Avoiding Hidden Travel Fees

Whether it’s $25 to check you bag on an airplane or $200 for changing your flight reservation, travel fees have a way of sneaking up on you when you are traveling for business. This isn’t only costly, it becomes very annoying when you are trying to keep your business travel thrifty.

You would think it would be easier than ever to shop around for the best price since the explosion of online booking sites. This isn’t always the case since the cheap rate you find online rarely includes the total fees charged. Without the help of a knowledgeable travel agent or some extensive research on your own part, it can be challenging to stay within your budget.

Hotels and especially airlines favor this model because the added fees have made it easier for them to stay profitable while slashing their base prices to appear competitive. However this leaves business travelers frustrated with charges for things like an in-flight soda that, until recently, they expected to be free.

Baggage Fees

Major carriers charge $25 to check one bag on domestic flights. This gained the airlines $3.5 billion in baggage fees in 2012, up nearly 4% from the previous year, according to the Department of Transportation. Many travelers have tried to save the charge by packing light enough to squeeze their bags into an overhead bin. But even this option may soon be a thing of the past. Low-cost carriers Spirit and Allegiant both charge for carry-on luggage and Frontier Airlines announced it will charge $25-$100 for the use of the overhead bin to passengers who book economy fares through online agencies or travel agents.

Solution

Southwest doesn’t charge for bags, and JetBlue passengers can check their first bar for free. The Citi AAdvantage MasterCard and Visa offer a first bag checked free for the cardholder and four companions, the Delta SkyMiles card from American Express allows you one bag checked free for up to nine people on the same reservation.

Ticket Change Fee

The airlines made a total of $2.6 billion in ticket change fee revenue last year, up more than 7% from the previous year. Major carriers including American recently raised their change fees from $150 to $200 for domestic flights alone. Changing your international ticket can add a $300 charge on US Airways. This has gained the attention of Senator Charles Schumer, who is calling on airlines to reverse the hike.

Solution

If your plans look as if they could change, shop around for all fare classes, some more expensive base fares will have more flexibility if you need to make an adjustment. Southwest is still free of change fees.

Resort Fee

It may come as a surprise to find out that you are required to pay a $20-$30 daily surcharge when checking in to your hotel. This surcharge covers the cost of amenities (newspaper delivery, fitness center access etc) that you may not even use. Since these fees don’t figure into the advertised room rate, they make it hard for a price conscious business traveler to find the best lodging option. The Federal Trade Commission also finds this a problem since they warned 22 hotel operators that not clearly disclosing resort fees could be violating FTC laws.

Solution

Call ahead and ask the front desk directly if there is a resort fee before you book, especially if you’re booking through a third party like an online travel agent or daily deal site.

Wi-Fi

Since we are becoming more and more dependent on connectivity, hotel Wi-Fi is the fee that aggravate business travelers the most. It is also one that they are most likely to grudgingly pay. Chains like Holiday Inn and Hampton Inn provide free Wi-Fi however, many higher-end hotels and resorts continue to charge for in-room internet. Some even have a two tier pricing for high and regular speed connections.

Solution

Ask first. In addition to the hotels that offer free Wi-Fi, Fairmont, Kimpton and Omni hotels give free Wi-Fi as a benefit when you sign up for their free rewards programs. Peninsula and Shangri-La Hotels have free Wi-Fi not only in all hotel rooms and common areas but also in their automobile fleet.

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