33 Ways The Travel Industry is Picking Your Pocket


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Model airplane on a map with coins and calculator
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With so many cost variables to consider, budgeting a vacation can get difficult. And to make matters more challenging, many travel companies -- from flight booking sites to boutique hotels -- often employ hidden fees and other underhanded techniques to squeeze extra cash from travelers. Take care in planning your next excursion to avoid these subtle ways the travel industry picks your pocket.
Woman handing a boarding pass to a customer
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It may be cheaper to get to your destination and back by purchasing two one-way tickets rather than a single round-trip one, thanks to the difference in pricing methods between standard and discount carriers. To combine one-way tickets for greater value, book through different airlines or sites like Kayak and Skyscanner, which automatically compile itineraries that combine tickets from separate airlines.
Airplane flying over a city
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Airlines charge their highest prices for flights to "hub" cities that receive the most air traffic, with lower fees for flights to smaller destinations, which often transfer through the hubs. With a technique called "hidden city ticketing," travelers can game this inequitable payment system by booking trips to smaller cities, and then de-boarding during transfer at the nearby hub that is their actual destination. This trick requires you to bring only carry-on luggage and book one-way flights, however, and be aware that it violates most airlines' rules of carriage.
Searching for flights online
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Both booking sites and online aggregators for flights may fudge the truth a bit in their findings. They do this both by mis-categorizing flights that stop but do not deboard as "direct" and by displaying prices a few dollars lower than the cost when you click to book, enticing travelers under false pretenses.
Customer service agent wearing a headset
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Avoid booking flights over the phone, as most airlines charge extra for the personal help. Instead, call for anything that needs clarification, then book online.
Hand grasping money
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Most airlines charge steep refund fees for ticket cancellations, running upwards of $200 for domestic flights and $750 for international. Avoid the charges for inevitable changes of plan by checking the airlines' change/cancellation fee policies before booking.
Third-party travel websites
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It's a good idea to book directly with the airline if you may need to reschedule a flight, as third-party booking sites like Orbitz and Travelocity charge a $30 change fee on top of what the airline itself charges.
Angry man speaking with reception desk in airport
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Frequent Flyer miles can be redeemed for great flight deals through many airlines, but some water down the savings with change fees and awards surcharges, like the $75 fee for booking less than 21 days out from the travel date on United and American flights. United flyers can reduce the close-in booking charges by earning airline elite Silver ($50) or Gold ($25) status.
Airplane in sky
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Fuel surcharges can unexpectedly add hundreds to the price of a ticket, especially on international flights, even for passengers redeeming miles and children sitting in a parent's lap. Some airlines like United, JetBlue, and Allegiant don't add fuel surcharges for awards travel, while Southwest doesn't employ them at all.
Young woman stowing bag in overhead compartment on airplane
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Most flyers know to expect fees for their checked baggage by now, but it's easy to forget discount airlines like Spirit and Frontier will also charge up to $55 for carry-on bags as well. Now, American and United are taking up a similar practice by prohibiting Basic Economy flyers from stowing bags in the overhead compartment, instead forcing them to pay the $25 checked baggage fee.

