How to Avoid Hidden Charges While Traveling
Saving money for a trip can be really exhausting, pulling those extra shifts, adjusting your daily expenditures etc.. Then when you FINALLY get the money to go on your trip, you get hit with hidden fees and surcharges you didn't even know existed. So for the newbie traveler, less seasoned traveler, or even those who feel they are professional travelers - here are a few of my tips on how to avoid hidden charges while traveling.
Airline Reservation Hidden Fees
You pull out your card, and punch in the numbers...you finally booked that dream vacation. Now you are faced with the first hidden fee....the travel insurance for your trip. Do you use it? Do you need it?
My typical rule of thumb is that if I am spending more than $300 on a plane ticket, I typically get the travel insurance. I don't typically use the travel insurance with the airline as I can get travel insurance with World Nomads that includes flight rebooking or airline cancellations.
If you attempt to get a refund for a canceled flight and booked with a third party, you have no promise of getting your money back. Be sure to read my article on hazards to choosing cheap flights and I explain a lot of the intricate hidden fees there as well.
If you book your ticket online, it will also avoid the hidden fee of trying to book it with an agent online. If you use your mileage, or reward points to book a ticket, with most airlines - you will also need to pay for fuel charges, airport taxes, and fees that can range anywhere from $77 to $1000 (depending on the flight).
Trekker Travel Tip: Call the airline to ask questions, but do it on a computer where they can give you the numbers you need and walk you through booking your ticket if needed. They also may have good ideas on how to get cheaper tickets by connecting or arriving at different airports.
Baggage Hidden Fees
According to a report Forbes Magazine did, there was nearly $28.1 billion in revenue from bag check fees taken in by the world's airlines in 2018 was more than double the $13.4 billion they collected for checking bags just four year earlier.
It may be worth it to leave a few things home, layer your clothing, or just travel with a purse and carry-on luggage within size and weight restrictions required by airlines. Checked back fees can range anywhere from free to over $200 per bag. It largely depends on where you are traveling as well, in country, or out of your home country.
If you are overseas, and decide to buy luggage and bring a bunch of items home with you- it can nearly double the cost of the checked luggage fee. If your bag is overweight, it can nearly double the cost of the bag as well.
Trekker Travel Tip: Always bring a portable luggage scale with you! It may be cheaper to pay for the checked luggage in your own currency than having to pay for it in another currency as well.
I would also be aware that some airlines allow free personal items, and one carry-on bag for free, and some will charge you for it. If you luggage is outside the size limitations for carry-on luggage, you will be required to check your luggage at the gate, which can tack on another $15 to $35 on top of their checked luggage fee. Know your airlines rules, regulations and limitations! Sometimes cheaper tickets aren't always better.
In Airport Fees - While Waiting
Trekker Travel Tip: DO NOT GO TO THE AIRPORT THIRSTY OR HUNGRY!
If you go to the airport hungry, you can count on food costs to be 5% higher than what you would pay outside the airport. For example, going to McDonalds to get a $4 burger can cost you $7 in the airport.
Going through security lines can be very stressful, especially with kids. Once you get through and rush to your gate, sometimes running, sometimes walking - all you and your kids would want is a drink of water. As mentioned before, some airports have limited the availability of water fountains to refill your reusable water bottle at. The minimal water fountains that are available may be in another terminal or obscure part of the airport you can't reach. Restaurants won't refill it for you from the tap, because that is considered a health code violation (allegedly).
If you want to buy water - a $1 bottle outside the airport will cost you $3.50 inside the airport. If you are traveling solo and/or backpacking through countries or multiple airports or even cruise ports - you will have to count on another $25 (at minimum) for water to be available.
If you are traveling within the country vs out of your country the fees may differ. Gone are the days when you received a free pair of headphones, or asked for a free blanket (on some airlines). Gone are the days, when you could stretch your legs, or even easily bend over to grab something you dropped under the seat in front of you.
