The worst hidden travel fees and how to avoid them

Sam Kimmis from Nerdwallet, The Associated Press

Published Wednesday, June 29, 2022 8:56AM EST

With travel prices rising, customers may be tempted to choose the cheapest base option they find. But the base price for airfare and hotels is only a fraction of the total costs. A procession of surcharges awaits any passenger trying to navigate the checkout process, inflating the final price. Experts call it “drip pricing.”

“It’s called a ‘drip’ because the surcharges and fees drip through the shopping process,” says Vicki Morwitz, professor of business and marketing at Columbia Business School.

Customers tend to overpay when prices are displayed in this way, according to a study by Morwitz and colleagues.

“Customers are more likely to choose an option that seems cheaper up front. Even when they realize later that it is more expensive than they expected, they are more likely to stick with it.

From resort fees and boarding pass printing fees (yes, that’s a thing), companies were lining up their bottom line with these extras even before inflation spiked this year. Avoiding them requires diligence and know-how.

Hotel resort fee

The resort fee, sometimes called a “facility fee” or “destination fee,” purports to cover amenities such as internet and pool access. But since the fee is mandatory, it’s a hidden cost to book a room that doesn’t show up until the final check-out.

“The resort fee is the only travel fee that has nothing to do with any actual service or product,” says Lauren Wolf, an attorney at Travelers Unite d, an advocacy group for travelers. She is also the founder of the Kill Resort Fees website. “If your hotel charges for parking, if you don’t have a car, you don’t pay for parking. However, it is almost impossible to get rid of the hotel resort fee even if you decline the amenities.”

Here are some tips to reduce these pesky fees:

Pay with points at brands that waive resort fees for awarded stays, such as Hilton and Hyatt.

Ask the front desk to waive the fee. “It’s not likely to work but you can always ask nicely,” says Wolf.

– Find a search option on a hotel’s website or app for “quote with taxes and fees” or something similar. This will help to compare real prices directly and avoid the hassle of clicking to get to the final checkout window.

Airline seat selection fee

Despite the recent rise, the cost of air travel has actually been going down for years. This may sound like good news, but it’s masking a hidden trend: Airlines have collected more of their revenue from surcharges while lowering the base fare.

Charging for seat selection is one of the newest and most worrying scams. This fee usually appears during checkout and often appears to be mandatory.

These fees can always be avoided. Skipping the seat selection process and letting the airline assign a seat at a later time is often the wisest option if you don’t mind the risk of getting caught in an average seat.

Airlines want customers to pay this fee, of course, and often share dire warnings about the dangers of not choosing a seat. But skipping the seat selection does not increase your chances of being traumatized from the flight.

And note that some airlines, such as Southwest, do not charge a fee for seat selection.

Vacation Rental Cleaning Fee

Everyone wants a clean vacation rental, but no one wants to pay an exorbitant cleaning fee that can exceed the basic cost of rent.

It is almost impossible to avoid these fees completely, as most properties carry them. But it is possible to avoid paying too much.

Most vacation rental platforms, including Airbnb, offer a few options for comparing the “total price,” which includes cleaning and other fees. It’s not always easy to filter and sort by total price, but seeing that price on the search screen rather than the checkout screen can greatly simplify comparison shopping.

Note that unlike resort fees – which are usually added to each night booked – a one-time cleaning fee applies. The $100 cleaning fee per night may not be tolerated but is reasonable for $10. So, the best way to avoid cleaning fees on short stays is usually to book a hotel instead.

Don’t get carried away

The basic psychology of add-on fees is simple: We’re tempted by the sticker’s low prices, and then reluctantly accept the extra costs.

Countering this bias is equally simple in theory, if not in practice. Ignore the label prices and compare only the final prices – all fees are taken into account. And avoid as many optional fees (such as choosing airline seats) as possible.

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This article was provided to the Associated Press by personal finance site NerdWallet. Sam Kimes is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: skemmis@nerdwallet.com.

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