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New documents shed light on just how much Marriott makes from resort fees — and why they exist in the first place

Oct. 20, 2021
4 min read
New documents shed light on just how much Marriott makes from resort fees — and why they exist in the first place
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The long-despised resort fee may have its day in court soon — though a major hotel company may not like the outcome.

Recently unsealed documents from the lawsuit filed against Marriott International by District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine show how lucrative these additional fees — added on to the base price of a hotel room and not always prominently displayed during the booking process — can be.

According to depositions from current (and retired) Marriott executives, the company's self-managed resorts made hundreds of millions of dollars in prior years — including $66 million in 2012, $82 million in 2013 and $58 million in the first half of 2014. These figures go to the bottom lines of owners of individual properties that have management contracts with one (or more) of Marriott's 30 brands.

But this has also been a source of profit for Marriott International itself, as the parent company made approximately $17 million from the imposition of resort fees in 2019.

"AG Racine filed this lawsuit because of these facts," a spokesperson for D.C.'s office of the attorney general said in an email to TPG. "Now we have them confirmed by executives at the company and from the details about the tens of millions of dollars Marriott made off resort fees."

But while these numbers are certainly interesting, a more notable takeaway from these documents — particularly the District's statement of material facts, or SOF — is how (and why) Marriott's definition of resort fees has evolved to impose them more broadly across its portfolio.

Related: Here’s how to avoid paying resort fees

Originally, Marriott's imposition of resort fees was limited to properties that could be truly considered resorts. While there were no clear criteria for making this determination, a February 2014 email cited in the SOF indicated that a "few very non obvious resorts request[ed] a resort fee and were turned down."

However, by October 2014, the company had created a new category for these additional costs: "destination fees" or "destination amenity fees" — with one executive going so far as to state that these fees were imposed because Marriott was "at a competitive disadvantage in a number of markets." And another 2014 email laid bare the underlying intent of these fees: "One of our primary areas of focus to drive Ancillary Revenue and profit is through the thoughtful execution of resort fees."

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When asked about this statement, the executive highlighted that his job "is to run a profitable company, and we do that through a balanced scorecard. So it wouldn’t surprise me to say that we are driving revenue. We wanted to have profit."

Racine's spokesperson drew attention to this in her statement to TPG as well.

"As alleged in the complaint, Marriott is taking advantage of consumers by purposely misleading them about the price of rooms just to increase the company’s bottom line."

Now, it's worth pointing out that Marriott is not alone in imposing resort fees — and it's not the only company facing potential litigation. A travel advocacy group filed suit against MGM Resorts earlier this year, while Hilton Honors was sued by Nebraska's attorney general back in 2019. However, these unsealed documents shed new light on Marriott in particular.

So what does this mean for TPG readers?

For now, not much. Marriott properties will continue to impose these resort or destination fees — and unfortunately, these fees are still incurred when Marriott Bonvoy members redeem points for free nights. This is notably different from Hilton Honors (which waives resort fees on all award stays) and World of Hyatt (which waives resort fees on all award stays and for top-tier Globalist members on paid stays).

However, that could change as the suit works its way through the courts.

We reached out to Marriott for a statement, but a spokesperson declined to comment.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
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Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more