We pay for every square inch we occupy now, and every item and morsel we use. I'm personally just waiting to be charged for oxygen used on board, and the number of times the alternator in the engine rotates. Lest I digress on this unsavory topic....here are a few things you should be aware of.
In flight WiFi or streaming of videos is not free on most flights. If you are on a long flight with a budget airlines, you will have to download and watch your own movies - or pay a theater cost to rent one movie, on top of the WiFi fee they may charge to do so. If you are traveling with kids, and didn't realize TV wasn't available for the 10 hour red-eye flight....well, you may as well hand people in the airplane the tomatoes to throw at you when your kid starts screaming.
If the pilot likes the cockpit cold, then the whole plane can be freezing (fair enough) - but then some airlines are starting to charge you for wanting to use a pillow or blanket now.
Trekker Travel Tip: Make a sleep sack that has your pillow, a small fleece blanket, eye mask, headphones, and any other bedtime routine item in it. Stuff it in your personal item and you won't be burdened with a few fees. You can also just pay for WiFi, and stream your Amazon Prime, Netflix, or Hulu shows as well. Just be aware, once they start using foreign WiFi, those streaming platforms may be unavailable or blocked in certain countries.
Rental Car Hidden Fees
When I booked my first rental car online, I thought I had my budget laid out perfectly. I paid for the car, ticked all the boxes, read the fine print, got to Scotland and BAM! Was hit with additional hidden fees all over the place.
THE PRICE YOU SEE ONLINE ISN'T THE ONLY THING YOU HAVE TO PAY! If you don't have a credit card (like me, because don't like using them) - and your paying for a debit card a large deposit is required. This money can range from $100 to $500 deposit depending on the car and the company you are using.
On top of this, if you are picking up or dropping off in a different location - they can tack on another $50 to $1000 to the bill!
Then they hit you with rental insurance, where they scare you and threaten to take your dog, your life, and your grandma's life if you damage the car whatsoever. Remember how people say sex sells? Well I'm seeing more and more companies use the tactic of 'fear sells' just as much. The thing is, you don't know what you don't know - you don't know that you might not even need car insurance through the rental company.
Trekker Travel Tip: YOU MAY NOT NEED RENTAL INSURANCE! It of course depends on your individual plan, but most car insurance companies will cover you. If you have a high deductible, it may be worth just forking over the money. If you pay for the rental with a credit card, most of them provide collision insurance. Call before you trip to make sure it covers you, the car, and will still cover you in the country you will be driving in.
After paying $220 to rent the car for a trip in Scotland, I ended up having to pay an additional 660 Euros to the rental company. This was pre-authorized, so it tied up any money I had saved for a special dinner/lunch or souvenirs. It really bummed me out, and I was kicking myself for not being more careful on my first trip as a Solo female traveler.
Now the rental companies have a new rule, where before the age of 25 you weren't able to rent a car - now you can. IT COMES AT A COST TO RENT A CAR UNDER 25! Some rental companies will allow drivers below 25 to rent the car, but they will tack on a $20 to $30 daily surcharge for it.
If you want to add an additional driver, in case you get drowsy or tired - safety first right? WRONG! They will add an additional $20-$30 per day for an extra driver. So better bring some energy shots, and caffeine along with you.
If you lose the car keys, you’ll have to pay up to $300 for a replacement. So bring that tacky chain, and keep those suckers glued to your body.
Trekker Travel Tip: Bring a laynard with you, I have one stuffed in my suitcase for every trip that can hold a hotel card, car keys, and a small round tube where I stuff a copy of my passport to hang around my neck.
Last but not least, they may try to get you to use their gas at their rental station to fill up the car. The gas is always costs a lot more if you fill it up through the rental dealer vs just making a quick stop about 2 miles outside of the airport.
