Americans have been nickel and dimed by the travel industry, since airlines began charging for checked baggage four years ago. We wondered how many business trips and vacations are busting budgets because of the hidden taxes and fees sneaking into plane tickets, hotel rooms, credit cards and a host of other travel expenses.
Stealth charges are boosting the industry's bottom line: Hotels saw a 9.8 percent uptick in revenue in 2010, according to a report by PKF Hospitality Research, and airlines raked in $22 billion last year from ancillary fees. Checked bag fees alone generated nearly $3.4 billion in 2010, up from $464 million four years ago. But consumers are not happy. “There’s a huge amount of revenue being collected through those fees and our clients and travelers feel a huge resentment,” said Alex Trettin, president of Travel Center Inc., a Tacoma, WA based travel agency.
Airlines and hotels are not the only services adding new charges to their core prices. From $4.99 a minute phone charges, to $10 security fees, here’s a look at some hidden travel costs that can add hundreds of dollars to your trip's total price tag.
Often, travelers see a low fare online and jump at the apparent bargain, but the deal is rarely that good. Earlier this month, American Airlines listed one of its New York-to-London flights for October at just $139 round-trip, but the actual price swells to $664.20 with taxes and fees.
Extra charges are not typically fully broken down for the average consumer to see, but in this case, some coded fees popped up for the travel agent who found the deal in his system. For example, the total “YQ” charge on the flight, a code for international insurance tax by some airlines, was $362 and a fee labeled “GB,” the taxes and fees for U.K.-departing flights, tacked on another $97.80, in addition to smaller ones that quickly added up.
The extra cost includes airport fees, destination taxes, entry and exit fees, security fees and fuel surcharges. For example, a security fee implemented shortly after 9/11, costs up to $10 per round trip for transportation that originates in the U.S. (broken down, it’s $2.50 each time a customer boards a plane, up to two boardings per one-way trip). This past winter many airlines added fuel surcharges ranging from $4 to $10 per roundtrip to combat rising oil prices. Airlines aren’t required to give a detailed breakdown of fees; instead, they're bundled and coded in such a way that travelers can't understand what they're paying for.
Spirit Airlines charges $33 for the first checked bag with online check-in and $38 for check-in at the airport counter. Spirit also charges $30 for carry-on bags (but not “personal items” like purses) with online check-in, compared with $35 at the counter. The average cost at most airlines for a single checked bag is about $25, and a few remaining carriers still offer free checked baggage, like Southwest Airlines and JetBlue, but those days could be numbered.
Airtrain, Continental and United each charge $100 for checked bags weighing 51-70 pounds, topping other airlines. Delta and US Airways are close behind, charging $90 each for checked bags in the same weight range. Average cost among all carriers is about $50.
Seat Selection Fee
Spending on seat upgrades is a burgeoning trend, particularly in domestic travel. For airlines that charge for preferred seat selection, like seats in the exit rows and in the first row of coach, the average cost is about $10. But United Airlines tacks on an extra $14 to a lofty $109 per flight, raising the question of how much that extra legroom is really worth.
Airport WiFi Boingo offers Internet access for $6.95 a day or, for frequent users, $21.95 a month. In-flight WiFi provider Gogo charges $4.95 for flights shorter than 90 minutes, $9.95 for flights up to three hours and $12.95 for flights longer than 3 hours.
The average cost for in-flight headsets is about $3, but some like Hawaiian Airlines, charge $5. On the other hand, United Airlines provides them free of charge.
In-flight Snacks (in coach)
Most in-flight snacks average about $3, with meals starting around $6. Meals on Delta Airlines flights can run up to $9, while those on Midwest Airlines can cost up to $11. Most airlines have complimentary non-alcoholic beverages, but in 2008, US Airways eliminated that benefit, charging $2 for soft drinks and juice.
In-flight Pillow and Blanket
The average cost for this in-flight comfort is about $7, with many airlines billing it as a “pillow and blanket kit.” The kit includes an eye mask and earplugs on US Airways. Delta is one of the few that still offers its passengers free blankets on U.S. flights.
Peak Travel Surcharge
During peak travel times , say between Memorial Day and Labor Day or between Thanksgiving and Christmas, airlines add about $20 to fares. Surcharges on major carriers can rise as much as $30 during prime travel times, such as Memorial Day weekend and the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Higher base prices and peak surcharges also sneak up on travelers during the middle of summer, the major U.S. travel season.
