Avoid Hidden Travel Costs

Watch out for hidden costs in charges for such items as hotel resort fees, changing airline reservations, and gassing up your rental car.

travel costs, illus. by William Duke

When you travel, it can seem like you get nickeled-and-dimed everywhere you go.

Ten dollars for lunch on the plane, $65 for the hotel phone bill, $20 a day for rental car insurance—the travel industry constantly nickel-and-dimes consumers. Here's a rundown of what can trigger fees, and moves to make in self-defense.

CHANGING AN AIRLINE RESERVATION Charges for switching flights vary widely, from nothing to $200. And if your new ticket costs more than your original one, you'll need to pay the fare difference.

To protect yourself, fly Southwest, which doesn't tack on a fee, or JetBlue, which charges just $20 if you make changes online.

BEDDING DOWN AT A RESORT More and more hotels are slapping guests with resort fees. Why? Hotels claim the charge, usually $10 to $25 a day, covers extra amenities such as towels at the swimming pool and morning newspaper delivery. But the fee, rarely included in the advertised price, seems to be a way for hotels to make an extra buck without raising their room rates. The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua on Maui charges $18 per room per day to cover things from shuttle service to lei-making classes. What if you don't want to make a lei? Doesn't matter. You still have to pay.

You can't avoid the charges, but you can ask about them when you call to book a room. And when reserving online, read the fine print.

FLYING WITH HEAVY LUGGAGE You pay $99 for a cheap fare to Las Vegas, but your excess-baggage fee can cost just as much. The charges vary among airlines, but typically it's $25 to $50 for an overweight suitcase (anything over 50 pounds), $50 to $80 for bags over 62 linear inches, and $40 to $110 for each item over the two-to-three-bag limit. For a round-trip flight, you pay both coming and going.

Can't lighten your load? It's often cheaper to ship heavy baggage to your destination by parcel post or UPS, timed to coincide with your arrival.

ENJOYING SOFT DRINKS AT SEA It's expensive to sip sodas all day when you're cruising. Soft drinks can cost a few dollars each on a cruise ship—there's no competition in the middle of the ocean.

To cut costs, invest in a beverage card covering unlimited soft drinks. Princess Cruises, for example, sells soda packages for $3.95 a day on 13-day voyages. You can skip the fees altogether by booking with Crystal or Disney; their fares include nearly all nonalcoholic beverages.

GASSING UP A RENTAL CAR In an industry rife with surcharges and hidden taxes, perhaps the nastiest of all is the “fill 'er up” fee. Rental companies levy a “convenience charge,” as much as $6 a gallon, if the car's tank isn't full when it's returned. At that rate, you'd pay some $150 to fill up the typical SUV's 25-gallon fuel tank.

Solution: Fill the tank yourself, preferably at a gas station that's far enough from the airport to offer reasonable prices.

CHECKING BAGS AT THE CURB Airlines such as United, American, and Alaska are rolling out $2 per bag curbside check-in fees at airports including Oakland, Portland, and Seattle.

Refuse to pay such an irritating fee? Southwest, JetBlue, Delta, Hawaiian, and Continental airlines do not currently charge for curbside assistance, though tips are always welcome.

Photo Illustration by William Duke

This article was first published in January 2006. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information

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