Accomodation Hidden Fees
Mid-range accommodations for all of us normal folk are all the rage nowadays. When you realize how much you can save booking a B&B, Airbnb, or just renting out 2 beds in a hostel is cheaper total price than one night in a hotel right next door - well....its hard to pass that up. Yet the companies are getting smarter about hidden fees, and charging more. When I booked my first Airbnb and went to check out, I didn't realize that they charge you a cleaning fee, taxes, and a service charge on top of it. So be sure you go all the way to checkout before deciding on an accommodation. The owners of the apartments decide how much they want to charge for the service fee. I have seen it range anywhere from $5 to $35 on top of the total stay.
If you are thinking, 'Awe screw it, I will just stay at an all inclusive hotel' ---ummm, think again! There are many hotels that are now charging a “hotel resort fee” upon checkout. This additional fee can be as much as 10% extra per night, most countries require this to be disclosed on booking - but the hotels are trying to hide it. They hide it as an 'electricity fee' which an be an additional $4 a day, some hotels charge more, especially if they use more electricity (think Las Vegas), and can charge up to $12.95 per day per adult.
If you want to bring your own food to save on money, even opening the door to the refrigerator can cost you money. You can be charged a 'restocking fee' if you move the drinks or items that are in there. So always ask the concierge if they charge for the use of the fridge, as well as the safe in the room. Some hotels take inventory of the safe you use for your valuables, and can charge a fee per day you use the safe.
Are you visiting a big city? Rental car fees can be steep enough, but then you have to consider how much it is going to cost to park your car. If the parking at the hotel isn't free, you could be paying out the nose (depending on the city you are in) for a parking space. For example, in Greece, a parking space can cost several hundred Euro. If you are in LA, forget finding parking. Headed to Boston? Even if you are a patron of the hotel, you could be charged $75 per night to keep your car in their garage. Might as well just sleep in your car in the garage at that point.
Some hotels now have designated Bell-hops that will take your bags for you, if you want to drop them off and explore the city before check-in. These bell-hops often expect to be tipped for watching your bag. Some hotels charge you a small fee to watch your bags, or tack on the extra cost for someone to watch the bags. For me, giving someone $2-$3 tip to watch my bag(s) is worth the peace of mind; but for those on a tight budget, I wanted to make you aware of this hidden fee.
If you want to work out, some hotels are charging a daily fee to cover operation costs within the gym. Granted some of these offer massages, spas, and other perks when using the gym - but be careful when using your room key - and make sure all charges are asked about and spelled out for you before you use any amenity.
If you accidently take a hotel towel with you, or leave it at the beach - this can cost you money as well. You will see it on your bill when you check out or will be charged for it later.
Culture Trekker Tip: Don't take things from the hotel....not even the water unless it is from a water fountain. If your mid-range accomodation host tells you something is free, make sure you have an email or sign telling you it is free. Also ask them if they charge extra if the place isn't reasonably clean prior to leaving. I personally make it a rule of thumb to leave a place at least picked up or just as clean as when I found it.
Souvenirs and Impulse Buys
When it is your first trip, or your dream destination it is easy to get sucked into the shops full of souvenirs. Many people don't realize that these souvenirs are often made in China and shipped to the destination.
Be selective and very careful what you think or the people claim as 'authentic'.
I will typically go with something in mind to buy before I get there. Clothing is something I can wear over and over, and will be very unique. I also get something to hang on the wall, for my 'world wall' - until that got too full, and now I get pins. After moving so much, souvenirs become less important, and I save my money to spend it on the experiences (and camera gear to capture the experiences).
So before you go into a store because you want to buy a souvenir, ask them where their products are made. Search for the store that was made by locals, and you will have a better quality product and be contributing to sustainable tourism.
Phone Charges and Mobile Data
It is definitely hard to turn off your phone, especially for work-a-holics who feel like you chopped off their arm when you ask them to turn off their phone. It is also hard to convince family you will be safe traveling as a solo traveler if you can't check in with them every day. What about those of us who are severely directionally challenged, how do you stay connected to the internet to find your way around the city?
