Smart About Money: A “Backlash Brews” Against Mandatory Fees

Nick Maffeo

A while ago, there was an article in The Wall Street Journal about something that had been becoming more common, more annoying and increasingly expensive – mandatory fees. After the Coronavirus fades, chances are those fees will be back.

A Backlash Brews Against Fees” focused on what may be about the most hated fee, the mandatory resort fees charged by hotels. A sidebar featured a few especially-irritating examples, including:

  • The Oyo Hotel in Las Vegas – whose room rates at the time were $23 a night – had a mandatory $41.95 daily resort fee, nearly tripling the advertised cost of the room before taxes!
  • The Life Hotel in New York actually tried to make their fee look like a tax, referring to it as the “NYC Mandatory Facility Hotel Fee”
  • And the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua in Maui charged a $35 resort fee on their then $3035-a-night oceanfront villas. “Just seems like overkill,” The Wall Street Journal said.

Elected officials in Washington have taken notice and have been working on a bi-partisan Hotel Advertising Transparency Act which would outlaw hotel charges which aren’t disclosed in the room rate.

According to Nebraska representative Jeff Fortenberry quoted in The Washington Post, “When travelers search for hotel options, they should not get hit with hidden fees that are designed to confuse customers and distort the actual price.”

As a banker, I know it is possible to make fees transparent. The Federal government has insisted banks do that for years now and all responsible bankers are happy to comply. Yes, it means more paperwork. But since it also makes it possible for informed consumers to make wise financial decisions, it’s worth it.

Some say that mandatory fees are just a way to hide the true cost of something. But the bottom-line can’t be hidden forever. Customers will eventually know what the whole charge is, whether it’s as they expected or if it comes as an unpleasant surprise.

People hate airlines’ baggage fees. But chances are Congress is never going to do away with those because the airlines can (perhaps rightfully) claim they’re providing a lower-cost seat with a wide range of options that let people pay less if they check less luggage. At least baggage fees are pretty transparent.

Just before the Coronavirus hit, a friend told me about a convenient-to-work gym that advertised “No Joining Fee.” But when this person joined that gym, they had to pay a $75 “facilities upkeep fee.” That was more tricky, and more aggravating.

Someday there may be legislation requiring fees to be presented very clearly and upfront. But most times all you as a consumer can really do is to get into the habit of asking questions before you buy and then carefully scrutinizing bills and receipts. That way you can determine if there’s value there for you, even with any fees.

Sometimes there will be value in a fee, and that’s great. Other times there won’t be value for you but it just won’t be practical in that situation to negotiate, complain or walk away.

Some people get agitated by that reality. If you can let it go, knowing you’ll now be more prepared next time, you will at least save yourself from paying a non-mandatory “emotional fee.” It may not feel like it in the moment, but that’s actually a solid win of both time and energy for you.

 

Nick Maffeo is the President & CEO of Canton Co-operative Bank in Canton. Have a question? Email to info@cantoncoopbank.com.

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