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How to Avoid Travel Fees


©iStockphoto.com/hatman12
©iStockphoto.com/hatman12
While traveling, it's almost inevitable you'll have to break into your piggy bank to pay unexpected fees at some point.

While traveling, it's usually not a question of whether you'll get hit with add-on fees, but when. You can be charged for checking a piece of luggage on a flight, drinking a bottle of water in your hotel room and even for using a towel at the hotel pool. Some of these charges are clearly noted, but many others are buried in the fine print. To be a savvy traveler, you need to know where you're likely to find some of these sneaky fees so you can determine whether or not it's possible to avoid them -- and if you even want to.

Why wouldn't you want to avoid an added fee? In these hectic times, time really is money, and sometimes, looking for ways to save cash can squander those precious minutes. Let's say you selected a resort for your family vacation. It's in the perfect location and has all the amenities that suit your family. Then you discover there's a $10 daily resort fee, plus a $5 fee any time you grab a pool towel. Would you rather suck it up and pay those fees, or search online for a similar resort in a similar location with a similar daily room rate, but no extra fees -- knowing it's possible you could spend several hours online and come up empty-handed? Ditto for trying to find the best deal on, say, a rental car or even a flight. Yes, there are sites like Kayak.com and Travelocity.com that compare prices across carriers, but you still have to compare luggage fees, fuel surcharges and more to truly find the best rate.

Of course, some travel fees can be easily avoided. Don't want to pay $25 per day to use the fitness room? Then take a walk instead, or run up and down the hotel stairwell. Already fuming because you don't want to eat overpriced, not-that-great airport food? Then pack your favorite sandwich.

The most important thing is to be aware of where travel fees are lurking so you can decide what, if anything, you want to do about them. Read on to find out how to get around one of the most notorious travel fees.

Tips for Avoiding Airline Baggage Fees

In 2010, airlines collected $3.4 billion in luggage charges, which is a pretty good indicator that these much-hated fees are probably here to stay [source: Nardini]. If you don't want to pay them, one option is to just not check any luggage. Of course, this will require you to pack less -- and more smartly. Torpedo toiletries like soap, shampoo and lotion, which your hotel will supply, and pack clothes that you can mix and match into several outfits. Roll up your clothes, which allows you to fit more into your suitcase than if you stacked them in piles. Stuff your socks into your shoes, and make sure you're wearing your bulkiest kicks. Pack a few old shirts or pants that you can toss after wearing, which will free up space for any items you purchase that will need to fit into your suitcase on the trip home.

If you're lucky, your trip will be on a route serviced by Southwest or JetBlue. Southwest doesn't charge a penny for your first two checked bags, while JetBlue allows you one free piece. Of course, purposely choosing one of these airlines for your trip won't necessarily translate to a lower cost overall -- you'll have to compare ticket prices to make sure that's the case.

Sometimes you really do need to check a bag or two, especially if you're going on a long trip. The trick here is to avoid paying an additional fee for overweight baggage. Airlines vary in what they consider to be an overweight bag, so make sure to check your carrier's Web site. Generally, you're allowed 40 or 50 pounds (18 or 22 kilograms) per bag. If you're over that, you'll pay a hefty price. U.S. Airways, for one, assesses a $90 surcharge for bags that are 51 to 70 pounds (23 to 31 kilograms), and $175 for bags 71 to 100 pounds (32 to 45 kilograms). Toss your bag onto your bathroom scale before you leave for the airport in case you need to remove some items.

One option people often overlook is shipping your bags to your destination via FedEx Ground or UPS Ground. No, it's probably not less expensive than paying the baggage fee -- it costs about $70 to send two 35-pound bags directly to your destination. But the bonus is that you'll avoid waiting in line to check your bags at the airport, and they're less likely to get lost [source: Potter].

Tips for Avoiding Travel Fees

©iStockphoto.com/ZekaG
©iStockphoto.com/ZekaG
If your hotel doesn't offer free Internet access, try to find a nearby coffee shop that does.

Many people realize they'll likely have to pay a luggage fee when they fly, but there are numerous add-on fees that catch travelers unaware. Before you even reach the airport, for example, you may have unwittingly paid anywhere from $5 to $45 extra for your seat if you made your reservation over the phone or in person. Almost every major air carrier levies such a fee, so making your own reservations online is the way to go to save money. You can certainly speak with an agent if you have questions, but in the end, make the purchase yourself via the Web [source: Nardini].

