Travel's f-word: Fees obscure bottom-line prices

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bimjim
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Travel's f-word: Fees obscure bottom-line prices

Unread post by bimjim » Wed Feb 08, 2012

http://travel.usatoday.com/experts/mcge ... 53002156/1

Travel's f-word: Fees obscure bottom-line prices
Bill McGee, special for USA TODAY
08 February, 2012

No matter how hard we work to budget our travels, those sneaky fees and surcharges keep boosting the bottom line costs. These days there is no aspect of traveling that isn't susceptible to being hit with additional fees.

Last week, things got better when new rules kicked in, providing additional transparency on airline fees. But it's still quite difficult to determine baggage fees, for example.

I recently booked a stay at an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean. I made the reservation through a third-party travel site and when I checked in I was billed in U.S. dollars. So you can imagine how I felt when my charge card was hit with a deduction of $118.86—for something my bank called a "foreign fee." A $25 processing fee, maybe. But $118.86?

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that I wasn't surprised at all.

A fee for all?

In recent years no topic has raised the ire of travelers as much as the f-word: fees. Last year, an extensive survey by Consumer Reports found 40% of travelers are flying less because of airline fees.

But just last week, things got a little better when new rules from the U.S. Department of Transportation kicked in, providing additional transparency on mandatory taxes and fees on airfares. However, transparency on airline fees that will allow for true apples-to-apples price comparisons has been delayed, so it's still quite difficult to determine baggage fees, for example.

As I've noted before, regardless of whether or not you agree with the reasoning behind what the industry terms "ancillary revenue," there is no denying the airlines have demonstrated severe tone deafness over the issue. Consider Spirit Airlines, which last week absurdly asserted the DOT's new pricing rules "hide" taxes and are "not consumer-friendly." As consumer organizations howled, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) called on Spirit to "stop misleading the public."

But while the airlines continue to generate the most attention over fees for everything from checking bags to selecting a seat, the rest of the travel industry has embraced ancillary revenue as well.

Across the board

Consider that fees are being levied throughout your travels:

• RENTAL CARS: Back in 2010, I detailed how the rental car industry was going fee-crazy too. The battery and tire surcharge that is mandatory in Florida. The early return fee at Alamo. The Energy Recovery Fee at Budget and Payless. The infamous toll program fees (above and beyond the tolls themselves). And of course the roadside assistance fees to protect you if the rental firm's vehicle fails. The most important advice: 1) don't assume anything—including unlimited mileage—is included in the rental fee and 2) read over the contract before you sign.

• HOTELS: As I pointed out in 2009, mandatory hotel taxes and fees can be too complex to decipher—even when comparing identical itineraries in real time across several third-party travel sites. In addition, the domestic lodging industry has jumped on the fee bandwagon, to the tune of $1.8 billion last year. But the facilities usage fee? Resort fee? Groundskeeping fee? Towel fee? What really annoys hotel guests is being charged for services—such as a gym or pool— they may not even use. The good news is you have a greater chance of negotiating such fees with hotels than with other travel companies, so it can pay to haggle over such costs.

• CRUISES: As with other travel sectors, booking a cruise will incur mandatory fees, such as port taxes and head taxes. But CruiseMates.com points out that "nickel and diming" occurs on the high seas as well, and this list may include but is not limited to soft drinks, beer, wine, cocktails, certain snacks and meals, laundry, spa treatments, Internet and business services, shore excursions and of course tipping. If you're not sure what's included, ask in advance.

• AIRLINES: Kudos to the DOT for the new rules on transparency of airline taxes, as noted above. But it's still caveat emptor when it comes to calculating optional fees for baggage and other services. The most recent DOT consumer-complaint statistics indicate problems with fares now rank third among the 12 complaint categories, up from seventh a year ago. Some airlines are better than others at providing detailed information on optional fees, but make sure you're clear before you book.

• PAYMENTS: Bank fees and charge card fees have become rampant, particularly for overseas travel. Once again, the onus is on you to learn about all the fine print, so don't be shy about inquiring.

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