Travel Season Approaches and Here’s How to Avoid Airline and Hotel Fees

There’s a subject that annoys me to the core more than almost any other, especially when it’s wrapped around planning a fun, long-awaited event like a summer vacation! I’m also willing to bet it’s a major source of frustration for you as well. I’m talking about those annoying fees you find these days everywhere, now even more than ever before. Hotel fees, airline fees, and more! They’re so crazy, fees on just about everything. Businesses are busy thinking up new and even more annoying ways to grab our money even now as I write this post.

Hotel room representing airline and hotel fees

You are hearing all about inflation and the rising costs of everything. But you would think that when it comes to the travel industry, these vendors would be so happy to see a traveler planning a real vacation that they would at the very least try to exercise some control over the prices. I know that would attract me, how about you? So it’s up to us to try to figure out the best ways to save, because you won’t get much help from “Mr. Businessman” in the summer of ’22!

What Fees Are They Trying to Stick Us With?

Ordinarily, I don’t condemn anyone or any business from making money when they are providing a valuable product or service. But when it’s a blatant predatory move and often obscure charge or fee, I do draw the line. And so should you. By becoming aware of these annoying charges before they’re part of your bill, you’re taking the first step in defending your money.

One defense is almost embarrassingly simple: It’s reading the fine print in advance so that you know what you’re up against! It should be common sense, but it so often isn’t. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” So forgive me if you get tired of me saying it as I offer a list of the most annoying travel fees and what if anything you can do to help eliminate or at least reduce them. It will give you just a little satisfaction that you’re not being ripped off!

In order to plan your vacay in 2022, you will probably be looking at hotel and air travel, so let’s dissect what you can do to avoid these totally annoying fees!

Hotel Fees

Let’s start with the big hotel cancellation fee

I always try to make my hotel reservations way in advance. I’m pretty good at checking travel sites to find a good hotel at a good rate even in a tough environment these days. I often use the many discounts I know about and qualify for like AARP or any of several credit card programs I can benefit from. But every once in a while, I’m forced to cancel a trip or change a date on my plans. That’s when that feeling of rage comes into play!

Hotels will hit you up with cancellation fees of up to a night’s stay if you have a change of plans. That could be well more than $100 in today’s market where hotel prices seem to be at record rates already. To add insult to injury, if you are arriving early or late, a fee of half a night’s stay can be added as well. The final insult may occur on your departure day when they’ll charge you fees for late checkout even though you may have to wait for a flight until the late afternoon or evening.

The best way to beat this system—or at least stave off defeat—is to check out rates that guarantee full refunds and early or late arrivals and a late checkout. You can get them sometimes by just paying a few extra dollars when reserving with a “guaranteed refund rate”. If you have a loyalty card with the hotel chain (which is usually free) most of these fees are even waived, but always read the fine print before you reserve and ask lots of questions at check-in to confirm what you may face on your bill later.

There are lots of other hotel fees

Ask for a list of fees when you check-in, and keep a look out for “daily resort charges” and “resort charge” in ads and promotions. A reputable resort will reveal the fee on your final confirmation so if you don’t like what you see, then cancel.

Make sure you check out packages, many of which include fee waivers for things like wi-fi and parking. Some hotels will waive fees if you tell them at check-in that you won’t be using the items such as wi-fi, the gym, or the pool which all are covered under fees.

One real warning here is to avoid the room minibar. Some hotels charge you just for picking up and replacing an item from the minibar. A $25 fee is not unheard of for using your hotel room’s refrigerator just to store snacks you’ve purchased elsewhere.

Want a chilled beverage or snack? Fill your room’s ice bucket with ice from down the hall and keep your goodies in it.

If for some reason you get a surprise on your final bill, make sure you ask for a fee reversal or waiver. Like everything, if you bring it up and they actually care if you ever will return there, it can be negotiated.

Avoiding those mandatory “resort fees”

Special fees like the dreaded “resort fee” or “concierge fee” can add up to $25 a day in extra cost to any hotel stay. I wouldn’t be surprised if there will be a pillow and blanket fee one day as a part of your bill!

One of the easiest ways to avoid resort fees is by booking an award stay. That’s just another reason to have a credit card with rewards and even better if it’s one the hotel itself endorses. Using credit in this way makes total sense as long as you don’t abuse it. Many hotels will waive the resort fees on stays booked with points.

Check online to see the “inclusions” and “extra cost” items before you reserve. Look for other places that may include all the extras with no charges at all. In the case of wi-fi charges, you can use the public areas of the building or the corner coffee shop next door which are usually free.