The type of credit card you have can also make a difference to your bottom line, at least when you're traveling overseas. Many credit cards charge a fee for making a purchase in a foreign country, plus a currency conversion fee. The fees can be quite steep, so if you'll be traveling abroad for an extended period or frequently, sign up for a card that doesn't levy these charges. Capital One's VISA Signature card, for example, doesn't assess any fees for foreign purchases, plus it affords travelers lost luggage reimbursement, travel accident insurance and a 24-hour concierge service [source: Capital One]. Chase's OnePass Plus MasterCard lets you check one bag free on all Continental and United flights, plus gives you priority boarding. If you hold American Express' Delta SkyMiles card, you're entitled to one free checked bag on any Delta flight, and you can share that privilege with as many as nine of your traveling companions [source: CNN]. And remember -- when using your credit card in a foreign country, always ask to be charged in the local currency. This is generally cheaper than being charged in your home currency, for which you may incur a double conversion hit, first when the merchant's bank converts your charge to the local currency and assesses a fee, and then again when your bank treats the charge as a converted debit (even though the charge comes through in your home currency), and assesses another fee.

When you arrive at your destination, you may be renting a car. Don't blindly agree to pay for any insurance offered on your rental. Often your own car insurance already covers you when you're driving a rental car, plus some credit cards provide insurance if you use them to pay for the rental. Call your insurer and credit card company ahead of time to see what your coverage is.

Now that people are used to constant Internet access, some assume it's gratis everywhere. It's not. When traveling, there's often a charge for wireless access at pricier hotels (as much as $25 per day), while ironically, it's often free at budget establishments. If there's a charge for in-room Internet access at your hotel, see if there's free access in the lobby or if there's a courtesy computer. You can also look for a coffee shop nearby with free access. Or, if you have a smartphone with a data plan (and you're in an area where you won't be charged extra for using it), try using that to surf the Web instead.

Before your next trip, remember to read the fine print before you book anything. And once you've arrived at your destination, ask everyone, from the hotel clerk to the rental car agent, what additional charges may apply so you don't experience any unhappy surprises.

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Sources

  • Bank of America. "How to pay when you're traveling abroad." (Dec. 6, 2011) http://learn.bankofamerica.com/articles/money-management/how-to-pay-when-youre-traveling-abroad.html
  • Burnette, Margarette. "10 outrageous travel fees to avoid." Bankrate. (Dec. 6, 2011) http://www.bankrate.com/finance/personal-finance/10-outrageous-travel-fees-to-avoid-1.aspx
  • Capital One. "General Credit Card Questions." (Dec. 6, 2011) http://www.capitalone.com/creditcards/help/
  • CNN. "How to avoid airline fees." Nov. 18, 2011. (Dec. 6, 2011) http://www.cnn.com/2011/11/18/travel/how-to-avoid-airline-fees-tl/index.html
  • Nardini, Hope. "32 Hidden Travel Fees and How to Avoid Them." Money Crashers. Sept. 29, 2011. (Dec. 6, 2011) http://www.moneycrashers.com/hidden-travel-fees-avoid/
  • Pascarella, Sarah. "Six Sneaky Travel Fees You Can (and Should) Avoid." Smarter Travel. May 25, 2009. (Dec. 6, 2011) http://www.smartertravel.com/travel-advice/six-sneaky-travel-fees-you-can-and-should-avoid.html?id=4887984
  • Perkins, Ed. "How to get the best currency conversion rate." Smarter Travel. Dec. 14, 2006. (Dec. 15, 2011) http://www.smartertravel.com/travel-advice/how-to-get-the-best-currency-conversion-rate.html?id=1651467
  • Potter, Everett. "The 10 most annoying travel fees--and how to avoid them." MSNBC. March 4, 2011. (Dec. 6, 2011) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41853382/ns/travel-travel_tips/t/most-annoying-travel-fees-how-avoid-them/#.Tt5-Ynog-Mk
  • U.S. Airways. "Baggage policies." (Dec. 8, 2011) http://www.usairways.com/en-US/traveltools/baggage/baggagepolicies.html