Dear Lifehacker, I have recently booked a holiday abroad through a large travel agency. When the confirmation was sent through we have seen that we have to pay the hotel a surcharge for facilities and another surcharge for house cleaning services. Both of these amounts will have tax on top and are to be paid locally to the hotel. When we booked the travel through the Australian travel agency we were not informed of these costs and were not made aware of these extras. Is it legal for extras to be included in this way, or does it break rules about pricing? Thanks, Oversurcharged
Hotel tax picture from Shutterstock
Under Australian consumer law, any price advertised to a consumer must be all-inclusive: you can’t quote a “headline price” that doesn’t include fees you’ll be forced to pay. In the case of airlines (the best-known example), this includes any compulsory taxes and charges that have to be paid on tickets. Laws banning such “component pricing” have been in place since May 2009, so there’s no excuse for businesses not to know about them.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) issued a stern warning to airlines in 2011 for ignoring that rule. More recently, it has begun a campaign against drip pricing, where online customers are constantly encouraged to purchase extras, which are often pre-ticked and have to be de-selected.
But what does that mean in your case? There’s one important distinction to bear in mind: the rules around pricing mostly relate to advertising of that pricing to the general public, rather than specific individual purchases. It’s certainly bad form for your travel agent not to have informed you of the extra costs associated with your hotel choice — but it’s not necessarily a violation of the specific laws around price promotion, unless you were prominently shown an all-inclusive price.
Under the circumstances, I’d certainly be complaining to your travel agent — and if you were responding to a specific promotion in a brochure or on a web site, they may well have a case to answer. However, the brutal reality is that overseas hotels often have surcharges that can only be paid on the ground, and a good travel agent will tell you that from the start. When in doubt, always ask the agent to confirm whether extra charges will be payable before you actually make a payment.
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