Marriott ‘reaped hundreds of millions of dollars’ through ‘drip pricing’ scheme, lawsuit says

Resort fees don't appear in the room rate when booking a hotel.

Washington D.C. is suing Marriott for alleged "price deception" in its practice of charging "resort fees" that aren't disclosed to customers upfront when they are booking their rooms.

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine filed a lawsuit against the world's largest hotel chain on Tuesday for allegedly reaping "hundreds of millions of dollars" using an unlawful practice called “drip pricing” -- in which fees are added to an advertised price.

"This is a straight-forward price deception case," Racine's office said in the lawsuit. "For at least the last decade, Marriott has used an unlawful trade practice called 'drip pricing' in advertising its hotel rooms whereby Marriott initially hides a portion of a hotel room’s daily rate from consumers."

Marriott, which owns 30 hotel brands including Sheraton, W, Aloft, Renaissance, Westin and Courtyard, calls this "hidden portion" of the room rate a “resort fee,” “amenity fee” and a “destination fee,” according to the lawsuit.

"One key effect of this price deception is that consumers shopping for a hotel room on either Marriott’s website, or an online travel agency site ('OTA') like Priceline or Expedia, are misled into believing a Marriott hotel room is cheaper than it actually is," the lawsuit says.

Racine's office alleges that Marriott acted deceptively in its wording about resort fees, adding them to the "taxes and fees" portions of hotel bills, which suggest they may be collected by a government or municipality rather than the hotel company. The attorney general also alleges that resort fees were not included in "total prices" on booking websites and online travel agency sites, and that the company used smaller and lighter-colored fonts for identifying the fees on its site, according to the lawsuit.

Legal action was taken against Marriott “following an investigation by the Attorneys General in all 50 states and the District of Columbia regarding the pricing practices of the hotel industry,” according to the lawsuit.

Marriott declined to comment specifically on the allegations.

“We don’t comment on pending litigation, but we look forward to continuing our discussions with other state AGs,” a Marriott spokesperson told ABC News.

Globally, Marriott owns, manages or franchises at least 189 hotels that charge resort fees ranging from $9 to $95 per day, according to the lawsuit.

ABC News’ Taylor Dunn contributed to this report.