These are the days of soaring airfares—and even when they’re “low-cost,” the fees the airlines charge practically for breathing add up very quickly, not to mention airport expenditures, credit card fees, hotel surcharges… you name it, they charge it. Here’s a list to show you how to avoid travel fees so you can spend that hard-earned money on something a lot more fun.
Credit card surcharges. Expect to pay about 3 percent of the purchase price on whatever purchases you make when you’re outside of the United States. You might want to prepay hotel or car rental costs before you leave home and shop around for a credit card that don’t charge extra for currency conversions and overseas transactions.
Speaking of banks… Here we want to avoid paying bank fees, those aforementioned foreign transaction charges and get a good exchange rate. ATM fees can kick in hard (about $5 per), plus they also slap you with a credit card transaction fee. What to do? First, pick a bank that’s in the Global ATM Network, which allow free ATM withdraws inside said network (Bank of America is one). Check with your local bank, though, you may be surprised. Consider opening an account at Charles Schwab: they have no fees and they reimburse all your ATM fees at the end of each month. USAA has a similar policy.
To avoid credit card transaction fees (that pesky 3%) Google cards that have no overseas transaction fees (Some Chase and some Discover cards, Capital One, United Mileage and others). Some go the extra mile and earn points for free flights and hotels. Finally, to get the best exchange realty (barring becoming a bank), use an ATM (see above), don’t change money at airport, don’t use the ATMs in quick marts or gas stations and, when making a purchase and given the choice, always pick the option to be charged in the local currency (your credit card company’s conversion rate is always better than the store’s).
Scope out your hotel’s hidden fees. Parking, Internet access and room service are the top culprits. Do your research: hotels with free parking do exist and there’s a movement to include WiFe as well, and not just in the lobby. As for room service, it’s definitely going to cost more than going down to the hotel restaurant or, better yet, crossing the street to the local diner. When you do order room service, double check the bill for fees. Avoid over tipping if they already include a “service charge,” which is usually code for a 15 to 18% gratuity. Don’t forget about the sneaky pleasures of the minibar and pack your own snacks and common medications to avoid a $7 Milky Way.
Depending on the hotel you book, make sure you’re not going to get hit with an unexpected “resort fee”—especially if you’re just staying overnight and have no intention of using the pool or the gym.
Print your own boarding pass. Believe it or not, some airlines charge up to $10 to print your pass at the airport. That’s $20 roundtrip, or a meal at that sidewalk café in Mazatlán.
Always carry-on your luggage. This is an oldie but goody—that doesn’t apply on certain international flights and, happily, not on Southwest Airlines. Yet. Elite members of frequent travel clubs can also get away with first bag free. However, if you must check in, try to do so online: it can definitely save you a few bucks.
Selective about your seat? So-called “premium” seats now command a few on most airlines: coveted windows, aisles and the first few rows behind first class, for example. “Low cost” airlines charge period, the “better” the seat, the higher the price.
Group 2 or Group 5? If you want early boarding and are not a platinum, gold or otherwise elite member of a credit card or frequent flyer group, you’re going to have to pay (small children help, too). Express boarding can cost around $12 per flight—some people like the practically guaranteed overhead bin space, but if you don’t really need it, save yourself the cash.
In-flight entertainment. Bringing your own gadgets (don’t forget your headset) is definitely cheaper. Load them with book, movies and music and you can stay entertained for hours on end. Should you prefer, want or need WiFi, consider paying for it before you board through gogo air, which has contracts Air Canada, AirTran, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, United, US Airways and Virgin America. The service is available on select flights in the continental US and Alaska—for now. Need WiFi connections at the airport? Check out the local Starbucks: many times you’ll get a WiFi code for the price of a cup of coffee. You can also subscribe to Boingo, which has several plans including hourly, pay as you go, monthly and global.
Cruising? There are extra fee landmines here galore. Bar tabs add in their own “service charge” (see the hotel hidden fees) so you don’t need to tip on top of that. Onboard ATMs have some very steep fees in addition to the ones your bank will charge. And when you’re ready for a shore excursion, consider planning ahead and talking to your travel agent about what you want to do. Good deals outside of the cruise ship offerings are out there and a little research can help you save a few dollars.
Protect thyself. Insurance and travel protection equals coverage in the case of something going awry, whether it’s lost luggage or a lost connection or something more serious like a critical illness or injury while you’re far away from home. While not technically a travel fee to avoid, it can certainly save you hundreds—if not thousands—of dollars should you need it.
Do you have any money-saving travel advice? Share below in the comments!