Airlines, hotels, and car rental companies are piling on the travel fees. Here’s how to avoid them.
When Michael O’Leary, the CEO of Ryanair, jokes about soon charging people for using the bathroom onboard his aircraft, he may not be kidding. Ryanair already makes you pay a fee for using your credit card to make a booking.
Nothing seems to irk travelers more than paying travel fees. What’s especially maddening about these charges is that in many cases—think checked luggage and in-flight pillows and food—we’re paying for things that were free until very recently.
Why don’t the airlines simply raise their fares and do away with these extra travel fees? Because when they do raise fares, they drive travelers away. It’s easier to advertise low fares to entice buyers and then saddle them with a bevy of non-negotiable fees. Hotels and rental car companies do the same thing. And the fees are big business, bringing in an estimated $700 million per month for the major U.S. airlines.
Clearly, these travel fees are not going to go away anytime soon. In fact, they’re on the increase, as the travel industry seeks to find more ways to nickel and dime us when we fly, stay in a hotel, and rent a car. The recession has simply forced many companies to get smarter about taking money out of our pockets.
If there’s a single travel fee that ticks off many travelers, it’s paying for Wi-Fi access at a hotel. Ironically, it’s the higher priced hotels that are guilty of this practice—low-flying chains often include it with your room rate. With charges typically ranging from $9.95 to $24 per day, plus local tax, it’s a fee that adds up quickly and goes straight to the hotel’s bottom line. Why do they need it? Now that cell phones have vanquished the revenues that hotels used to make on telephone surcharges, charging for Wi-Fi is one way to replace that lost cash.
Or, take the redundant collision-damage and loss-damage waiver coverage, a.k.a. CDW/LDW, on rental cars, which can be as much as $16 per day—a fee that adds up over the course of a weeklong car rental. Here’s the rub: most car rental companies require you to pay with a credit card knowing most major cards already offer this protection. Annoying? You bet.
The good news is that if you’re aware and proactive, you can avoid paying some of the worst fees you’re likely to encounter. Read on for 10 of the most annoying travel fees plaguing travelers—and ways you can avoid paying them.
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Travel Fee: Domestic Checked Baggage
The Cost: $25 for one checked bag; $60 for two on most domestic airlines.
How to Avoid It: Take only a carry-on. Or fly Southwest (allows two checked bags for free) or JetBlue (one checked bag free). Or, pay a little more and avoid the hassle of check-in and the possibility of lost bags by using FedEx Ground or UPS Ground to ship your bags ahead of time. The cost to ship two 35-pound bags directly to your hotel to await your arrival runs about $70 with FedEx.
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Travel Fee: Hotel Wi-Fi
The Cost: $24 per day average.
How to Avoid It: The same hotel that charges for Internet access in your room may offer free access in public areas. Or, hoof it to a nearby coffee shop with free Wi-Fi. Frequent traveler? Use a MiFi card for your laptop to tap into cellular networks. It’s often free when you sign up for a two-year contract with a company like Verizon and pay $35 per month for 3GB of data. The tech savvy can jury-rig their Bluetooth-enabled cell phone as a modem. And remember many hotel chains, such as Fairmont and Hyatt, make Internet access available for free to guests in their loyalty programs.
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Travel Fee: Carry-on Baggage
The Cost: $30 online; $45 at the gate.
How to Avoid It: So far, only Spirit Airline charges for carry-on bags on domestic flights. But even on Spirit, if the bag measures no more than 16 x 14 x 12 (think computer bag) and can fit under your airline seat, it’s still free. If your bag is bigger, then fly another airline. Other carriers haven’t jumped on this particular revenue stream…yet.
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Travel Fee: Priority Boarding
The Cost: $8 to $20.
How to Avoid It: American Airlines was in the forefront of this charge, inviting you to pay for Group 1 general boarding privileges. It lets you avoid the scramble for space in the overhead bin, so it’s really a thinly disguised carry-on luggage charge. Southwest Airlines offers a similar “Early Bird” program. But passengers who buy full-fare, business-, or first-class tickets get priority boarding for free. So do those at elite levels of frequent-flier program status. If you’re not one of them, save your money and board when your time comes. The worst that can happen is that your bag will be checked at the gate.
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Travel Fee: A Better Seat
The Cost: $160.
How to Avoid It: Most airlines give you only 31–32 inches of legroom, but Delta’s new seats provide four more inches—for a fee of $160 each way. JetBlue charges $55 for Even More Legroom seats, which have 38 inches between rows. But why bother? JetBlue’s seats already have 34 inches. On most carriers, unless you happen to get a bulkhead or exit-row seats, you’re paying extra for a seat located toward the front of the plane, which will enable you to deplane a few minutes faster. Worth it? We don’t think so. Check out seat configurations at Seatguru.com.
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Travel Fee: Airline “Convenience” Fee to Pay by Credit Card
The Cost: $14.99.
How to Avoid It: If you use a credit card to pay for your ticket on either Allegiant Air or Ryanair, you’ll be charged an administration fee for the privilege of doing so. If you use a MasterCard Prepaid Debit card with Ryanair, the fee will be waived. Otherwise, consider flying another airline.
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Travel Fee: Rental Car CDW/LDW
The Cost: Typically $9 to $16 a day each.
How to Avoid It: The collision-damage and loss-damage waiver coverage on rental cars is often redundant. Check with your own car insurance carrier to see if you’re already covered. Credit cards often offer similar protection. They often provide secondary coverage in the U.S. (kicking in only after your primary insurance has been exhausted). But if you’re traveling abroad, it’s your credit card that can cover you for CDW/LDW; your regular car insurance is rarely good outside of the U.S. and Canada.
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Travel Fee: In-Flight Charges
The Cost: Typically $8 for pillow and blanket; $1 to $5 for headphones.
How to Avoid It: Easy—pack a fleece or pashmina, buy a reusable inflatable neck pillow, and use your own earbuds or headphones. They will be better—and cleaner—than what the airlines are offering you.
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Travel Fee: Room-Service Charges
The Cost: As high as 25 percent of your food bill, plus an additional “delivery fee” of $2.50 and up, and sales tax on top of it all (not to mention a blank line for a “gratuity”).
How to Avoid It: If you’re intent on saving money, forsake convenience and avoid room service altogether—go down to the hotel restaurant. In any city, it’s easier still to walk out the door and go somewhere else to eat that’s probably more affordable—and often better.
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Travel Fee: Foreign Credit Card Surcharges
The Cost: Typically 2 to 3 percent of your purchase price.
How to Avoid It: Consider a Capital One card, which does not charge for purchases or currency conversion. Or, withdraw cash from an ATM, a transaction that typically has a much lower fee attached. Prepayment of hotel and car rentals in U.S. dollars before you travel can also help you avoid these fees. That said, if you do use your card, ask to be charged in the local currency.
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