Online Travel Companies Liable for Tax on Total Amount Paid by Customers in Wyoming

The Wyoming Supreme Court has affirmed that several online travel companies (OTCs) were vendors and liable for collecting and remitting Wyoming sales and lodging taxes on the total amount paid to them by guests who used their services to book hotel rooms in Wyoming. The total amount subject to tax consists of the discounted room rate that the OTCs pay the hotel plus a service or facilitation mark-up fee that the OTCs charge to the customer. The OTCs argued unsuccessfully that the mark-up fee was not subject to tax. The court held that the mark-up was not exempt as a service or transaction fee but was part of the sales price. Guests could not obtain a hotel room through the OTCs without paying the charges. As a result, the charges were for “services necessary to complete the sale,” which cannot be deducted from the sales price subject to tax. Even though they were not hotels, the OTCs were held to be vendors for tax purposes because they contracted with hotels to assign rooms and had the authority to rent those rooms at a price they established. The OTCs, not the hotels, controlled the financial aspects of the transaction. For example, customers seeking a refund or cancellation could do so only through the OTC, not the hotel. The court stated that the application of Wyoming sales tax to the OTCs did not violate the Dormant Commerce Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, or the Due Process provisions of the U.S. Constitution or the federal Internet Tax Freedom Act. (Travelocity.Com LP, et al. v. Wyoming Department of Revenue, Wyoming Supreme Court, No. S-13-0078, April 3, 2014)

Posted on April 7, 2014