Donald Trump may be a federal employee now, but fellow government workers won’t be getting discounts at his Pennsylvania Avenue hotel — even if the hotel’s website promises otherwise.
Scroll through the offers on the Trump International Hotel’s website and you’ll see a section advertising special government rates, currently capped at $182 per night by the General Services Administration. “It is our pleasure to welcome Retired and Active Duty members of the United States Military and Armed Forces,” the page reads.
But good luck getting one of those discounted rates.
The booking calendar shows “no availability” for government employees and military members from now through the end of February 2018, which is as far as the calendar goes.
“Unfortunately we’re not offering government rates at this time,” an employee on the hotel’s reservation desk said on the phone. “It’s still being worked out at this time.”
The hotel’s “senior discount promotion,” meanwhile, where rates start at $437, is available every day through February 2018, according to the booking calendar. A spokeswoman for the Trump hotel did not respond to requests for comment.
Advertising and legal experts said the hotel could be in violation of federal and District laws prohibiting false and misleading advertising.
“By definition, this is false advertising,” said Bruce Silverman, a longtime advertising executive who serves as an expert witness in false advertising cases. “If someone — say, a service person — was to go to the website or call in to secure this rate and was told, ‘Well we really don’t have that rate,’ they could file a complaint or sue the hotel.”
Trump’s team spent more than $200 million transforming the Old Post Office Pavilion from a federal landmark to a luxury hotel. The Trump Organization has a 60-year lease for the building, which is owned by the General Services Administration.
“The irony of course is that it is a federal building and it is probably the most convenient hotel for the greatest number of federal agencies,” said Brett Sterenson, president of Hotel Lobbyists, a conference site selection firm in the District, whose clients include the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. “It’s right there, between Constitution Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue.”
The Internal Revenue Service and the Environmental Protection Agency are next door to the $212 million hotel. The Justice Department, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Postal Service also have offices nearby.
The federal government sets night per-diem rates for employees and members of the military every year. In the Washington area, that rate ranges from $172 to $242, depending on the month. Nationally, the nightly rate can be as little as $91, depending on the city, Sterenson said.
“Washington has some of the highest federal per diem rates in the entire nation,” Sterenson said. “But even then it’ll always be a challenge to find per-diem rates at the most elite hotels.”
Even so, a number of other high-end hotels in downtown Washington, including the Four Seasons, J.W. Marriott, Marriott Marquis and Fairmont, all had $182 government and military rates available this month.
Richard Painter, who served as the chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, said he didn’t see any ethical reasons the hotel couldn’t offer government or military discounts.
“He shouldn’t be owning a hotel for a whole bunch of reasons,” Painter said. “The ethics problem is using that hotel as a place where people go schmooze government officials. That’s the big issue, not what kind of rate they charge government workers.”
Special offers at Trump hotels are as varied as the properties themselves. The Trump International Hotel in Chicago is advertising a Mancation Package (“Need time away with the boys?,” starting at $695 per night), while the Trump New York’s Glamping by the Park offer comes with a tent, simulated campfire and s’mores kit (starting at $1,475 per night).
And as for those hoping to visit Washington, the Trump International’s Rise and Dine package is still up for grabs. For a starting nightly rate of $495, guests are promised breakfast for two.
“Enjoy unparalleled views of Washington D.C. skyline while indulging in pain au chocolate and the finest cuisine in Washington,” the site says.