Learn how to dodge added, often unanticipated fees.
These days, practically every major travel company is tacking on extra charges. Beyond getting squeezed with expensive fares and room rates, travelers are facing a flurry of costly add-ons, including booking, Wi-Fi and priority seating fees. And despite the rising frustration among globetrotters, many major hotels, airlines and cruise lines have found new ways to raise prices and charge travelers for perks and privileges that were once complimentary – even aisle and window seats. Still, there is a silver lining: If you know the fees to watch out for, you can dodge them or at least slash costs. With this in mind, here are 10 irksome fees to avoid on your next trip.
Charges for booking on the phone or in person
"While you can call the airlines for free, if you book while on the phone, you may be charged a fee that ranges from $10 to $25," says Gabe Saglie, senior editor at Travelzoo. For example, Alaska Airlines imposes a $15 fee for using its call center, and JetBlue Airways charges $25 for purchasing tickets by phone or at ticket counters at domestic airports. To avoid this fee, make your reservations online, Saglie says. Christine Sarkis, senior editor at Smarter Travel, advises: "Even if you need to call for advice, don't book the actual flight over the phone. Hang up and book online instead."
Carry-on and checked baggage fees
"Some airlines charge a fee for a second carry-on bag. Add these extra costs when calculating your price comparisons between airlines," Saglie says. If you must take a second piece of carry-on luggage, Saglie suggests prepurchasing, which can "save you up to $65 compared to paying at the gate," he adds. According to a May report released by the Department of Transportation, the top 25 U.S. carriers raked in $3.8 billion for baggage fees in 2015. American Airlines, for example, imposes a $25 fee for the first checked bag and a $35 fee for the second checked bag, while JetBlue imposes a $20 checked bag fee online for basic fares ($25 at the gate) and a $35 fee for an additional checked bag. Before you go, Saglie advises weighing your luggage and consulting the carrier's website to learn about the maximum luggage dimensions to avoid an unanticipated fee.
Foreign transaction fees
"If you still have a credit card that charges you foreign transaction fees on purchases abroad, you should seriously consider ditching it," Sarkis says. "An increasing number of credit cards geared to travelers, including a lot of airline credit cards, have dropped the fee, so there's little reason to keep a card that's going to charge you an extra 3 percent on every purchase you make internationally." For example, the Citi Prestige and the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard impose no foreign transaction fees.
Seat selection fees
"Many airlines charge you to select your seat before your flight," Saglie says. So, if you prefer a window seat or want to sit next to your travel companions, "you can be charged anywhere from $10 to $60 in the main cabin," he explains. The best way to avoid this fee: Arrive early. Although you'll be at the gate agent's mercy to change your seat for free, you'll optimize your chances of sitting with your companions, Saglie adds. Virgin Atlantic imposes a $40 fee for choosing your seat more than 24 hours prior to your flight, and Frontier imposes a seat selection fee starting at $6. And while some carriers do not charge for seat selection, there are some caveats. Southwest, for instance, does not have a seat selection fee, but its open-seating policy doesn’t guarantee that you'll get your preferred seat. According to Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com, if you book your tickets early enough, you can usually find a limited number of free seats available. Still, Klee cautions that securing seats depends on a variety of factors, and "you have to rely on a bit of luck and willingness on your part to pay a bit more."
Cancellation and change fees
"These [cancellation] fees can be astronomical, so whenever possible, don't book until you're sure you can go," Saglie says. There are some exceptions to this guideline, since federal law allows consumers to change or refund their ticket within 24 hours of making a reservation as long as their departure date is at least seven days away. However, if you're booking outside of this window, it's much trickier to get reimbursed if you delay your trip, Saglie says. And though some carriers, including Southwest, waive change fees and allow you to cancel your trip or get a refund, many major airlines impose steep fees and same-day change charges. In fact, airlines charge anywhere from $200 for domestic flights to $500 for international trips to change tickets, depending on the carrier, price of the ticket and route selected.
Single supplement fees
For solo sojourners, there may be no fee more aggravating than the single supplement fee. With many cruise cabins and hotel rooms priced based on double occupancy, it's not uncommon for cruise lines, tour companies and vacation packages to tack on an additional fee for single guests. While some cruise lines impose single supplement fees that can be 100 percent of the total price, others, such as Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean, are introducing studios with waived or trimmed supplement fees to cater to soloists. Before you book, read the terms and conditions to ensure you're not paying twice your expected rate for a double occupancy cabin.
"Most [hotels] have a resort fee and other fees, such as paying for the phone in the room, even though most people do not use them any longer," says Tom Spagnola, senior vice president of supplier relations at CheapOair. Other perks, including parking and Wi-Fi access, are typically rolled into the associated hotel or resort fee, he adds. In 2015, consumers spent around $2.04 billion on resort fees, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association. The fees, which can range from $5 to $25 per night, can quickly add up to a steep final bill. Make sure to read the fine print before booking your stay to avoid spending more than you anticipated.
In-flight Wi-Fi and other perks
"Gone are the days when you can assume that the pillows and blankets on board are free," Saglie says, pointing out that some airlines charge $10 for such extras. "Buy the inflatable neck rests at your local dollar store before your flight and carry an extra-large scarf with you that can double as a blanket in a pinch." JetBlue, for example, charges $5 for headsets, $5 to $6 for a blanket and pillow and $5 for in-flight movies. Meanwhile, American Airlines charges $5 for earbuds in ecomony cabins on domestic flights, $2.50 to $50 for in-flight Wi-Fi use on domestic flights and $12 to $19 for Wi-Fi for international flights.
In-flight meal and beverage fees
Beyond in-air entertainment and Wi-Fi access, nowadays consumers are being charged for meals and soft drinks, among other amenities, marketed as a "bundled ancillary package," Spagnola says. Take Spirit Airlines, which charges $3 for a cold beverage and $4 for mixed nuts, but only $6 if you buy them together. Similarly, JetBlue charges $6 to $7 for meal boxes. To avoid paying for such add-ons, Saglie suggests bringing snacks whenever possible. "If your bags are too full to bring snacks from home, prepurchase snacks in the terminal. These will still be cheaper than on the flight itself," he says.
Processing fees for award tickets
Before you redeem your hard-earned flight or hotel stay, keep in mind that you may have to pay a steep fee to do so. "There is a much smaller online charge for booking your award tickets" versus calling the airline to have it issue the tickets, Spagnola says. Processing charges for award tickets vary by airline and membership status, so make sure to read the fine print carefully. Another way to dodge these fees is by enrolling with affiliated rewards credit cards, Sarkis says.
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