In his State of the Union address earlier this month, President Joe Biden took aim at “junk fees,” charges levied by hotels, banks, airlines, and ticket-sellers that consumers often know nothing about until it’s time to pay up.
The president touted actions his administration has taken to eliminate these hidden fees – like reducing fees for overdrafted bank accounts and late credit card payments – while calling on Congress to do more.
“Junk fees may not matter to the very wealthy, but they matter to most folks in homes like the one I grew up in,” Biden says. “They add up to hundreds of dollars a month. They make it harder for you to pay the bills or afford that family trip.”
For world traveler Lauren Wolfe, the issue of junk fees is personal.
“In 2016, I went on a trip to Florida and was charged a $20 resort fee on a very expensive room that I had prepaid, and I was kind of shocked that I was truly unable to get the key to the room without paying this extra $20 that the front desk demanded,” she told Spectrum News.
Wolfe turned her anger into action and created the website KillResortFees.com, a resource for tourists on what to do if they find themselves in a similar situation She’s now an attorney at Travelers United, a nonprofit dedicated to improving travel for consumers.
Wolfe said resort fees have become pervasive, even in locations that some might not consider “resort towns.”
“We’re seeing these fees everywhere, from resorts in Las Vegas and Hawaii,” she said, as well as “in a lot of cities like Portland, [Ore.], Spokane, [Wash.], Detroit, Biloxi, [Miss.], Chicago, Minneapolis. These are not resort towns.”
Orlando travel agent Shane Clarke says the fees can add up.
“The lowest I’ve seen is probably about $15 a night and the highest I’ve seen is about $60 a night,” Clarke said. “That can really stack up,” Shane Clarke, an agent at Countdown to Bliss Travel, told Spectrum News.
In his State of the Union address earlier this month, Biden urged Congress to “pass the Junk Free Prevention Act,” legislation aimed at cracking down on entertainment ticket fees, ban airline fees for family members to sit with young children, eliminate early termination fees for TV, phone and internet service and bar surprise resort and destination fees.
“Americans are tired of being played for suckers,” Biden said. “Pass the Junk Fee Prevention Act, so companies stop ripping us off.”
Following the speech, the president of the American Hotel & Lodging Association said the organization will “continue to work with the Biden administration, the FTC and lawmakers on Capitol Hill to ensure a level playing field around transparency for mandatory fees, such as hotel resort fees.”
Some airlines, like United Airlines, also announced they would not charge families to sit together on board.
Some agencies have begun taking administrative action. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, for instance, has proposed a rule that would eliminate excessive credit card fees, saving an estimated $9 billion a year.
Wolfe believes legislation taking broader aim at junk fees would have a chance at passing Congress.
“There has been active legislation in almost every previous Congress of the last few Congresses, and they are from Democrats and Republicans,” Wolfe said. “This is truly a bipartisan issue.
For now, Wolfe recommends that travelers hit with an unexpected hotel resort fee to ask the front desk if the charges can be removed, or file a complaint with their state attorney general’s consumer protection division.