The hidden costs of vacation travel and how to avoid them


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It seems too good to be true, you just came across a great package deal for a two-night stay at a luxury resort and affordable airline tickets. But when you finishing adding it to your cart, suddenly and without explanation, the price has doubled. What gives?

Unfortunately, companies use attractive offers — like promotional package deals — to get your attention. Once they have you on the hook and dreaming about mimosas on the beach, they hit you with fees and upcharges that make your dream vacation deal not so dreamy. Use these tips to plan the perfect getaway without going over budget.

Hidden air travel costs

Airlines are notorious for upcharges and other hidden fees. Before you know it, that bargain-price ticket you snagged could end up costing double what you originally budgeted. From a $5 charge to print your boarding pass to a $15 fee to book a flight over the phone, budget airlines are nickel-and-diming their customers.

Moving upmarket to carriers like Alaska, American, Delta, United and US Airways, will mean you’ll pay more upfront, but you’re less likely to get popped and oversold on the backend.

Here are the big hidden costs and how to avoid them:

1. Luggage

Flying with budget airlines like Spirit or Frontier sound like a great idea when they boast fares as low as $35. So what’s the catch? Luggage fees.

Some airlines will charge you for every type of bag. That means your briefcase or purse could set you back $50 per bag. Spirit charges up to $45 for a carry-on bag depending on if you pay in advance or at the airport.

Before booking your flight, carefully read the fine print and plan in advance the bags you’ll be traveling with. If you know you’ll need to check a bag or two, then it may be prudent to shell out a little bit more money for a higher priced ticket from an upper tier airline that extends free carry-ons to its passengers. Southwest, Delta and United, for example, allow passengers to fly with a free carry on without spending an extra dime.

2. Snacks

Traveling has the uncanny ability to make you work up an appetite. Once you’ve cleared security, airports are notorious for price gouging and if you’re not careful, you could blow your travel spending before take off.

Instead of overpaying for your treats, supplement with snacks from home. The TSA will confiscate your eye contact solution that exceeds the liquids rule, but solid food (with the exception of gel snacks) is fair game. You can also travel with an empty water bottle and fill it in a water fountain near your boarding gate.

3. Seats

It happens all of the time: you see a flight with a fantastic price and rush to check out. But once you select your perfect seat, the price suspiciously increased. Airlines are sneaky and looking to make a buck at the expense of passengers who desire a little extra legroom.

If that annoys you and your wallet, there’s not a direct way around it and you’ll have to compromise. Southwest gets plenty of love for its unique open-seating policy, free bags and attractive fares, but you’re likely to pay in another way. Early Bird Check-In allows passengers to skirt the general boarding line and jockey for a better position in the cabin and get that coveted overhead bin access. The premium perk comes with a price tag that starts at $15 one-way per passenger.

4. WiFi

If you plan on making the most of your trip and scoring some brownie points with your boss, you’ll likely need to tap into the in-flight WiFi. Be prepared to fork over your credit card to pay at least $7 in exchange for brutally slow connection speeds.

If you’re a regular business traveler or have a busy month of jet-setting coming up and can’t bare flying without WiFi, you can buy subscription plans starting at $49.95 for monthly access on domestic GoGo equipped flights through American, Alaska, Delta and Virgin American airlines.

Before you begrudgingly swipe your credit card in the name of distraction and entertainment, most major carriers allow passengers to stream content like TV shows, movies and music using their own laptops, tablets and smartphones for free. When onboard a Delta Airlines flight, check out Delta Studio through the Delta app and choose from up to 300 movies, 18 channels of live satellite TV on select flights, content from premium channels like HBO and Showtime, over 2,500 songs and games, including in-flight trivia.

5. Security checkpoints

If you want to breeze through the sluggish security line in half the time, services like TSA PreCheck, Global Entry and Clear can help. But being marked as a low-risk traveler comes at a cost and you can pay up to $100 to join these programs.

If you travel a lot, then expeditiously moving your way through security might be worth the expense. But for the more casual traveler, the wallet-friendly way is to simply suffer through and arrive early to get through the security line.

Known-traveler status can feel like a pricey lifelong commitment. TSA PreCheck is $85 and Global Entry costs $100 and each is valid for five years, but once you’ve snaked your way past the soul-crushing security line without taking off your shoes or belt, hopping back in the regular line will be a tough transition and you’ll likely find yourself re-upping your status.

Hidden hotel costs

Airlines aren’t the only ones guilty of upcharges and extra fees. Hotels do it all the time, too. According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association, guests were forced to pay an average of $27 a day in mandatory resort fees.

To give yourself extra peace of mind, pay with a credit card so you can dispute any mysterious charges that appear on your statement after you check out.

Here are some common charges to be aware of and how you can make sure to avoid them.

1. Resort fees

Some resorts — such as Starwood hotels — charge resort fees. These fees can add as much as $30 a day to your stay. Over the course of your trip, that can amount to hundreds added to your final bill. And don’t think it’s only something for beachfront hotels, resort fees are popping up at locations across the country. Even worse, they don’t usually cover much; in fact, some mean you get a free bottle of water and little else.

You can skip the resort fees by using sites like to book your stay. outlines all of the fees of the hotel clearly, so you know exactly what you’re getting into before you book. Staying at economy or mid-level hotel chains, like Holiday Inn, can also help you avoid those hidden fees since those types of hotels rarely charge premiums.

2. Room view premiums

If you have your heart set on Instagram-worthy vistas from your hotel window, be prepared to fork over some cash. Hotels often charge a premium for rooms on higher floors overlooking the pool or destination’s landscape.

If you’re a frequent traveler and regularly stay at a certain property chain, it’s worth signing up for hotel loyalty programs. If you do so, you may be able to qualify for a room upgrade — and a better view — at no additional charge.

3. WiFi

It’s hard to believe but some hotels still charge for WiFi, a necessity for most business travelers and even casual vacationers. It can easily cost $20 a day or more, stretching your budget past its breaking point. Some loyalty programs offer users free WiFI but not all. You can get around the charge by using your own internet hotspot instead or booking with a hotel that offers complimentary WiFi.

4. Parking fees

The convenience of parking your car in the hotel parking lot carries a heavy price tag as well. In major cities, parking can add as much as $80 a day to park your car and don’t forget about tipping your parking attendant.

Using Google Maps is one option to locate cheaper, nearby parking garages. If you won’t need your car every day, then find a cheap parking garage that’s further away and either walk back after dropping off your luggage or grab a ride back to the hotel.

Avoiding fees

Unfortunately, companies make up a lot of their profits through extra fees and premiums. If you’re not careful, you could end up paying far more than you thought on your next getaway. Avoiding going over budget is possible though if you do your homework ahead of time, utilize price comparison sites, and avoiding certain airlines and hotel chains altogether.

Hidden benefits

Don’t allow yourself to become too cynical when it comes to travel fees — instead of hidden costs, some companies offer hidden perks. You just have to know what to ask for.

When flying, for example, most airlines are happy to provide amenity kits, blankets, earplugs, or even a deck of playing cards to inquiring travelers. Flight attendants can also stand in for a quick babysitting interlude while a parent uses the restroom or tends to another child.

Many hotels offer a free list of ‘optional items’ to travelers that goes above and beyond towels, bathrobes or toiletries.