Airline Fees

Airline fees are tremendous. According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation, the airline industry earned $2.1 billion in the first six months of 2021 from baggage fees alone. But it may be possible to avoid these airline fees using some of the tips below.

If I could drive to my destination conveniently, I would never fly. It’s not because of fear of air travel, but because of the frightening airline fees that have gotten way out of hand! There are now seat selection fees, carry on fees, ticket printing fees, and a laundry list of government fees. It’s gotten so bad that from the NY/NJ area, there are no $79 low fares to Florida any longer and that trip winds up being $179 on the bottom line. And that’s one way! You know I’m not kidding. Maybe you’d like to learn to fly yourself to save money?

Discount airlines in particular have figured out how to get your attention with low fares, and then zonking it to you when you travel. No free food, $6 for a movie, and all those extras like a “comfortable seats” (a.k.a. extra legroom) fee or some such junk like that.

You can avoid some fees altogether by using an airline-branded credit card. Airlines don’t charge for one small personal item like a purse or briefcase. But go too big and take up bin space on low-cost carriers, like Spirit and Frontier (who plan to merge), and you’ll pay a carry-on fee of $15 to $100, depending on the flight. Be prepared to pay extra for these fees: checked bags, flight seat selection, change/cancellation, and even carry-on luggage.

Avoiding the checked baggage fees

Checked baggage fees keep going up. How can you avoid checked bag fees?

Check into airline credit cards. Many include the first checked bag for free for you. Sometimes they even include one for your travel companions as well. Airline elite status may also include free checked bags, as can some ticket types (mostly premium classes). Finally, you can fly Southwest Airlines, which gives passengers two free checked bags on every flight.

The flight change and cancellation fees

If you need to change or cancel a flight, airlines typically charge you a fee to adjust your ticket. For some flights, the fees can be more than the price of your ticket! In those cases, it may not be worth it to cancel your flight at all because all that you’ll receive is a travel credit worth less than what you paid in fees.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many major U.S. airlines eliminated change or cancellation fees for tickets purchased both with cash and rewards. Take advantage of these relaxed rules while you can by searching for deals on a future trip and booking now, knowing you can get a travel credit (not your money back) with no fees if you change your mind.

As with other fees, if you’re a top-tier elite member of certain airline loyalty programs, like American Airlines AAdvantage, you can make changes without any fees.

One fast rule to live by is this: Ticket flexibility often extends to non-basic economy tickets. So when you’re shopping for flights, only book the lowest tier fare when you’re 100% confident in your travel plans.

The seat selection fees

Some airlines charge a fee if you want to choose your seat ahead of your flight. This can make it more difficult to sit next to your travel companions or to choose an exit row or other seat with more legroom.

Avoid these fees by not paying for seat selection at all. Airlines sometimes make it seem like you must choose a seat and pay the fee, but that’s not true. You may risk being placed toward the back of the plane or in a middle seat, but you will save money on the fee.

Earning elite status or booking a premium fare may help you avoid seat selection fees. Some airline loyalty programs put you toward the front of the line for first choice when you earn higher status. And when you book a premium fare, you generally get your choice of available seats at booking.

The carry-on baggage fees

Many experienced travelers stick to carry-on bags only. This way they avoid checked bag fees, eliminate the wait at baggage claim, and prevent their bags from being delayed or lost. But some ticket classes on airlines now charge travelers even for bringing a bag onto the plane. If you want to use the overhead bins, you may have to pay extra. Most airlines still allow a personal item, such as a purse, briefcase, or backpack, that can fit under the seat.

How can you avoid carry-on bag fees? You can avoid purchasing the ticket types that charge these fees. Check the next class of tickets to see if they allow a carry-on. If not, prepay for your carry-on bag if possible. It is almost always cheaper doing it that way rather than the day of your flight.

Finally, you could choose to pack lightly enough so that everything fits into your personal item that stows under the seat in front of you.

Some travel cards erase some airline fees

Some credit cards come with travel credits you can use to offset airline fees. This means if you use that specific card to cover the cost of extraneous fees, you might be entitled to a credit. Check the offers online so you can get the best one for your specific travel needs.

Final Thoughts

Annoying airline and hotel fees seem to be a fact of life, but many of them are avoidable. Sometimes it takes a little preparation, other times it takes some negotiation. But whichever it is, make the effort so these fees don’t pile up and bury you.

When I vacation I want to think pleasant thoughts and not about how I am getting screwed every time I try to enjoy myself. There’s only one way to ensure that and it’s like the Boy scouts say: Be prepared!

Are you making travel plans right now? What strategies help you to avoid hotel fees and airlines fees?

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