How to Avoid Hidden Travel Fees
The best way to make sure your travel budget goes further is to ensure you’re not wasting it on hidden or unnecessary fees. There are a few general rules that apply across the board—including bookings for flights, hotels, and tour packages—to keep in mind. From there, we’ll dive into specifics when it comes to airline, hotel, car rental, and miscellaneous travel fees.
The first rule of thumb to follow is to not assume anything is complimentary. A growing trend across the travel industry is adding fees to services that used to be a part of the base price. This goes for a drink on your next flight to extra towels at your hotel. Double check with an attendant or staff before reaching for that complimentary-looking snack!
When booking online, the advertised low price that grabs your attention is a barebones booking—which might be what you’re after—but to get to that deal, you have to uncheck a dozen boxes on a webpage where they’ve added ancillary goods and services. Be sure not to rush this part of the check-out process and read each line item leading up to your total price.
Showing up late, last-minute, or without considerable planning will always cost you more. An Internet connection and time are your two best friends when it comes to saving money. Compare prices, see if you can save when you bundle services, and book well in advance. And beware: calling to book reservations or make changes often comes with a fee. Doing it online is almost always the cheapest option.
In recent years, airlines around the world have banked over $59 billion in fees apart from the cost of tickets. And that number is growing as more airlines pick apart your once all-inclusive ticket and offer individual services and perks a la cart for additional purchase.
With some airlines, there are as many as five distinct classes or types of seats—beyond first class, second class, and coach—each with their own price tag. Expect to pay more if you want to sit in an exit row, in a window seat, in an aisle seat, in a seat closer to the door of the plane, or in a seat next to your travel partner.
Budget airlines like Frontier and Spirit offer tempting low fares, and most of their patrons understand they will be paying for their carry-on luggage and any in-flight drinks or snacks.
However, European airlines Ryanair and EasyJet also charge for the use of credit cards to pay for these things.
Regardless of who you fly with, weigh your luggage at home to avoid overweight baggage fees. The fee-free weight limit is usually 50 lbs., but check your airline’s website. If you’re close to or over the limit, try redistributing the weight between a carry-on bag and the checked bag, because carry-on bags only have a size and not a weight limit.
Planning to use frequent flyer miles for your vacation? Your ticket still probably won’t be free. You might still pay for fuel charges, airport fees, or even a fee just to use your miles—either to use them at all or if you book too last-minute. Check your frequent flyer program for these fees when building your travel budget.
Other fees to be aware of include booking fees charged by third party websites, change fees to switch flight times, and refund or cancelation fees to cancel your flight. If a ticket is expensive and in the distance future, considering purchasing travel insurance or a protection plan in case you need to change your flight.
Hotel fees are going the way of airline fees: things that use to be complimentary now have a price tag, and you might not find out about it until it’s already been added to your bill.
Beware the mini bar. It’s common knowledge mini bar prices are inflated, but some mini bars have sensors and will charge you a restocking fee for just opening the door or moving items around. If this happens to you, report it to the front desk to ensure it doesn’t show up on your final bill.
Usually in an effort to be more energy conscious and “green,” some hotels charge for additional or frequent room cleanings, replacement of mini toiletries, and new sheets or towels apart from a pre-determined schedule.
More and more hotels are charging a resort fee of 10% or $10-25 each night, charged upon check out, that covers “extras” like beach chairs, pool towels, and fitness room access. If you’ve prepaid through a website like Expedia, you will still be charged this fee at checkout.
More hotel fees to look for include: connection fee for your room phone, WiFi connection (or a faster one), towels used at the pool or beach, parking (even apart from valet), luggage storage before or after check-in, and delivery of the daily paper.
Rental car companies sometimes use scare tactics to sell you additional, expensive insurance you may not need. Many credit card companies offer collision coverage when you pay for the car using your card. Your home car insurance company may also provide a level of insurance for rental car claims. Research ahead and know exactly what, if any, holes you may need to fill with additional coverage.
Adding additional drivers to the rental will quickly wrack up a hefty bill as rental companies charge an additional fee per day per extra driver. To avoid this, if you can, stick to one driver. If you have to report more than one driver, make sure they’re over 25 to avoid the fees attached to younger drivers.
Other fees to avoid include alternative drop-off locations, key replacement (leave the keys in your hotel room if you don’t need them to avoid losing them), and the rental car airport fee (also called a “concession recovery fee”) charged when you pick your car up from the airport.
Check for built-in gratuities, especially when traveling abroad, so you don’t over spend on over tipping. Cruises can be a great way to travel and spend your vacation, but they too can have unexpected fees. One of the largest being port fees. They’re unavoidable and are included in the price of your ticket, but they can vary by cruise line, even for the same destinations. Be sure your low-fare cruise doesn’t break the bank with higher port fees than other, larger cruise lines.
If you bring a bottle of wine onto a cruise to enjoy, you’ll be charged a corkage fee, up to $15/bottle, if you want to enjoy it while having dinner on the ship. So, bring a bottle opener with you or purchase one and enjoy that special drink in your room before dinner.
Don’t get nickel and dimed on your next trip. Do the research, read the fine print, and decide exactly what luxuries and fees are worth it to you.