Checked-bag fees, resort fee, alcohol fees. What to look out for and how to avoid travel fees — when you can.
There are few things more detested in the travel industry than the sneaky fees that have crept into use lately, making it vexingly difficult to determine the real cost of a trip.
Here are the most common upcharges to look out for and some tips for mitigating them.
As you know if you’ve stepped foot on a plane in recent years, you’re now paying extra for baggage, food, premium seat assignments and sometimes even the right to have an assigned seat at all.
The confusing welter of new and additional fees now makes it difficult to compare costs from one airline to the next.
The cheapest, like Spirit and Allegiant, add so many extra charges that their “budget” fares can end up being comparable to the more full-service airlines by the time you actually board the plane.
Both, for example, charge you for checked baggage and also for carry-on bags, unless the latter qualifies as your one “personal item” that can fit under the seat in front of you.
All these fees and charges can make trying to find the most economical flight very confusing.
For example: Spirit Airlines’ cheapest fare I could find at this writing from LAX to NYC, traveling July 12 and returning July 19, was $402.18, with two stops each way.
But, only after you’ve mandatorily registered on Spirit’s site are you told that carrying a bag onto the plane, getting an assigned seat and checking in at the airport will cost you an additional $126 (if you buy a package in advance), bringing your total to $528.18. A checked bag costs an additional $32 each way.
By comparison, a similar round-trip flight on Southwest Airlines, with one stop, cost $432.96. But it included two checked bags, one free carry-on, the right to check in at the airport and no change fees. (Note that Southwest doesn’t offer assigned seats — it’s first come, first served.)
It’s extra work, but be sure to compare those fees before booking.
Reader Michael Alti complained that many airlines charge a $100 fee each way to bring a small pet in a carrier that fits under his legs.
“It doesn’t cost them anything and is entirely profit,” he wrote to me. “Consequently, many people are signing up their dogs as service dogs to get around it.”
Cruising is another travel staple that has jumped on the “additional fee” bandwagon, ranging from the cost of drinking a soda to port fees for invisible passengers.
Reader Anthony Garcia said that ” You may have a base rate of $199, which will eventually become $400 or $500 with port fees, taxes and gratuities.”
I recently heard from Bill Garrett, a reader who went on a Mexican cruise with friends and opted to pay the full price for a two-person cabin so he wouldn’t have to share with a stranger.
Norwegian Cruise Lines did not offer the option of paying a single supplement, so he had to pay the full cost for two people, he says.
However, he discovered afterward that he’d been charged $185 twice, for two people’s “port taxes” even though his companion did not exist. He said he wrote to the company president asking for a refund but was denied.
Upon further investigation, he discovered that Princess and Carnival cruise lines do offer single supplements and would not have charged the extra port tax for the invisible passenger.
Newer ships have specialty restaurants that cost extra if you want to dine there instead of in the regular dining rooms.
And then there are the booze fees. Not that long ago, cruise lines didn’t care if you brought your own bottles on board as long as you drank in your room.
Now, with the huge profits to be made from selling you liquor, ships want you to buy their “all you can drink” packages, which can cost up to $85 per day on some lines for cocktails, wine and sodas.
Cruise lines check your bags and even your purse for illicit liquor when you board, so you’ll have to buy theirs.
This has even led to a cottage industry of helping cruise passengers smuggle their cocktails on board. Learn more at BoozeCruiseBuddy.com.
And you don’t even have to leave town to pay extra fees.
A California company that sails day trips out of Newport Beach, Long Beach and Marina del Rey tacks on a “landing fee” and a “service charge” to the listed price of the cruise.
Want to take the Saturday night dinner cruise from Newport Beach? Well, prepare to pay $90.95 per person. That’s the advertised price. Oh, but wait. It’s actually $119.02, including the tax, landing fee and service charge.
“Oh, well, at least the tip is included,” you might say to yourself. But, no. That doesn’t include any tips to the waiter. We’re not sure what the “service charge” is for.
Yeah, even hotels that are clearly not resorts are now slapping these onto your bill, sometimes practically doubling the true price.
And sometimes they can be sneaky. For example, I stayed at the Golden Nugget Las Vegas last year and was charged its standard $25 resort fee, even though we couldn’t swim in the pool because it was so mobbed we couldn’t get near it.
I always read the list of what the resort fees are supposed to provide, and it specified two water bottles daily for each room.
Yet, inside the room, I noticed a card around the neck of the bottled water on the dresser saying I would be charged some ridiculous amount like $3.50 if I drank it. Really?
