Q: I checked into the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort recently, and was unexpectedly charged a resort fee. I had booked the stay with my Starwood Preferred Guest points.
The desk staff could not have been less helpful when I questioned the fee. They advised, "It is mandatory on all rooms, whether paid with cash or points, and clearly indicated during booking."
I have made a paid booking at the Swan and Dolphin before and the resort fee is clearly indicated all over the place. During a reward booking, there is no mention of a $10 resort fee at any time. I just went through the reward booking process again right up to the "complete your reservation" step and confirmed this is accurate.
After checking in, I pulled up the reservation email on my phone and toward the bottom there is a $10 resort charge listed. Listing the fee in a post-booking email is not sufficient disclosure.
I think mandatory "resort" or "energy" fees are an unethical business practice and typically steer my business to more reputable lodgings. I made the award booking at Swan and Dolphin because there was no resort fee listed. Can you help me? -- William Pou III, Winter Haven, Fla.
A: The Swan and Dolphin should have informed you about its resort fee before you made your reservation. It should quote an all-in price when you ask for a rate or try to redeem your points, like other reputable hotels.
Mandatory resort fees, which often include many of the amenities that used to be included in the price of your room, are a way for hotels to make their rooms seem less expensive. By quoting a rate that doesn't include these required fees, a hotel can make its prices appear to be lower.
Even with adequate disclosure later in the booking process, having the ability to display the initial rate minus a mandatory resort fee can give a hotel an edge and snag more reservations -- even if the business is gained through a brief deception.
The only way to avoid these dishonest resort fees is to avoid any hotel that charges them. Consider this: If a hotel is dishonest with you about the price of its product, then what else is it willing to lie about?
I don't consider the Swan and Dolphin's disclosure, as you experienced it, to be anywhere near adequate. I'm also troubled by the way it invoked Florida law. I am unaware of any state law that requires a hotel to add a resort fee to the price of the room.
(There ought to be a law that hotels honor the price they initially quote, but that will have to wait.)
I asked the resort about your reservation. A representative responded to you by email, noting that Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which manages the Swan and Dolphin, was required to disclose any hidden or mandatory fees as part of a consent agreement with the State of Florida. By citing Florida law, he said, the representative you spoke with "was truthful to a certain extent."
The Swan and Dolphin apologized for the incomplete disclosure of its resort fee when you booked a room using your Starwood points, and agreed to find ways to make the process clearer. Starwood has credited you with 500 points and offered to refund the $10 resort fee.
Christopher Elliott is the author of "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals" (Wiley). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Christopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, and though he answers them as quickly as possible, your story may not be published for several months because of a backlog of cases.
Where did this Disney resort fee come from?
When William Pou reserves a room at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort using his frequent-stayer points, he's surprised by a $10-a-night resort fee, disclosed only after his room is confirmed. What's more, he's told the fee is required by state law. Is it -- or is he owed a refund?