Frequent Flyer Redemption Fee
Many airlines don’t charge for the service, but United requires a $25-$50 payment upon mileage redemption.
Average Hotel Room Charge
In the U.S., the average price for a hotel room is $114.90, based on the 2010 Hotel Price Index, the most recent available. In Europe, rooms run an average $167.76. But beware "average room rate" which probably does not include a host of additional charges.
Parking/Mandatory Hotel Valet
On average, hotels charge about $20 per day for parking or mandatory valet services, but costs can soar much higher than that. At the Fisherman’s Wharf Marriott in San Francisco, the standard mandatory valet fee is $48 per day.
Generally, in-room internet use runs about $10 per day. But be careful: many wireless charges can be deceiving. For example, at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, the rate for WiFi is $13.95 per day. But that’s for each device in a room, which means if two guests sharing a room are using separate computers, the daily rate jumps to $27.90 per day. Or if you have a laptop and a tablet or phone, you'll need to pay twice for WiFi.
Hidden Minibar Fees
It’s no surprise that mini bar items are overpriced, generally running about $4-$6 per item used. But some hotels are using technology to charge you even if you don’t consume the goods. The luxurious Wynn Las Vegas, for example, has installed mini bar sensors, charging guests for anything that’s moved out of its place for more than 60 seconds. When the in-room refrigerator is fully stocked with $5 cans of soda and $8 bottles of water, even rearranging them to make room to cool beverages purchased elsewhere could tack on significant charges.
Hotel Energy Surcharges
On average, hotels require customers to supplement energy costs at the tune of about $4 a day. But at Atlantis, a hotel in the Bahamas, energy charges for guests can run up to $12.95 per adult, per day. For a five-day vacation with two adults, that totals $129.50.
Local Occupancy Tax
States with a local occupancy tax, based on geographic location and local government levies, can tag on an extra charge of about 5 percent of a room’s total cost. Some areas run above average, such as Salem, Ore., where travelers are taxed a lofty 9 percent on their hotel bills. There, the revenue generated for the city through the occupancy tax is expected to top $2.2 million in fiscal year 2011-12.
On average, guests pay $1-$3 per day to have a safe in the room, and sometimes have to pay even if the safe goes unused during the visit.
Fitness Room Charge/”Resort Charge”
Many hotels still provide free access to fitness rooms, but if not, a pass can run about $15. At resorts like the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, although gym access is listed for $15 a day, on weekends and prime travel time, guests must purchase an all-access spa pass (which includes use of spa facilities in addition to the basic fitness center) for the inflated rate of $25 a day.
hotels also charge a “resort tax” that covers the use of fitness areas, spas and pools, and many require guests to sign off on paying resort fees upon check-in. “When you pay $99 a night and pay a $15 resort fee, that’s a 15 percent surcharge,” says Trettin. “That’s a significant increase.”
Towels at the Pool
One way to tell if the resorting is tacking a towel charge onto the bill: If a guest has to tell a staff member his or her room number before grabbing a towel at the pool. On average, the fee runs about $5 per towel.
Rental Car Facility Fee
While the average cost of a car rental has risen significantly in the past few years-- from about $200 per week in 2009 to about $300 today -- renting a car from an airport facility adds about 10 percent. Rental car vendors apply facility fees, also known as concession fees, at airport locations to help cover the cost of maintaining a business there. At Seattle and Phoenix airports, concession fees hover a bit higher than average, around 12 percent. At Boston’s Logan Airport, renters will pay slightly more than a 12 percent facility fee on rental cars.
WHEN YOU’RE THERE
Cell Phone/Data Roaming
While traveling internationally, fees can hit big and hardhttp://abcnews.go.com/Travel/cellphone-roaming-charges-quietly-add-travelers/story?id=11968834 on people who use cell phones, and especially smart phone users. Plan holders will be charged between $1.50 and $4.99 a minute for calls. And data come at an even steeper price – as much as $20 per megabyte, which can add up especially fast when a powered-on smart phone downloads emails, weather updates and other standard applications automatically. Additionally, text messages run about $0.50 per message.
The average ATM fee is $2.33. On top of that, the average fee a bank charges for using an ATM outside its network is $1.41. That adds up to an average $3.74 each time a cash withdrawal is made.