I called the desk to inquire, and sure enough, bottled water was included in the resort fee. I could ignore the sign, I was told. But, since everyone has to pay the resort fee, why was that sign even there? To keep people from drinking the water they’d already paid for?
On an earlier occasion, I stayed at a moderately priced remodeled Palm Springs, Calif., motel that featured a Tiki theme. It was still a motel, just an upgraded one, without even a working restaurant. When I got home and looked at my receipt, I noticed they’d tacked on a $25 “resort fee” without telling me. I called the manager and asked, “Why did you charge me this fee without disclosing it? And, secondly, you are not a resort. You don’t even have a place to eat breakfast. How do you justify this fee?”
I was told that the motel offers massages in some back room (for an additional fee, of course), so that means it’s a resort.
Um, not really. As an apology, the manager promised to give me a discount on a future visit. No, thanks. Won’t be patronizing you again, and you just lost some regular business, because I love Tiki and the place was cute.
If you want to search for low or no resort fees, try this website: ResortFeeChecker.com. Though I’d still verify the information, as it changes quickly.
For example, CheapoVegas.com also lists hotels with no resort fees, but the list is outdated because half the hotels on the list have now jumped on the bandwagon.
The only time resort fees can be useful is if you’re trying to determine whether to reserve an unnamed mystery hotel on Hotwire.com. Hotwire won’t tell you the name of the hotel they’re selling to you at a deep discount until after you pay, but it will disclose to you any resort fees. If you’re clever, you can use that amount to figure out which hotel you’re being offered, even though you’re ostensibly buying blind.
For example, if you’re offered a discounted mystery hotel for $169/night (regularly $333), and Hotwire tells you you’ll also have to pay a $28 resort fee, and let’s say there are three other five-star hotels in that region, but only one charges a $28 resort fee, then, presto, you know which hotel you’re getting.
When you’re considering the price of a hotel, you need to find out whether you’ll have to pay $30 or even more to park your car.
That’s where moderate chains like Comfort Inn or Days Inn can win your business, because they seldom charge for parking, though the trade-off can be a lack of decent amenities.
Las Vegas has always been the exception to this pricey parking rule, but not for much longer.
Starting in June, MGM Resorts, which now owns most of the hotels on the Strip, including the MGM Grand, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, Bellagio, Excalibur, Mirage, New York New York and Aria will begin to charge hotel guests and everyone else for parking. Rates vary but it will average around $10 per day.
Vancouver hotels almost all charge parking fees. Just one more reason to leave your car at home and take the train or one of the nonstop buses like the BoltBus.
If you fly into Vegas, you can buy inexpensive passes to the city’s Deuce bus, which travels continuously up and down the Strip, and to downtown, and picks up and drops off in front of all the major casinos. A 24-hour pass costs $8, and it’s $20 for three days. Learn more at rtcsnv.com.
There’s also the monorail, of course, but I found it rather pricey and kind of a pain to use unless you’re at one of the handful of resorts with stations, all of which are in the back of the properties.
And keep in mind that there may be cheaper options where ever you visit. For example, we skipped the pricey hotel garage in the San Diego Gaslamp Quarter and stayed in a commercial overnight garage for a fraction of the price.
These fees apply when you rent a house on HomeAway, VRBO or any of the other rental sites. Sometimes they also charge booking fees, so keep your eyes peeled.
This is one of my pet peeves about renting a house. Even if you only want it for one night, a hefty cleaning fee can sometimes almost double the price of the rental. I mean, really, how dirty can you get the place in one night?
Even if you’re like me and always clean, wash and put away dishes, sweep and so on, you still get charged.
The rental websites advertise the daily cost of the home in big letters, but sometimes you have to read the fine print to find the cleaning fees and any other mandatory costs.
For example, I just looked at an “affordable” two-bedroom, one bath condo to rent in Corona del Mar, listed on VRBO.com. You can rent it for $350 per night. However, the cleaning fee is $250 and you have to leave a refundable $1,000 damage deposit. Ouch!
So I’d have to give them a whopping $1,654 just for one night, including $350, $250 for cleaning, a $54 “service fee.” Plus, the $1,000 that you hope you’ll get back at the end. Gee, I think I’ll pass.
Recently, I was trying to rent a house for my family to visit in Anaheim while they go to Disneyland, but I got so fed up with all those ridiculous fees that I just gave up.
My personal favorite bogus charge is the “pool heating fee.” If I’m going to Palm Springs, yes, I want to get in the pool. Just charge an appropriate amount for the rental and stop trying to sneak things in.