Here are three ways you could get broadsided with unexpected fees on your next hotel visit. Know them before you go.
What if they had to give it all back?
Imagine if someone forced airlines, hotels and car rental companies to return every penny they took from you under questionable circumstances. The checked-bag fee, often poorly disclosed. The resort fee billed to your room, whether you used the “free” wireless and unlimited local phone calls or not. The license recovery fees that pay for your rental car’s plates — as if that were optional.
These extras, which most travelers call junk fees, aren’t just expensive annoyances. Vast sectors of the travel industry have made them a cornerstone of their business operations, with airlines leading the way down this ethically troublesome path.
It’s a practice the industry delicately calls “unbundling,” or removing often essential components of a product from the base price to make it look deceptively cheaper.
No two ways about it: The travel industry loves fees. Airlines in particular.
A few days ago, Canada’s Porter Airlines slapped a new $25 checked-baggage fee on all flights between the USA and Canada. The carrier, which promises to bring “dignity and refinement back to flying,” said it needed the extra money to stay “competitive.” And of course the US Department of Justice cited the rise of airline fees as a reason it sued to block the planned merger of American Airlines and US Airways.
Porter has a long way to go before its passengers storm away from the ticket counter in disgust. Other travel companies are light years ahead of the airline, whether it’s hotels that charge mandatory “resort” fees on top of their room rates, airlines that make you pay for your carry-on bag or car rental companies that add nuisance “tire disposal” fees to your bill.
Here’s a troubling event witnessed by Stavros Katsas on a recent Spirit Airlines flight — a scene rendered even more disturbing in light of last weekend’s deadly crash-landing of a passenger jet in San Francisco. He was seated near an emergency exit row and saw an elderly passenger take a seat in that row.
The Federal Aviation Administration requires emergency exit rows to have a minimum amount of space between them in order to facilitate a quick evacuation of an aircraft. For the government, it means a safer plane. For passengers, it translates into more legroom.
But to an airline like Spirit, it’s yet another opportunity to charge passengers extra. Which it does. Katsas estimates that the slow-moving woman paid at least $50 to sit in a “premium” seat.
It isn’t shaping up to be a good summer for air travelers who are trying to stick to a budget. And let’s be honest: Who isn’t watching their bottom line?
A few weeks before the traditional start of the busy travel season, United Airlines quietly raised its change fees on most discount fares from $150 to $200, rendering many of its tickets all but unchangeable.
American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and US Airways quickly followed.
Not to be outdone, Frontier Airlines announced that for tickets booked anywhere except on its Web site, it would raise its luggage charges and impose a fee of up to $100 for certain carry-on bags, the third U.S. carrier to do this. Most economy-class passengers will also have to pay $1.99 for coffee, tea, soda and juice.
From time to time, I get an email from one of you that makes me want to say, “That’s ridiculous!”
The one I received from a guest at a budget motel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was one of them. Problem is, I can’t figure out who is being more ridiculous — the hotel or the guest.
As this column makes its curtain call, I’ve critiqued air travelers, car renters and cruise passengers. But this week it’s time to talk about hotel guests.
Specifically, the person booking the room at the bargain hotel in South Florida. In addition to expecting all the creature comforts of an American hotel, and getting the benefit of a super-low rate, they were upset when they found a $4.50 per night “hotel shuttle/parking service fee.”
Ever since airlines added new economy-class seat reservation fees, they’ve insisted that the new charges would not lead to families with young kids being separated.
And I believed it — until I heard from Vicki Wallace.
Wallace was flying from Philadelphia to San Diego on US Airways recently, when the fees led to her being separated from her five-year-old twins, she says.