By John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud
Ask almost any consumer and they will tell you that junk fees are one of the banes of their existence. Not only do these fees add often unexpected costs to the price of goods and services, but they also inhibit competition; contributing to higher prices, worse service, and poorer product quality. Add to this the lost time and aggravation that comes with fighting companies that try to charge these fees and we have a recipe for constant consumer frustration.
Fortunately, the Biden Administration seems to be hearing these concerns loud and clear. Last week, the White House Competition Council announced a range of executive actions and legislative proposals targeting junk fees and competition concerns that NCL have made a priority for years. These actions build on commitments the Administration made last fall to go after junk fees and other anti-consumer practices.
So, what is in this announcement for consumers? The short answer is quite a bit.
First, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced a new rulemaking to close a loophole in the law that allows banks to get away with charging outrageously high fees for late credit card payments. Thanks to this loophole, banks have been able to get away with charging late fees as high as $41. This is big money for the banks. In 2020, banks charged around $12 billion in such fees, representing more than 10% of all fees and interest revenue. Under the new rule, the maximum fee a consumer will be hit with will be $8. This change is expected to save American consumers as much as $9 billion annually. As far back as 2009, NCL was calling for legislation to protect consumers from these “gotcha” fees, so this announcement is great news.
Second, the Department of Transportation (DOT) will soon propose a rule to prohibit airlines from charging passengers for the “right” to sit next to their young children. Separating children from their parents in the air not only creates safety risks in an evacuation scenario, but it puts kids at increased risk of sexual assault. Back in 2016, Congress directed DOT to review airline family seating policies and, “if appropriate” act. Under the regulation-averse Trump DOT, the agency did the minimum possible to comply with the law by creating a new consumer education web page that described airlines’ family seating policies. This week’s action, however, will ban family seating fees outright, fulfilling a demand that NCL and other advocates have worked towards for years. Thanks to this new rule, parents should soon be protected from having to choose between an affordable seat and their kids’ safety in the air.
Finally, the Administration called on Congress to pass a Junk Fee Prevention Act to crack down on a range of anti-competitive junk fees. Fees targeted by the legislation would include:
- Cell phone and broadband early termination fees – These fees, which can exceed $200, lock consumers into service they may not want or no longer need for years. They also make it harder for new entrants in the marketplace to compete with the big wireless and broadband carriers.
- Live event tickets – For more than a decade, NCL has advocated for action to control the fees that can add 50% or more to the price of a concert or sporting event ticket. The Junk Fee Prevention Act would prohibit excessive fees, require that all fees be included in the advertised price, and mandate disclosure of ticket holdbacks that keep more than 50% of tickets for a typical event from ever making it to market.
- Hotel resort fees – Resort fees (also called “destination fees”) are increasingly used to hide the actual cost of a hotel room. Instead of being included in the advertised price of a room, sneaky hotel chains charge the fee when a consumer checks out. Not only does this cost consumers billions annually, but it also harms honest hotels that advertise the full price. Thanks to NCL’s advocacy, state and federal regulators have taken aim at these deceptive fees. Now it is time for Congress to step up.
Taken together, this package of regulatory and legislative reforms show that the Biden Administration is putting companies on notice that their days of raking in billions in profits by nickel-and-diming consumers with unfair and deceptive fees are numbered. NCL, along with our allies in the consumer community, will continue to be on the front line to make sure the Administration and Congress follow through on these ambitious and long-overdue plans.