U.S. passport with money inside
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According to US Customs and Border Protection, 56 countries charge entry and/or exit fees, though many go unnoticed as they're included in the airline ticket taxes. In some countries, however, American travelers must pay less-transparent entry or exit fees -- sometimes in cash -- at the airport, which can come as a nasty surprise upon departing.
Businessman sitting in airport using his laptop
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Many airports proudly advertise their free Wi-Fi, but many still charge travelers to get online, or in the case of Chicago's O'Hare and Midway, only allow them to visit select tourism sites for free. Check the airport and airline policies regarding payment for Wi-Fi to avoid unexpected costs, or consider turning your phone into a hotspot for use in the airport—just be sure your mobile carrier doesn't charge an extra fee for that.
Pretzels and soda on tray in an airplane
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Once travelers have passed the security checkpoint, they have significantly reduced options for food and drink, so airport businesses charge accordingly. The only way to avoid inflated prices, up to $4 for bottled water or $2 extra for a Quarter Pounder value meal, is by bringing a refillable water bottle and packaged snacks to curb your hunger.
Empty seats on an airplane
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Many airlines block out seats on reservable flights, not just to give buyers the impression of scarcity, but also to accommodate last-minute business customers and preferred travelers. This may be the case if you can't find adjoining seats when booking, and sometimes can be sorted out by booking seats with an airline representative over the phone.
Family traveling in airport
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If you're flying in a group and looking to curtail costs, try shopping for airfare one passenger at a time, as this will sometimes result in a lower per-ticket price. The reason is that airline reservation systems use identical prices for all tickets in a single reservation, even when some of the seats available would cost less individually.
Person using Google Maps on their tablet
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Flight prices can fluctuate considerably based on a ticket's point-of-sale, or the place where the transaction is completed. That's why international and especially domestic flights within foreign nations are often hundreds of dollars cheaper when purchased in that country's borders (even online). Take advantage of point-of-sale discrepancies from home by changing your point-of-sale city in Google's ITA matrix search.
International travel sites
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After narrowing flight options for international travel, look at the foreign versions of airline sites (such as britishairways.co.uk instead of britishairways.com). The price may be lower, even if payment is in a different currency.
Travel agent sitting at desk
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Travel agents can be a great resource to help travelers book unique accommodations and excursions that require inside information, but some agencies can also impose unfair markups to take advantage of unsuspecting customers. The UK-based Flight Centre, for example, was found to charge 23% more for the same flight when booked by an older, less-savvy caller.
Man booking hotel on his tablet at home
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When arranging a hotel stay, guests can either book through the hotel or a third-party site. Booking through a third party may often seem the cheaper option but can come with hidden fees on sites like Hotels.com or HotelsCombined. Many hotels will match other rates, and booking directly will allow you to earn rewards and book onsite amenities.
Hotel clerk handing bill over the counter
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Resort fees are one of the most arbitrary expenses hotels may tack on to your checkout bill, potentially adding an extra 10% per night to even a prepaid total. Hotels must disclose such fees, so read the fine print to guard against resort fees that will deceptively compound your room rate.
Hotel minibar
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Most hotel guests know not to touch the room's minibar, as enjoying the overpriced-but-unmarked snacks and drinks therein can result in hefty surcharges upon checkout. But even just browsing through the offerings can result in some hotels charging a bogus "restocking fee." It's more cost-effective and only slightly less convenient to stop at a nearby market for snacks.
Parking garage with cars
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Many hotels in congested metropolitan areas charge steep daily rates for guests to park a vehicle in an onsite garage, with or without valet service. Save by parking on the street or in nearby public lots, which are often cheaper.
Person turning off lamp from bed
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To offset power costs, many hotels now charge guests a small energy surcharge, which usually hovers around $4 per day. Some resorts like Atlantis in the Bahamas will charge up to $12.95 daily, however, so in this case, try offsetting such fees by complaining and negotiating a better rate with the hotel staff.
Resort pool in a tropical setting
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All-inclusive resorts often claim to include everything in their room rates, yet some still charge extra for elite experiences like spa treatments, top-shelf liquor, off-site excursions, and sometimes even Wi-Fi. Every resort is different, so be sure you know what "all-inclusive" means at each before booking.
Hands shaking at car rental business
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Even after booking a car rental online, companies will always tempt passengers with rental insurance upon pickup. They won't mention, however, that your existing car insurance and most credit cards you might be using to pay may already provide enough collision insurance for rentals. Check your card's terms, and be prepared to pay for damages upfront before receiving later reimbursement.
Avis and Budget car rental companies
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Domestic travelers have essentially only three rental car companies to choose from: Avis, which owns Budget and Zipcar; Hertz, which owns Dollar and Thrifty; and Enterprise, which owns Alamo and National. This explain why the companies often have little variation in prices, but travelers can find cheaper rentals through Turo, which is essentially AirBnB for cars.
Young couple renting a car
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Whereas drivers under 25-years-old were once banned entirely from renting cars, today they're just subject to an additional fee per day to account for their statistically high rate of accidents. These start at $20 to $30 or more for drivers between ages 18 and 21, so if that applies to you, be sure to consider extra costs before reaching the rental counter and find out if there's a way to waive the surcharge.
Pumping gas
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Employees are usually upfront about the considerable fee you'll incur if you don't refuel the rental before returning it, but it can be easy to forget. Returning the car with anything less than a full tank may result in your bill being charged up to $8 per gallon to refuel the car.
Couple looking at tablet on bed with credit card
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This isn't so much a trick as it is a straight-up scam, with swindlers setting up fake airline websites so travelers pay them via credit for bogus flight tickets. Scammers ripped 12 million pounds off British consumers in 2015 using such tactics, while more recently, a malware scam used a phony Southwest deal and site to gather user info via survey questions.
Cruise ship docking to let people off
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Port fees are what cruise ships have to pay local governments each time they dock at a port-of-call, and most companies pass on those fees to travelers, who may see hundreds added to their bills as a result. These will usually be revealed as part of the fare before you book a cruise, but double-check to make sure they're included particularly on little-known cruise lines.
Tropical drinks on the deck of cruise ship
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Many cruise lines add a 15% gratuity fee to all beverages, even if they're not brought to you by wait-staff and are included in the fare. Find out if your cruise charges any automatic gratuity before you begin a binge for the night or tip any server on top of what's already included.
Using an ATM machine
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It can often be hard to find an ATM affiliated with your home bank while traveling, particularly overseas. Avoid the extra charge by opening an account with a financial services firm that refunds ATM fees.
Woman purchasing drink with credit card on vacation
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Paying for goods and services with a credit card while traveling abroad may incur big foreign transaction fees. Avoid the extra expense by signing up for a credit card that doesn't have this fee well before leaving.
Woman using mobile phone on vacation
Photo credit: franckreporter/istockphoto

Using your smartphone internationally can incur hefty roaming charges, so contact your service provider in advance to ask about switching to a temporary vacation package during your trip -- many T-Mobile plans will already have roaming included. Otherwise, avoid using data by downloading offline maps and data or investing in VoIP apps for texting and calling.

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