Q. I’ve heard about new airline charges for “extras,” but as I make my summer travel plans, what other surcharges should I know about?
A. Airlines have gotten bad press because they’re now charging for checked luggage, onboard food and drink, reservations made by phone (as opposed to online) and even aisle or exit-row seats—all things that once were free. But hotels and rental car companies—also hurting in this economy—are no strangers to charging for extras.
Last year, hotels made $1.75 billion from tacked-on fees, more than triple the amount they made in 2002. While extras vary by chain and location, they may include services such as accepting a package or fax for you, having a safe in your room (whether or not you use it) and replacing those (usually overpriced) snacks bought from your room’s minibar. Then there’s the quietly imposed “resort fee”—a surcharge that, depending on the hotel, could be for having a pool, providing towels or compensating for the guests who don’t tip the housekeeping staff. Of course, order room service and you’re likely to pay additional sales taxes plus an automatic gratuity or delivery charge. Some hotels now are even charging for those “complimentary” newspapers left outside guests’ rooms.
Rental car companies are notorious for their extras, which taken together could boost your quoted rate as much as 50 percent. Traditional surcharges include an “airport tax” for retrieving your car there as opposed to a downtown location, an extra driver cost and insurance fees (although you are probably already covered by your existing car insurance or credit card). Newer surcharges include cancellation penalties, energy surcharges and even a “tire use” fee. Some companies also charge a “privilege fee” for picking up a car within 48 hours of booking or flight arrival.
When shopping around for car rentals or lodging, ask about the bottom-line price, as opposed to daily rates. Some fees might be avoided by booking on travel sites or through an agency. Also ask about extra fees upon arrival at a hotel or rental car kiosk, and carefully review your bill before you leave. To dispute any charges, you’ll fare better speaking with an on-duty manager (as opposed to the desk clerk).
One bit of good news: Because the economic downfall has impacted travel, summer airfares and hotel prices are down from last year.
Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer and health issues.