Hotels tack on so-called resort fees, but you don't have to pay them, AG Moody says

If you're dreaming of a getaway full of colorful sunsets and white sand, make sure the hotel price you see accurately represents what you get.

Tourists visiting Clearwater Beach had a thing or two to say about resort fees, which are not included in the room rates you see online.

"It definitely should be clearer what exactly you're paying for," says Ruth Hoffman, visiting Florida from D.C.

"It's crazy, right?" exclaimed Greg Millevoi, of Phillidelphia.

Melissa St. John, who was visiting Clearwater from Fort Lauderdale, explained: "Most resorts average $40 per day, $50 per day, depending on the brand."

The fees are for things like the cost of using a pool, fitness center, or other services and amenities.

But if they're not properly disclosed, you have the right to fight the charge, according to Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody. She says before making the final payment, consumers can ask to have resort fees removed, and in some cases, even if you've already booked the room.

"In fact, there are numerous instances, someone said, 'I didn't know, I didn't use the facilities,' and generally speaking they've been amenable to that, but nonetheless, they need to be fair and disclosed to consumers," Moddy said.

That's where it gets tricky. At what point is the disclosure fair? 

Tampa attorney Richard Lawson used to head up the Consumer Protection Division of the Florida Attorney General's Office. He says for the fees to be legal, a customer should know about them upfront.

"The key thing with all deceptive law - the overall net impression that the consumer has through the process has to clearly disclose all the fees," said Lawson.

Tourists will tell you they're not always getting that impression.

Brad Smith is visiting from Michigan. "With the ability to shop online, you like to be able to think you can compare apples with apples," said Brad Smith, who was visiting from Michigan. "And so then, when you get there you got all these extra things you're not sure what they're for and a place like this is already expensive anyway, so it's pretty frustrating and demoralizing to be showing up and stretching your budget."

So what can you do?

The Federal Trade Commission has sent warning letters to hotels - with little results.

Attorneys general from Nebraska and Washington, D.C. have filed lawsuits against the Hilton and Marriot chains to outlaw resort fees.

The Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act gives AG Moody enforcement power but she's not going that far right now.

"We have received complaints. We are in the process of, along with many other states, investigating," she said.

Resort fees aren't exclusive to exclusive resorts. You can find them tacked on at any location.

Critics say it's a sneaky way to make rates appear lower than they are by employing so-called drip pricing - a tactic where, drip by drip, the true cost becomes clear.

Lauren Wolfe is a DC-based lawyer who created the website after getting surprised by fees in Key West.

"They're not just called resort fees, they're oftentimes [called] 'guest amenity fees,' 'good life fees,' 'urban fees,' [or] 'New York mandatory hotel fees.' These are all deceptive and misleading fees to say a price that lets us advertise a lower price for a room," she explained.

Wolfe says she started the site as a resource for people who want to know more about these hidden and deceptive fees and to provide information and background for people who might not know what they are or how to challenge them. Her site lists hotel resort fees, so travelers can plan ahead. There are also resources to file a complaint.

"Really look for these fees on your bill and I strongly encourage you to challenge the fees and not pay the fees," Wolfe says.

Pay attention, or pay the price. Afterall, you want the view to be stunning, not the bill.