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Updated Monday, November 5, 2012 at 01:14 PM

Fighting those sneaky traveling fees

By Stephanie Rosenbloom
The New York Times

Fee to hold your airline reservation for a few days: $20. Peak air-travel surcharge: $47. Rental-car GPS: $13 a day. Beach chaise lounge: $20 a day. Resort fee: $25 a day.

Your carefully planned vacation budget? Out the window.

We have all learned by now that the travel industry loves a surcharge, and most of us have adapted accordingly. On planes we bring our own headphones, snacks, pillow, blanket. At hotels we know not to drink the pricey bottled water in the room. Fine. But as I peruse some of my latest bills, the à la carte add-ons do not feel like small pleasures; they feel like things that ought to be included in the basic price. More to the point: They feel like sneaky ways to pluck a few more dollars from my pocket.

In the last few months I've unwittingly paid for newspapers plopped outside my Starwood hotel-room door (review your bill before you check out) and rental-car fees with vague, perplexing names like "airport concession recovery" and "facility charge." And I have been taken aback by fees for hotel beach chairs, umbrellas and parking. These were on top of fees I knowingly paid for preferred seating on planes, in-flight Internet, changing tickets and simply printing boarding passes.

The growing list of add-on fees would be comical were they not at our expense. There are now charges for reservations, cancellations, boarding early, departing early, holding bags, checking bags, and using the gym, the business center and the safe in your room. And thanks to the latest high-tech minibars, you cannot even touch an Almond Joy to read the calorie count without a charge on your bill (along with a "restocking" fee).

Some fees are mandatory; and you must learn to factor them into your vacation budget. Others are optional.

And then there are the charges that you're welcome to opt out of — if you can figure out that you've been billed for them in the first place.

A record $1.85 billion in fees and surcharges was collected last year for hotels alone (up from $1.2 billion in 2000), according to Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of the Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University. He expects that figure to climb to $1.95 billion in 2012.

Airlines, meanwhile, collected more than $3.3 billion in baggage fees and more than $2.3 billion in reservation cancellation and change fees last year, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Rental-car companies and cruise ships also take a share, with extra charges for child seats and navigation systems, as well as certain onboard snacks, activities and excursions.

Avoiding fees

To avoid being surprised by fees, read the fine print when making reservations, especially when using online travel companies like Hotwire and Travelocity. Renting a car? Find out if your hotel charges for parking, which can add another $25 or so a day. While some fees are optional, they might be for things you want. Here's how to get them for less.

Overweight or checked bags: Wear your necessities. Seriously: Scottevest's Transformer Jacket ($160) has 20 pockets designed to accommodate your water bottle, iPad, camera. There are even pockets through which you can control your iPhone. Or buy what you need (sunscreen, umbrella, sweatshirt) at your destination.

Changing an airline ticket: New U.S. Transportation Department regulations enable passengers to cancel a reservation without penalty for up to 24 hours after it is made as long as the reservation is made at least a week before the flight's departure date. And remember: sometimes it's cheaper to buy a new ticket than to change one.

Rental-car child seat, navigation system: If you're renting a car, bring your own car seat, which airlines often gate-check free. Use an iPhone or an app for navigation.

Airport rental-car "concession recovery fee": If the fee is more than a shuttle or taxi ride to another rental location, rent the car at a nonairport location.

Hotel Internet access: Hotels that charge for Wi-Fi in the rooms sometimes provide it free in public spaces. Take your work to the lobby or pool, even a nearby coffee shop.


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