As if the lousy economy and security hassles weren’t enough, the travel industry keeps cooking up some new ways to squeeze a few more dollars out of you—or squeeze you into fewer inches.
Last year’s decline in tourism has inflicted a big hit on the economies of many destination areas. So what do those destinations do? At least some of them decide to add a tax on those tourists who do manage to make the trip.
Within the United States, the most notorious of those extra taxes is the $50 per person “head tax” on cruises that Alaska adopted a while ago. The big cruise lines quickly noted that, in a highly competitive marketplace, increasing the cost of cruising to Alaska by $100 per couple could be enough to reduce demand significantly. Although the weak economy plays a part, at least two big lines—Holland America and Princess—have announced cutbacks in Alaska sailings for 2010, and other lines may follow. Don’t be surprised if the combination of the tax and the cutbacks keeps Alaska cruise rates well above those for the Caribbean and Mexico.
Never underestimate the power of a bad idea. Tourism officials in the Caribbean are currently pushing a tourist tax of their own—tentatively $10 a head. And you can expect other areas to consider the same approach.
Plugging the loss of tourist dollars isn’t the only reason for piling on the fees. As I’ve noted before, in the name of the environment, the British have imposed an onerous passenger “duty” on departing air travelers. Current duties in economy class are £45 (about $73) on flights to the U.S. and Canadian East Coast and Midwest, £50 to the West Coast. Late this year those rates will increase to £60 and £75 respectively. Passengers in any premium cabin, including premium economy, pay double. Those fees apply to even travelers on “free” frequent flyer tickets. At least some of the proponents of this tax actually hope it will discourage air travel, overall. It will certainly discourage lots of us from visiting Britain.
So far, I know of no other country that has taken such draconian actions. But air travel is an inviting target for some folks so don’t be surprised to see more of the same this year.
Car rental companies are the industry’s undisputed champs in piling on extra fees and charges. Bob Bestor of the excellent travel newsletter Gemutlichkeit reports that at least two of the big European renters have abandoned the former policy of no-charge drop-off between any two cities in the same country. Instead, in Germany, Avis is charging €30 (about $42) to return a car at any rental station other than the one specified in the rental contract, and Hertz is charging €20 for any return not at the originating office—even between a downtown and airport rental location in the same city. Look for more of the same from other renters.
Stuffing more seats into each airplane—is Air France out of step or out in front? I noted previously that Air France is the only major Asian, European, or North American airline to stuff 10 tiny, tight seats into each row in the economy cabins of 777s (the usual standard is nine). Now Air France announces a new seat design for planes used on intra-European flights. Air France touts it as the lightest weight seat in its class; what it doesn’t emphasize is that it achieves that weight reduction by using fixed seatbacks—no reclining. Air France says the new seats offer more legroom, and they probably do. What the line hasn’t noted is who will benefit: travelers enjoying extra room, or the airline installing an additional row or two in the cabin. So far as I know, ultra-low-fare, and low-service Ryanair is the only other line with non-reclining seats, but a row or two of extra seats could look mighty enticing to any airline—if not to its customers. Don’t be surprised to see another round of seat squeezes this year.
What new fees have you encountered on your recent travels? Will new fees prevent you from traveling this year? Share your thoughts, experiences, and advice by submitting a comment below!