(Adds quotes from complaint, consumer group)
By Bryan Pietsch
WASHINGTON, July 9 (Reuters) - The District of Columbia sued Marriott International Inc on Tuesday, claiming that mandatory resort fees at its hotels are illegal and deceptive, the attorney general's office said.
“Marriott reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in profit by deceiving consumers about the true price of its hotel rooms,” said District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine. “Bait-and-switch advertising and deceptive pricing practices are illegal."
Marriott declined to comment on pending litigation. The lawsuit said that 189 Marriott properties worldwide impose fees ranging from $9 to $95 a day.
Resort fees, sometimes called destination or amenity fees, are displayed separately from hotel room prices. The charges are often lumped with taxes, giving the impression they are government imposed, and only become evident to consumers near the end of the booking process, the agency said.
The practice has emerged as consumers increasingly comparison shop on travel websites. Hotels attract travelers by advertising lower room rates that do not include the fees.
"By charging these fees, hotels can increase profits without appearing to raise prices. Over the past decade, Marriott has increased its use of resort fees," the attorney general said.
The complaint seeks to force Marriott to include mandatory fees in its advertised room prices, to reimburse D.C. residents who paid the fees and to pay unspecified penalties.
"This is a really big deal. This is the first time that we've had legal action taken against the hotels for the resort fees," said Charles Leocha, president of consumer advocacy group Travelers United, which has been fighting resort fees.
Resort fees make it hard for consumers to compare room prices accurately, he said.
The lawsuit follows an investigation by state attorneys general from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Racine said. (Reporting by Bryan Pietsch, editing by G Crosse, Bill Berkrot and Cynthia Osterman)