The travel industry seems to always have its hand out — sometimes literally.
Just check into a fancy resort and watch the bellhop after delivering the luggage to your room, whether you wanted help or not. See what I mean?
Lately, the industry has had its hands out a lot more. A recent survey by Sabre, the travel technology company, suggests we want to pay more for travel. We'd gladly shell out extra for upgrades (never mind that everyone should be getting treated well, not just the few who can pay more), onboard food (again, starving your customers is wrong) and legroom (same here).
"Travelers," the company proclaims in a news release, would "drop a hundred dollar bill" on airline extras.
During the heat of the summer, maybe we should be asking the opposite question: What should we not pay for? What should be included not just in your next flight but in the travel experience?
Mobile data and roaming fees
Shelling out exorbitant fees for data or cellular connections when you're overseas is a ripoff, industry insiders say. "I won't pay for it," says Taina Heinonen, a travel agent with Vienna, Va.-based Scandia World Travel. "I love social media, but I can wait for Wi-Fi." Several major carriers include international mobile data in their plans, which allows travelers like her to stay connected.
Traveler-specific credit card fees
When you're on the road, your credit card company sees an opportunity to cash in. That includes charging a foreign-currency fee and ATM fees. Avoid paying them, advises Jessica Bisesto, a senior editor for the travel deal website TravelPirates. "Contact your credit card company before a trip," she says. Often, a credit card will waive certain fees or can advise you which ATM to use to avoid paying a surcharge.
Hotel resort fees
Many hotels charge mandatory "resort" fees for amenities you may or may not use. These can add $20 or more per day to the room rate you thought you were going to pay, which is patently unfair. "It's frustrating," says Bob Glaze, the curator of online travel guide Globalphile.com. "Having to pay for something that I have no intention of using, to me, is very upsetting. I feel like I am being gouged." Interestingly, the federal government has been eyeing resort fees and might soon act to make them illegal.
Wireless Internet fees
Hotels — especially high-end hotels — are notorious for charging extra for Wi-Fi. That's wrong, guests say. Wi-Fi is more like a basic utility. "I always feel uncomfortable paying for Wi-Fi, because it seems like a service that the hotels should provide in order to get my business and to make my stay more comfortable," says Ruth Wilson, who runs a private school in Seattle. "Free wireless Internet is one criteria I use when booking a hotel in the first place, or I go through the inconvenience of using my cellphone as a mobile hotspot to supply Wi-Fi to my laptop rather than agree to pay another fee." She's not alone. Survey after survey suggests hotel guests hate having to pay for an Internet connection.
Remember when you could buy an airline ticket and you actually got a ticket? Today, that purchase is just a starting point. That's by design: Optional seat "assignments" are a big source of airline revenue. A recent study by liligo.com suggested that more than 38% of airlines’ total revenue can be attributed to “extra fees.” The worst offender? Spirit Airlines, which charges passengers up to $65 for a carry-on bag.
This nonsense has to end. Though many travelers know about all these fees, enough of them are only vaguely aware that the travel industry can build a business model around them.
Instead, shouldn't airlines, hotels and other travel companies charge a fair price for a complete product? Let me answer that question. Yes, they should. To claim these fees represent a customer "choice" is a fantasy. I've never met a traveler who wanted to pay a fee for a wireless connection, a data roaming charge, an advance seat-assignment fee or a $100 fee to bring a carry-on bag aboard a plane. Never.
How to dodge travel fees this summer
• Mind the fine print and asterisk. Travel companies like to advertise prices "from $99" or slide in an asterisk next to the rate, indicating that there's important information they're omitting. If you see fine print, read it. If you spot a star, you might want to look elsewhere. These could be signs your airline, cruise line or hotel has surprises in store for you.
• Check the reviews. A simple Web search for the hotel or cruise line you're considering, plus the word "scam" or "fee" should reveal all you need to know. Be sure to cast a wide net — don't just rely on a single source.
• If it's too good to be true. The old saying is true: If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. If you see a $19 airfare, chances are, there's something the airline isn't telling you (such as the absurd fees you'll have to pay to get a seat assignment). Don't buy anything until you understand the true cost.
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate and editor at large for National Geographic Traveler. Contact him at email@example.com or visit elliott.org.