No one likes to get hit with unexpected fees when traveling. Even I, an experienced traveler, sometimes get tripped up by extra airline and hotel costs. To help you avoid getting snagged too, I’ve listed my top ten fees to watch out for. Some of these you might not even know exist. At the end of my post, I bullet them in a short list that you can print and keep with you.
Baggage size and weight limitation fees. Airlines make carry-on and checked baggage fees obvious, but what about the fees a associated with exceeding weight or size limitations? Bags over 50 pounds and/or 62 inches long will cost you extra, which will vary by carrier.
However, these fees can be easily avoided. Check the website of the carrier you’re flying for its specific baggage weight and size limitations. Then weigh and measure your baggage before you head to the airport.
Standby fees. Years ago you never had to pay an additional charge to standby for a flight if you missed the one you were originally scheduled to take. Today the airlines are finding another rich source of revenue by charging you up to $75 — in advance — to have the right to switch your flight or standby for a seat to open up the day you’re scheduled to depart.
It’s kind of like insurance, in case you need to switch to another flight. If you haven’t paid for this in advance, though, you might find the fees to change even higher. Unfortunately you can’t avoid these fees if you need to switch your flight or need to standby, but you can check airlines’ websites before booking to see which one has the lowest standby fee to keep your costs down.
Frequent flyer fees. These fees vary depending on your frequent flyer membership level. Most travelers who want to make a reservation using miles within 14 days of travel can expect an expedite fee. I find this fee really interesting, because the processing of the reservation and issuing of your ticket is essentially instantaneous. So, the expediting part of your transaction is purely rhetorical. Try to book your frequent flyer trips as far in advance as you can to avoid these fees.
There are also surcharges to use miles to most international destinations, although you generally pay these fees in more miles, unless you are booking too close to departure when the expedite fee kicks in. Lastly, if you cancel a frequent flyer ticket, it will cost you to have the airline redeposit the miles. I’ve paid as much as $150 to redeposit miles, and as far as I know travel insurance won’t cover this cost. Make sure you read the fine print in your membership or ask your booking agent about these fees before you use your frequent flyer miles.
International transaction fees. If you plan to spend a significant time abroad and use your credit card for purchases, it’s worth it to get a Capital One credit card. It’s the only credit card company that doesn’t charge fees for international transactions. Or you can use cash. ATM machines will give you cash in local currency using your own debit or credit card, and the exchange rates charged by your bank will be better than those charged by local banks to exchange your dollars to local currency.
Plus, ATM machines are in many destinations, even those considered off the beaten path. The convenience factor is worthy of consideration. With ATM machines ubiquitous, you don’t have to carry large amounts of cash while you’re on the move, which is great for avoiding petty theft or fear of petty theft.
Value added tax (VAT). Similar to a sales tax, a VAT is added on to your purchase in most foreign countries. For example, you decide to purchase a carpet in India. But the price you’re quoted will not include the 18 percent VAT tax, which will make the actual price you pay much higher. Many countries, such as India, reimburse travelers the VAT they have paid on purchases. All you have to do is ask the merchant to give you the right documentation to be able to collect the VAT back when you leave the country.
This documentation has to be prepared at the time of purchase, so be sure to ask for it and make sure it’s on an official receipt. Then, when you check in for your departure flight, find the VAT refund station in the airport, present your receipts, and you’ll get your refund in cash. Be sure to check the VAT rules for each country you visit. In some countries, you’ll need to actually show the merchandise, in addition to the receipt, in order to collect your refund. If your merchandise is already packed in your luggage, you can ask for a mail-in form that will be processed later, with the refund generally done via your credit card.
International car rental fees. All of the same fees and taxes that you’re used to paying to rent a car in the U.S. apply when renting a car internationally. The rates will differ by city, but be prepared to pay for insurance. In the U.S. all you need is a credit card to get insurance on a rental car. This doesn’t apply internationally. Insurance can add anywhere from $20 to $50 a day to your bill. Talk to your car insurance company before reserving a car internationally to see what they can do to help you find a low insurance rate.
Some of the coverage might already be included in your own car insurance. But don’t be surprised that CDW (collision damage waiver) insurance is obligatory in some destinations. Pay for it without feeling bad about the cost. If you damage a car abroad, you might be horrified to find out that the cost of repairs can be two or three times more than you might expect to pay here. And even if the local cost of the repair isn’t really higher, the car rental company will charge the much higher fees anyway.
Hotel parking fees. Parking fees are an additional business for many hotels. Before you use the hotel’s lot or garage, ask what the daily rate is so you know what to expect when you get your bill at the end of your stay. At smaller hotels in smaller cities, you can sometimes negotiate the parking fee in your room rate if you stay at the hotel regularly, for being a loyal customer. In some cases, the hotel will provide parking as part of the rate you pay, but this is the exception and not the rule.
Hotel telephone fees. Most people have a cell phone, but not all of those cell phones work internationally. If you’re out of the country and you need to make a call, you might have to use the phone in your hotel room. However, if you plan on using a calling card, the hotel won’t let you use it with the dial-out code. If you’re using a calling card, use it from a pay phone. If you absolutely have no choice but to use the hotel phone, make the call very short. The fees for international calls from your room can be astronomical.
Hotel mini bar fees. Some hotels now have an electronic monitor in the mini bar. If you move something, or take it out and then try to put it back, you are automatically charged — whether or not you opened the item. Hotels might also leave bottled water out for you in your room. Look for a note on the label that says whether the water is complimentary or will be billed to your room. If you’re not sure, ask the front desk before opening anything.
Hotel Internet fees. It’s not always clear if there is a charge for this service. Unlike U.S. hotels, most hotels abroad charge for Internet use, whether you use it in your room or at the hotel’s business center. If you need Internet access when traveling abroad, you can purchase your own data plan from a mobile provider and bring a global mobile broadband card to get access anywhere.
In some hotels, you might find free broadband in the lobby area, but even there, you should expect to pay for a plan that is charged by the half hour, the hour, or 24 hours. If you are staying in a hotel for an extended period (more than two nights), ask the front desk if there’s a special plan for the duration of your stay. Sometimes you’ll get a special rate for a three-day stay that turns out to be less than the best 24-hour rate times three.
As you’re packing bags for your getaway, I hope you find this list to be helpful. And remember to print out our shortened version of the list for you to take with you, and share with your friends and family. If there are any fees you think I should include in this list, leave them in a comment on this post.
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