Phone reservation fees. Energy surcharges. Mandatory service tips. Traveling is already expensive enough without being charged outrageous fees from airlines, hotels, cruises, and car rental companies.
In 2013, Americans took 1.6 billion trips for leisure and 452 million for business purposes, according to the U.S. Travel Association. That’s a lot of miles logged in the air, sea, and on the road. In fact, the USTA says spending on travel supports 14.9 million jobs and generated $2.1 trillion in economic output in 2013. And yet the travel industry has still found ways to get you to open up your wallet and spend more money — oftentimes with ridiculous fees.
Don’t let the travel industry take more money out of your pocket! Avoid these outrageous travel fees by following our advice:
As if it’s not enough to just book a flight, some airlines charge you a fee to do it over the telephone or in person! Delta and American Airlines are just two of several carriers that will charge you $25 to book a ticket over the phone. Some even charge $35. Even worse, Spirit and United Airlines will charge you $25 to book a ticket — in person. This begs the question: What ever happened to customer service?
How to avoid the fees — Don’t book a flight on the phone or in person unless it’s necessary. Just book your ticket online.
Almost everyone is aware of the fees to check a bag on a flight. Some airlines like Air Tran and Virgin American charge $25 for the first bag you check to a domestic destination. On the high end, Spirit charges between $20-$45 for your first checked bag. The charges don’t stop there, however. Taking a carry-on bag aboard your flight will cost you between $25-$50 on Spirit and $100 if you pay at the gate. On most airlines, a carry-on bag is free.
How to avoid the fees — Cheap carriers like Southwest and JetBlue charge nothing for your first checked bag. If you’re traveling on an airline that does charge a checked-bag fee, take a carry-on during your next domestic flight. Most airlines also allow a personal item, which you can use to pack other things you might need during your travels. If you have to check a bag, pack light so you don’t get charged an overweight fee for taking luggage that weighs more than the airlines’ limit.
Even before you step onto a plane, you can get hit with a series of fees. Some airlines, like Airtran, will charge you a fee just to select your seat. Priority boarding will also cost you. American’s fee is $9, Virgin America’s fee is $30. Once onboard, travelers can pay to use Wi-Fi, get access to in-flight entertainment, or purchase food and drinks. Oh, and for $7 on U.S. Airways flights you can get a Power-Nap Sack, which comes with a pillow, blanket, eye shades, and earplugs.
How to avoid the fees — Don’t buy the extras or fly on an airline that includes all of the things you might want on a flight.
Entry and departure fees
Have you visited Argentina? Then you probably had to pay what’s called a reciprocity fee. These fees are required of certain foreigners. Getting hit with the fee depends on what your home country charges residents of the nation you’re visiting. In Argentina, specifically, the fee must be paid online before arrival. Aside from the reciprocity fee, some nations charge departure taxes for international flights. The exit fee to leave Costa Rica is $28 while it’s $37 for St. Kitts. These fees are common among countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America.
How to avoid the fees — If you have your heart set on drinking wine in Buenos Aires, there’s no way to avoid the fee. Maybe the rules will change. Chile recently eliminated its reciprocity fee. As for the exit fee, check to see whether the destination you’re flying out of has one and be sure to budget for it. Some airlines might include the tax within their ticket price. It’s best to ask your airline if you’re unsure.
Shady taxi drivers
It may not seem like a taxi driver is charging you an outrageous fee, but he or she could be cheating you out of money. Taxi drivers can easily take advantage of susceptible travelers who have no clue what it costs to travel from point A to point B. An unscrupulous driver might follow a circuitous route, charge the wrong meter rate, or even worse, charge you a fee for phony tolls or carrying your luggage.
How to avoid the fee — Research common fares taxi drivers charge to get to popular destinations. Use your smartphone’s GPS to map the route and track your progress. Let the driver know if there are certain roads you think he or she should take.
Car rental fees
Have you ever rented a car for what you thought would be a cheap price, but then ended up paying double? Some car rental companies only advertise the base rate of a car rental, but don’t include fees for getting things like GPS or include taxes (which can vary according to your location).
You might also incur a peak season surcharge, a vehicle license fee, and a parking tax, among other extra rental fees. Even getting your rental car at the airport might cost you more than going off-site thanks to a concession recovery fee. And if you opt to purchase insurance, you will get charged another fee for each day you have the rental — even though your own insurer might protect you. All of these fees add up to a price tag that’s much larger than the advertised sticker price.
How to avoid the fees — Rent your car through a company that discloses all of its fees and avoid pressure from the salesman to buy extras that you don’t need.
Foreign exchange fees
Of course, you’ll be charged a fee for exchanging money if you travel abroad. Some places offer better rates than others. You can exchange money at an airport kiosk, bring along a traveler’s check, use an international ATM, or swipe your credit card. Be careful because some methods for exchanging currency can cost a lot of money in the form of fees. Credit cards can levy big surcharges if you swipe abroad. And your bank might also charge a big fee for withdrawing money at a bank not within its network.
How to avoid the fees — Consider getting a credit card that has no foreign transaction fee. Check to see what banks charge the least amount of money to withdraw funds. Some banks abroad might even be within the network that your U.S. bank is in, which means you can save on ATM fees. If you’re exchanging money, see what the exchange rate is and find out how much the currency exchange business is taking from you. Be sure to take out money if you’re traveling to a small or remote destination. These places might not accept credit cards and may not have a working ATM.
Some luxury hotels charge guests to use Wi-Fi. Why? Because they can. After all, access to the Internet for $20 doesn’t seem like much money compared to, say, $400 or $500 to stay at a hotel for the night.
How the avoid the fee — Go to a local cafe or restaurant that offers Wi-Fi for free.
Even if you don’t use the safe that’s hidden in your hotel room, you might incur a fee just because it’s there. Granted, the fee is typically itty bitty — $1-3 tacked onto your hotel bill, but still. Supposedly the fee is for the safe and insurance costs.
How to avoid the fee — Request removal of the safe or get a room without one.
Some hotels charge consumers a fee for energy. As energy costs rise, hotels looking to save money might add an energy or utility surcharge to your bill. If a surcharge is say, $12 a day, those costs can certainly add up if you’re staying at the hotel for awhile.
How to avoid the fee — Choose a hotel that discloses its fees and doesn’t include one for energy. Call the hotel if you’re unsure of what fees they charge.
Resorts are supposed to be relaxing, but you might just end up feeling angry when you find out about all the extraneous fees you’ve been charged. Some resorts might charge you a couple bucks for a towel to bring out to the pool. Others may charge you for Wi-Fi access and usage of the resort’s facilities. There might even be a water bottle charge depending on your resort. Note: sometimes these fees are added onto your bill as a percentage tacked onto your room rate.
How to avoid the fees — Read the fine print about fees before you book a resort.
Taking a cruise is a relaxing way to spend a vacation — and if you go all-inclusive you don’t have to worry about paying for things like meals. But when the bill comes along, you might be surprised to find extra charges not included in the price. Cruises can add on a predetermined gratuity amount to cover their crew members. You can also be charged a fee if you eat outside of the free dining room or buffet venue, and they can charge you for alcohol or other beverages, spa treatments, laundry, Internet, and some on-board activities.
How to avoid the fees — Read the fine print before you sign up for any cruise. Budget for any expenditures that you might be tempted to purchase. Don’t eat outside of the free onboard dining, buy alcohol, or spend on any extras that you don’t absolutely need.