Some people just leave their phone on and don't realize that your phone provider/company will charge you double (sometimes up to $2.00 a minute) for international calls, or the internet usage will cost you an additional $20 a day. So be sure to check with your phone company provider BEFORE YOU TRAVEL.
I also went into great detail on how to stay connected and communicate while traveling, laying out cheap plans, pay as you go and the pros and cons of each - so be sure to check it out.
Currency and Credit Card Fees
Currency....expecially when looking to exchange you currency - can be rife with hidden fees that will make you feel almost violated at times. If you read my Travel Hacks for Prague, you will know that there is a new-ish scam going around of people trying to exchange your currency in the street. They wear things that make them appear as officials, but when you go to use the money it is actually fake.
If you exchange your money at a bank like a Western Union then you will get the best deal. I also follow the locals, and will look for the bank with the longest line. If I don't understand the language, then your best bet is to grab money at the first ATM that has a line - as this will likely have the best exchange rate & be the most secure.
Each ATM withdrawal will have a fee associated with it, so having a budget in mind and getting the money from your bank at home is the cheapest option. If you need more than that, then it will remind you that you are going over-budget and the extra fee may deter you from spending too much in the thrill of traveling.
Keep in mind though, if you do take out foreign currency - you will have to either spend it all or pay another fee with your bank to convert it back. Banks typically do not accept change, and the $1 or 1 Euro coin is readily used. So don't be afraid to grab all your foreign change and tell them to pick out what they need for the change from your open hand. If they take a few for themselves, don't worry - you would have lost the money coming back anyway and maybe they really needed it.
First rule, don't get your flu shot or any other vaccine RIGHT BEFORE A TRIP! You don't want to take the chance of feeling under the weather on your trip, nor do you want to feel lousy and have to seek medical care in a country you don't speak the language.
Hospitalizations, emergency room visits, and even navigating a healthcare system that is so vastly different than your own - can be really scary and can cost you thousands of dollars in unexpected medical bills. Not exactly the kind of souvenir you want to go home with. So like I keep telling people, get travel insurance, I love World Nomads, not just because I'm an affiliate with them - but because I literally sat down and GRILLED them about their medical care. You can tailor make you travel insurance, and they will even cover more risky behaviors and activities - like Scuba Diving.
Don't forget critical medications right before a trip. This is imperative for those with heart conditions, blood pressure, kidney issues, or those on medication for mental or emotional conditions. You may not be able to get access to medical care, you may be given something different than what you need and will have to get all those lousy tests done again, and pay for them. It may put you in the hospital.
Trekker Travel Tip: I always keep my medication with me in my carry-on. I keep the full amount of the medication with me I will need on my trip, because I don't want to risk ruining my trip. That way you avoid the hassle, headache and worry that comes when it is lost, along with your luggage. If you have serious medical conditions, I would take a copy of your medical record with you (with images, and the latest notes from your doctor).
Hidden Fees Revealed
Now that I have warned you on the many of the hidden fees that can surprise new travelers; I hope it will help you prepare a little more for your perfect vacation. So bookmark this page prior to booking your next vacation, use each heading to help you on each leg of your trip - from booking, to accommodation, to keeping yourself safe and healthy.
Also check out my article on how to save money on your cruise, and cut those hidden fees as well.
Have you experienced any hidden fees I didn't cover here? Put your recommendations in the comments below.
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Welcome to Culture Trekking!
My name is Janiel, I specialize in solo female travel, cultural connections, sustainable adventures, food and history to help make your travel experiences fun, meaningful, and delicious. My experience in travel, and my personal story have allowed me to get published in Fodor's Travel, Atlas Obscura, Metro.co.uk, Trip Advisor, and multiple Podcast interviews. You can find me on pretty much every social media channel YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, TikTok. To read more about me and my story click here. If you are a brand and would like to work with me, click here.