So you found your flight, your hotel, the rental car’s booked—maybe you’re one of those supertravelers that already knows how much you’re going to spend per day on food and incidentals. All set, all done, no surprises.
Or so you think.
As one finds far too frequently when on the road nowadays, the cost of the trip isn’t necessarily, well, the cost of the trip. Niggling fees, bits of tax here and there, sneaky surcharges—they all pop up as you go, sometimes often enough that before you’ve even reached your destination, you might start feeling as if all that careful budgeting was for naught.
Not to worry! If you keep your eyes peeled, many of the following fees can be avoided—or, at the very least, planned around. Let’s dive in.
The you-must-be-joking rental car fee.
From convention center expansions in San Diego to sporting venues in Seattle, cities across America are increasingly finding the airport rental car counter to be the perfect place to snag some quick cash. At Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, travelers have been paying $8 per day—on top of an already mountainous pile of taxes and fees—toward the construction of a fancy new rental car center. In Charlotte, travelers unwittingly helped build one of the city’s most popular attractions, the NASCAR Sports Hall of Fame, go figure. Often, these fees show up as murky, undecipherable line items on your final bill. You may have no idea what you just paid for, but you most definitely paid. Sometimes, a great deal.
How to avoid In most destinations, the overall tax burden is far lighter at off-airport agency locations; vast improvements to ground transportation at many major airports are making it easier than ever to get out and save big. This is such a simple hack, we even wrote a giant how-to post that you should most definitely read.
The world’s heftiest departure tax.
The UK government calls it an “Air Passenger Duty” and it’s supposed to fight global warming—you’ll call shenanigans, when you see how much it costs. On a London to New York flight, economy passengers on the most basic, nonrefundable ticket will pay nearly $100; everyone else nearly $200. Flying on miles? You’ll still pay.
How to avoid If the fares are in your favor, consider booking a separate departure home from Dublin, Paris or other easily accessible European gateways—an embarrassment of new low fare services to Europe from the United States has made it much easier to customize any European itinerary.
These verkakte resort fees.
Remember the good old days when you got a newspaper at your door, an in-room coffee service, a bit of internet or free access to the hotel fitness facility? Oh, wait – at thousands of perfectly good, mid-priced hotels around the world, that’s still a thing. (Okay, maybe not so much the newspaper, anymore.) So why are we all allowing hotels to charge us over $30 a day on top of our nightly rate for these things? While we’re moaning, why does the hotel wait until it’s got us excited about their reasonable nightly rate to smack us with reality? Hotels may need this money to pad their profits, but it’s damn sneaky to not just build in the cost of these services and be up front about how much they’re actually going to charge. This is bad behavior and it needs to stop.
How to avoid For most travelers, the first encounter with the fee will be in a popular tourist destination, like Las Vegas, Orlando, Puerto Rico or Hawaii. In Vegas, avoiding the fee can be tough, with just one Strip hotel left that doesn’t have one, though we’ve got a post on the secret, super-convenient, Strip-adjacent hotels along the Las Vegas Monorail that remain fee-free. In other destinations like Orlando, it’s easier to find a hotel that’s still fee free—for now. When in doubt, ask before you book—it’s very difficult to argue your way out this one.
The talking to a human fee.
In search of the best deal on your next flight? Resist the urge to pick up the phone. Not only are the days of sweet-talking the airline rep into getting you some secret fare long gone—most of the best fares come and go rather quickly online – airlines will charge you a fee for any tickets booked with a live human. Again, $25 (that’s what you pay to talk to United) may not sound like much on its own, but these things add up.
How to avoid Easy—book your ticket and make any changes to that ticket online.
That redundant, super-expensive car insurance.
Struggling to find their way forward, the increasingly hobbled rental car companies are now downright shameless about foisting those hilariously overpriced insurance policies on to anxious or merely unwitting travelers. These products will often drive the final cost of your rental hundreds of dollars over the quoted base rate. If you have good car insurance and a good credit card (American Express is strongest, Visa is fine, MasterCard not so much) do yourself a favor—don’t cave. It’s not necessary.
How to avoid Educate yourself, long before you leave home. Know the ins and outs of your primary insurance—call your insurance agency if you have to. It’s so worth the savings. Not sure about your policy? For ultimate peace of mind, American Express sells a great Premium Car Rental Protection product that costs between $12.25 and $24.95 per rental period, depending on your home state—a screaming deal in an era when Loss Damage Waiver can cost a laughable $30 a day. This becomes your primary coverage, negating any need to deal with your insurance company, should the need arise. The only thing it doesn’t cover is liability—then again, neither does those crazy expensive house LDW plans.
Overpriced hotel parking.
You’ve just got off the rental car lot with minor injuries—now you show up at your hotel and they want how much for parking? Overnight parking fees are the newest profit center at far too many hotels; there’s nothing more insulting than being told by your hotel—sometimes located out in the middle of a field, or the woods, where there’s plenty of space for everyone—that the charge for your car to spend the night could get you and your car a stay in a nice Hampton Inn down the road. Even city hotels are taking the explosion of overnight parking fees as a sign that it’s cool for them to drive their existing rates into the stratosphere.
How to avoid Read the fine print before you book—particularly in cramped destinations like Chicago or San Francisco, where we’ve seen overnight parking fees scraping the $80 mark. Simply put, if you’re staying in an American city center these days, don’t rent a car. For more on avoiding this fee, check out our recent post on why mid-priced hotels are just better.
The credit card transaction fee.
Like Europe isn’t expensive enough. Then you arrive home to find out that your credit card provider tacked on 3 percent (or more), each every time you whipped out your Mastercard, netting the bank a tidy little profit off your vacation. How’s that feel? Not too bueno, we’ll bet.
How to avoid Anyone who travels regularly should be looking for two things in a credit card. First off, your card should be giving you rewards that make travel easier and cheaper, whether with free hotel nights or free plane tickets or general points that can be applied to all of the above. Also, that card should never, ever carry a foreign transaction fee. Shop around.
Booking a trip? If you’re looking for cheap airfares, start your search at CheapFlights, or compare multiple sites at once with BookingBuddy. Don’t forget that bundling your flight and hotel together can save you a lot of money; give it a try at either Orbitz or Expedia—both are great places to start a simple airfare search, too. If you’re just after the best hotel deals, start your search at Hotels.com or Priceline, where you can save up to 60 percent on any given night by taking advantage of their Express Deals feature. (This simple tool has probably saved us—no joke—thousands of dollars over the years.) Don’t forget, you can also cross-reference a ton of hotel user reviews with the best rates available from more than 200 web sites at TripAdvisor. If you need a rental car, begin your search by swinging wide to get a sense of the market—a site like Booking Buddy lets you check pretty much every site worth knowing in just a couple of clicks.