Don’t let travel fees bust your vacation budget

Americans love to travel. In fact, according to the US Travel Association, Americans are expected to take 322 million domestic leisure person-trips this summer. And when you add up the airfare, hotel rooms, car rental, and meals, traveling can get expensive. As usual, the best way to keep the costs down is to plan ahead and make informed decisions—this includes watching out for lesser known fees. Following is a list of some budget busting fees and ideas on how to avoid them. Air Travel The price of your ticket is only one of the costs to consider when budgeting for air travel. A little careful planning can help you avoid most of the extra fees involved with flying.

Booking fees- If you book a ticket by phone or in person, you’ll pay for the pleasure of talking to a human. If possible, book online to avoid these charges.

Checked bag fee- This is the fee airlines charge to check your luggage. Generally, the fee goes up for 2nd checked bags. Forget about taking that third bag—the charge is usually around $50.

Overweight bag fee- Pack light. If your luggage weighs more than 50 pounds, you’ll likely have to pay an overweight baggage fee.

Pet-in-cabin fee- The pleasure of traveling with your pet cost you—usually in the neighborhood of $100 one way. If your trip is a short one, compare the cost of pet travel with the cost of hiring a pet sitter.

Ticket change fee- If your plans change, so does your cost of travel. Sometimes, you want to leave early or stay late; however, you’ll save money by sticking to your schedule.

Unaccompanied minor fee- There is a fee to send your children on a trip without you. Check with your airline about their specific policies. This fee may be optional for children over the age of 12.

Overnight stays Of course you know never to touch the items in the mini bar, but you’d be surprised at how quickly other fees can add up. Fees vary a lot, so be sure to read the fine print and negotiate when appropriate. Here are a few things to watch out for.

Cancellation fee- If you want to leave early, or don’t want to go at all, you might end up paying for the room you aren’t using. Good prior planning is the best defense against this fee.

Energy fee- Often called an “energy surcharge,” this fee is not based on your energy use but is intended to help the hotel cover the cost of higher energy costs. There is no real way to avoid this fee, but some experts suggest that you can talk your way out of it.

Package fee- Mailing a package from or to your hotel will likely cost you a few dollars in fees. If you must mail a package while on a trip, it might pay to check if there is a post office around the corner.

Parking fees- Taking a car on your trip can be costly in terms of parking. In general, the closer you park, the higher the fee. Watch out for mandatory valet fees that can quickly bust your vacation budget.  Also, read street signs carefully to avoid a ticket.

Resort fees- On top of your room rate, this is the amount you are charged for being able to access the hotel’s amenities like the pool (you’ll pay even more if you want to use the spa!) Be sure to ask about the potential for fees when booking your room.

Telephone and Internet use fees- If you have a cell phone you might want to use it. Local calls can cost as much as $1.50 on the hotel phone. If you must get online, make sure you know how charges are applied (day/hour).

Rental vehicles In addition to the standard fee for adding insurance to your rental car agreement (check with your insurance carrier to see if this is necessary), there are a lot of other fees to

Concession recovery fees- This is just one of the many fees you might be charged when renting a car at the airport. It might be worth the trouble to rent a car at an off-airport location.

Driver fees- You have to let the rental car company know if more than one person is going to drive the car. Some companies will charge fees for additional drivers while others won’t, so call or click around to compare terms.

Drop off fees- If you return your car at a different spot from where you rented it, you will be charged a fee. This fee is easy to avoid if you are flying in and out of the same location.

Fees for “extras”- If you want to use the rental company’s GPS or car seat, you’ll have to pay for them. Instead of renting a GPS, ask for a free map or use your computer’s navigation system. Bringing your own car seat might be a hassle, but it could save you some money (and possibly be safer).

Fuel fee- If you return the car the gas tank less than full, you will be charged a fee for the fill up. To avoid this fee, schedule enough time to stop at the gas station on the way to the rental facility.

Accessing your money In addition to all of the costs associated with getting to your destination, you will likely need money while there. Here are a few fees associated with money management away from home.

ATM fees- The best way to reduce the fees associated with accessing your cash is to use ATMs sparingly. Fees and surcharges for using an ATM card add up quickly. In some areas, surcharges are as high as $3.

Late fees- Paying bills is easy to forget when traveling. To make sure you don’t incur late fees, pay bills early or set up automatic payments.

NSF fees- If you lose track of your bank account balance, you might accidently write a bad check and end up with “non-sufficient funds" fee. To avoid this from happening, keep track of your spending. You might also be able to set it up so your bank alerts you when your balance is running low.

Over the limit fees- It’s easy to lose track of your spending while on the road, but going over your credit card limit can be costly. Checking your statements ahead of time can help you avoid surprise charges when you return home.

Transaction fees- If you want to purchase something outside of the U.S., you might be charged a transaction fee by your credit card issuer. The fee is usually a percentage of the amount charged. Research your cards’ policies before you leave the country to determine which to use.

While there are a lot of fees to watch out for, it’s not all bad news. According to USA Today, several major online travel agencies are permanently waiving the $7 to $12 fees they charge to book an airline ticket.

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.

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