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The 12 Most-Hated Travel Fees and How to Avoid Them

SmarterTravel

There are probably plenty of travel fees you hate, so seeing those lists rounding up the worst ones contain few surprises—but seeing them ranked from worst to least might incur some debate.

On top of the varying degrees, though, there’s a big difference between fees you can’t dodge at all, fees that are hard to dodge, and fees you can avoid if you know how.

The Most-Hated Travel Fees and How to Avoid Them

These are the 12 most-hated travel fees according to a nationwide survey from MileCards.com, listed from the most to least hated. I’ve also included whether or not you can avoid them.

1. The Hotel Wi-Fi Fee: Avoidable

You no longer have to pay for Wi-Fi, at least most of the time. Typically, with hotels in some big groups, including Hilton, Marriott, and Starwood, all you have to do is join the chain’s loyalty program at no charge and book through its website, where you might also get a slightly better rate.

Many big chains also now offer free Wi-Fi regardless of how you book or if you’re a member. And very few small independent hotels add a hotel fee for Wi-Fi anymore. The main problem is that the free Wi-Fi at some hotels is very slow. It may choke on video downloads, but it’s okay for email and web browsing.

2. Checked Bag Fees: Partially Avoidable

In theory you don’t have to check a bag to fly somewhere—but in practice, if you’re going on a two-week vacation, you probably need to check a bag. The primary way to avoid this charge is to fly Southwest, which still gives you two free checked bags on any fare class.

If Southwest doesn’t work for your trip and you’re not flying internationally with a bag included, you may be able to avoid fees on at least one airline by using that line’s co-branded credit card, which usually has an annual fee. Some high-premium credit cards can refund baggage-check fees on an airline you choose. But other than flying Southwest, avoiding the checked baggage charge domestically is likely to cost you some money.

3. Data Roaming Charges: Partially Avoidable

The most useful avoidance option for cellular data is to use Wi-Fi rather than a phone network. Entering Wi-Fi passwords everywhere you stop is annoying, but it beats paying excessive charges. (For security purposes, consider using a VPN when browsing on public Wi-Fi. For more information, see 11 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft While Traveling.) If you truly need data though, you might be out of luck unless your plan includes some international roaming allowance.

4. ATM Fees: Partially Avoidable

The easiest avoidance strategy for ATM fees is to have a checking account, just for travel, with a bank or other financial institution that will absorb those fees or reimburse you. There are a lot of them now, and they’re usually credit unions and online banks: I maintain a no-fee checking account at a credit union for just that purpose, and it works well.

5. Advance Seat Selection Fees: Partially Avoidable

Despite some denials, airlines implicitly realize that all seats in any given cabin are not equal—as evidenced by seat-selection travel fees. Middle seats in coach are the most glaring example, but you’ll find some cases even in business class. If you’re traveling solo, you can expect that if you don’t pay, your chances of winding up in a middle seat are high. You can, however, try to stick to airlines that allow free seat selection (as long as you don’t book basic economy).

The real problem with seat-selection fees is for families who have to pay per family member if they want to travel together. This is such a major pain point that current legislative proposals requiring airlines to assign seats together for families at no extra charge actually have some chance of passing.

6. Hotel Resort Fees: Unavoidable

The universally hated “resort” fee, or other mandatory fees hotels routinely exclude from their posted prices, are not just an annoyance—they’re an out-and-out deception. If you have to pay it, it’s part of the price, and the Federal Trade Commission is utterly failing in its public duty to outlaw mandatory fees.

7. Phone Reservation Fees: Mostly Avoidable

Obviously, on most airlines, booking online entails no fee. But if for some reason you have to talk with a real person to book your flight, however, you pay them.

8. Ticket Change Fees: Mostly Unavoidable

Originally, change and cancellation fees on the big airlines were reasonable, but they’ve grown to become a major pain point for travelers. When you have to cancel a trip because of some serious family event, airline charges virtually confiscate your tickets. And this amounts to vicious “piling on” for already stressed-out travelers on the part of airlines. Several legislators have proposed bills to remedy this situation, but so far there has been no action.

9. Travel Fees for Extra Legroom: Unavoidable

Granted, today’s ultra-tight seats make flying miserable for tall and broad travelers. But at least almost all U.S. airlines offer extra-legroom seats for fees that are not outrageous. And industry lore holds that extra-tall travelers can sometimes sweet-talk agents into assigning them in extra-legroom seats without paying.

10. Foreign Transaction Card Fees: Largely Avoidable

Although fewer than half of all credit cards offer this feature, almost all cards that target travelers now boast “no fees” on foreign transactions. In some cases that means no fee at all; in others, it means the bank charges only the one percent or so fee that the international networks charge for making the actual exchange—which most people will hardly notice. If you don’t have one of those travel cards, switch to one.

11. Rental Car Insurance: Mostly Avoidable

Rental car companies charge around $30 a day, and often more, for collision damage and loss waiver (CDW) to cover damage to the rental car while in your possession. It’s common knowledge that these charges are far higher than justified by the actual dollar risk—and can be much more than the daily rate of the car itself.

As an alternative to CDW, many credit cards, including most cards that target travelers, provide secondary collision coverage at no extra cost. In the U.S., that means you first have to make a claim through your regular auto insurance, and the credit card company picks up the difference. If you don’t want to risk a big claim on your own insurance, some premium credit cards offer primary coverage—or you can buy third-party primary coverage from several sources for as little as $8 a day.

12. Rental Car Refueling Charge: Avoidable

Don’t let rental car companies charge you double on gas for a deficit in fuel upon returning a car. Just take the car fully fueled and return it full. Yes, that means an extra stop on your way to your departure airport, but it beats paying double or even triple for the company to do the refueling.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

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