Thursday, April 24, 2008

Surcharges: What do you think?

Given the hyperspeed rise of gasoline prices, it's no surprise that cruise lines and airlines have imposed fuel surcharges. And who can blame them -- especially after Delta Airlines' grim quarterly report of a $6.93 billion loss. Northwest posted a $4.1 billion loss. While both companies took some one-time losses, both said the high fuel costs were part of the problem.

No, it's not the fuel surcharges that have me steamed, it's the way they -- and taxes -- are buried on websites. Whether you're booking a cruise -- Oceania just imposed an $10 per person per day fuel surcharge, following the lead of most other major cruise lines -- ir airline ticket, in most cases, you can't see how those surcharges are affecting the bottom line until you go all the way through the booking process. And that generally applies whether you're booking online or on the phone, I've found.

Worse yet, agree consumer advocates, are hotel surcharges, which rack up a reported $1.6 billion in revenues annually.

You've probably seen them on your bill: "Resort fees'' imposed by resorts, "energy surcharges'' and additional fees for items like in-room safes.

To a traveler, this falls between nickel-and-diming and downright deceit. The hotels have long ago installed both the safes and the resort facilities. In fact, the practice has come under legal fire, and the Wyndham chain is being sued. (Because of pending litigation the company declined to comment.)

Earlier this week I got hit with a $2.50 per night surcharge at a Sleep Inn in Orlando. It was disclosed when I booked on the website as a fee for using the safe. When the woman in front of me asked to have the fee removed at check-out because she didn't use the safe, the clerk refused. And of course, the clerk refused me, too.

That's a no-no, said Rocco Loverro, spokesman for Choice Hotels, which operates Sleep Inn, Comfort Inn, Quality and other brands. And if the hotel refuses, the consumer can contact Choice's corporate headquarter.

Choice recognizes this is a consumer hot-button. Though all of its properties are individually owned, the company is working toward a "seamless billing'' initiative, said Loverro. That means surcharges would be folded into the rate. But there's no timetable for completion.

Have you had a similar experience? What's your view? Click to comment below.

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