John Frigo thought he’d found the ideal vacation rental in Tampa, Florida. Instead, he faced a collection of travel fees.
For just $350, he thought he could enjoy three nights in a spacious condo with stunning views of the bay. But when Frigo tried to book the rental, the price suddenly doubled to roughly $700.
“There was a $150 cleaning fee, a service fee and several other junk fees,” says Frigo, who works for a health website in Bolingbrook, Illinois. “I contacted the host to confirm that was correct, and he gave me some roundabout answer about how there’s a lot that goes into a vacation rental.”
Make that a lot of money.
A few years ago, people like Frigo could go to their favorite vacation rental site and get a reasonably accurate price quote. No surprises. Today, vacation rental platforms like Airbnb offer hosts the ability to charge community fees; linen fees; management fees; and yes, the dreaded resort fees. And the fee craze has spread to every corner of the hospitality industry, from airlines to restaurants.
“Consumers are at a disadvantage,” says Ralph Colunga, a senior manager at SAP Concur, a travel and expense management system. “Unlike businesses, which have the leverage to negotiate away some of the nuisance fees, individual travelers have a lot less power. And they have limited alternatives.”
Some travel companies have dropped one or two fees: most notably many U.S. airlines that just dropped their change fees. But the major U.S. airlines only rescinded change fees on certain domestic tickets, likely to encourage more people to book more tickets. Fees for drinks, early boarding, luggage, pets, seat assignments, snacks and unaccompanied minors remain.
And as some travel fees go away, others have quietly been ramped them up during the pandemic. Make no mistake, travelers are awash in surcharges.
What travelers are doing about the travel fees
Here’s the problem: Travelers have been way too nice about these fees, especially this summer. Some decline to pay them, but they’re civil about it. Most obediently pay them and move on. But maybe as the pandemic drags on, it’s time to try something different.
Even Frigo reacted politely to the doubled vacation rental rate. “No, thank you,” he said. He clicked on a hotel booking site and found a room at the same condo for $200 less per night.
Others feel mad but powerless.
Victoria Staten, the president of a footwear company in Chicago, is furious about airline fees. “Carry-on baggage fees, checked bag fees, preassigned economy seats – there is no way to avoid any of these charges once they occur,” she says.
Her solution is to avoid the airlines that charge them. “That’s why I fly Southwest,” she says.
Others choose a different mode of transportation or accommodations to avoid the nuisance fees. Remember, the most popular way of getting to your destinations is still the car, by far. And to save money, many travelers stay with friends or family. No surcharges to worry about there.
“Why does the industry charge these fees?” asks Michael McCall, a professor at Michigan State University’s School of Hospitality Business. “Because it can.”
What travelers should be doing about the fees
So what should travelers do about these travel fees? Declining an offer without comment or quietly scurrying off to an airline that doesn’t charge as many fees is not going to change this situation.
Some of my free-market friends have suggested that the solution is to vote with your wallet. They’re half right. Walking away from the greediest travel companies is a good start, but we have to do more. Much more.
You could do what Lauren Wolfe did when she found a mandatory resort fee on her Florida hotel bill a few years ago. (Resort fees, which cover costs that should be included in the price of your accommodations, are often disclosed after you start making a reservation. That can increase the cost of your stay by 40% or more.) So Wolfe, an attorney from Washington, D.C., started an organization called Kill Resort Fees to fight the surcharges.
I’m not suggesting that you should be impolite to the ticket agent or hotel employee when you get socked by one of these fees.
But let the companies have it on social media, in the online reviews and tell all your friends. And then – since this is an election year – vote for a candidate who will put an end to these crazy fees.
What are the most onerous travel fees?
Hotel resort fees. These fees, added to your room rate after a hotel quotes you a lower rate, have added $3 billion a year to the hotel industry’s coffers. Congress is considering legislation that would effectively ban them.
Airline luggage fees. These surcharges can add anywhere from $30 to $200 to the cost of each leg. Airlines collected $5.8 billion in luggage fees in 2019. But airlines like Southwest include the cost of bags in your fare, which is the right thing. I mean, who flies without luggage?
Mandatory cruise tips. These cruise fees, quietly added to your cruise folio, increase the cost of your cruise by about 10%. You can often remove them, but you have to do it before your cruise ends – otherwise, they stick.
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate. Contact him at [email protected]liott.org or visit elliott.org. His latest book is “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler.”
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