The Getaway - Fee For All

Travel fees are a part of life. But during my recent travels for the getaway column I have noticed that all those little extra costs are really adding up. For example, during a recent stay at a hotel, I noticed that in addition to the resort or service charge fee of fourteen dollars a day, I also was billed for a newspaper that I didn’t request. Turns out the burden was on me to opt out those charges.

The travel industry has been slowly increasing fees and surcharges like that newspaper charge at airports and hotels. While some fees, like extra baggage or drinks on the plane are expected, new fees keep popping up. Tourists visiting New York are feeling the sting. “It’s everywhere you go, they ‘well…you know…and money…and the exchange, and….’ There’s always an excuse for the fees to go up. You have to be wise and ask the questions and make sure stuff are included cause if it’s not you might be surprised once you get here.”

Hotels alone collected $1.85 billion in fees last year – up over 50% from the year 2000, according to professor and hotel industry expert Bjorn Hanson. “Um, hotels been continue to spend money on innovations and new services—flat screen TVs, high speed internet access, improved bedding and those types of improvements. At the same time, rates are actually lower in 2012 for the country average of about $106, compared to 2008 at $107. So hotels are looking for other ways to generate revenue, and fees and surcharges are one of the answers.”

For example, in addition to paying for that drink from your minibar, you may also be charged a restocking fee on top of it. Some hotels will also ask you to pay if you want to leave your bags with the bellman after checkout. One guest at the Waldorf Astoria told me that he would have to pay for wifi by device. That’s $15 a day for your phone, and another $15 for your iPad. And those reservation cancellations and ticket changing fees they all add up to $2.3 billion a year for the airline industry.

While travel providers are trying to increase profits, customers are wondering why fees aren’t just part of the initial quoted price. “I think they should be included, like internet for example. But if you have to pay for them, maybe they should tell you in advance.”

“What really has happened is, because of the internet, it is so easy for guests to research rates, and a rate difference of $2 will shift market share so hotels competing on rates will find other ways to raise revenue. And many of the fees and surcharges are really optional they’re not paid by all guests.”

In January, the Transportation Department gave flyers a break. The department now requires that airlines disclose mandatory fees in published airfare prices and they have already fined Travelocity and Tripadvisor for violating those regulations.

But disclosures are only required on mandatory fees so it is the travelers’ responsibility to be aware of all those so-called “optional” charges. So let me give you a couple of tips. One, remember that nowadays, you have 24-hours to cancel a flight reservation without being charged a penalty. And also, as part of that, and sometimes it might be cheaper for you to buy a whole new ticket rather than pay a change fee for your existing ticket. And when it comes to wifi at hotels, even though the hotel may charge you a fee for using wifi in your room, those same hotels sometimes offer it for free in the lobby or the pool area, in which case, take your laptop and head to that lounge chair.



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