereby depriving consumers of the ability to readily ascertain and compare the actual price of a room at a Marriott hotel to the price of the hotel rooms offered by Marriott’s competitors and at other Marriott hotels."
Marriott owns 30 hotel brands worldwide including Sheraton, W, Aloft, Renaissance, Westin, and Courtyard. Its 'resort fees' are said to cover the cost of guests' usage of amenities such as the pool, gym, or landline telephone. But these additional charges are not optional, and are kept hidden from guests until after they have selected their booking.
Furthermore, Racine's office alleges that Marriott actively deceived customers in its wording about resort fees, including them in the "taxes and fees" portion of the bill. "By combining the amounts that consumers were asked to pay for resort fees with their tax payments under a generic heading of “taxes and fees,” Marriott led consumers to believe the resort fees were government-imposed charges," says the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also mentioned Marriott's "smaller and lighter shaded typeface used when referring to the resort fee," and "ambiguous language regarding whether the resort fee has been or will be added to the room rate," and "the inclusion of the resort fee with charges for taxes make it even harder for consumers to comprehend they are being charged a resort fee on top of their quoted room rate."
The lawsuit comes in the wake of the UK's Independent Commissioner's Office charging Marriott almost £100m over a data breach in its Starwood group, in which the personal data of 339 million guests was compromised.