Junk fees and other obstacles of the road

Anna Lurye/Shutterstock
Anna Lurye/Shutterstock
At the intersection of Highway 20 and Highway 101 in Willits, Calif., you’ll find three service stations. But look closely before you pump gas, otherwise you could pay a lot more than you expect.

What follows is a cautionary tale about junk fees, from an industry that journalists like me tend to ignore, unless it’s spilling hundreds of millions of gallons of unprocessed petroleum into the Gulf of Mexico.

But the cost of a product, both perceived and real, are very much in the news today, with a key part of the Affordable Care Act scheduled to kick in Oct. 1. Fees are a hot topic in my neck of the woods, with some industry apologists spinning the absurd argument that junk fees such as the ones I ran into are good for consumers, because it gives them choices.
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Sick restaurant surcharges you shouldn’t have to pay — or should you?

Ilolab/Shutterstock
Ilolab/Shutterstock
Ward Chartier almost choked on his breakfast croissant he ordered at Oakland International Airport recently.

The reason for his consternation: an item on the bill that he thought he recognized, but hoped he didn’t.

It said, “EmpBen_Srchg” and it came to 12 cents, or about 2 percent of his bill.

“I interpret this to be employee benefit surcharge,” says Chartier, a consultant who lives in San Ramon, Calif. He asked me if I knew anything about the mysterious fee.

I didn’t, so I asked Oakland Airport.
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Guests who want it all and the hotels that pander to them

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.”
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Charged an extra $400 for a vacation I can’t take

Yoga mats, reinterpreted. / Photo by christianyves – Flickr Creative Commons
Question: I recently booked a retreat to Costa Rica through a yoga studio in New York. Just before I was supposed to leave, I was admitted to the emergency room and had to cancel my trip.
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The mystery of Oyster Bay’s energy fee deepens

You wouldn't believe our utility bills! / Photo by Candi Berger - Flickr
Last month, I reported on the possible re-emergence of energy fees in the hotel industry. Today, I have some good news for you — and an update from the hotel that allegedly charged the fee to one guest.
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