There’s a subject that annoys me to the core, and I’m 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 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.
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 you 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 those most annoying fees and what if anything you can do to help eliminate and/or at least reduce them. It will give you just a little satisfaction that you’re not being ripped off!
Here’s just a few of those annoying fees and ways to avoid them:
- Hotel Cancellation Fees
- Mandatory Resort Fees
- Airline Fees
- Auto Rental Fees
- Credit Card Fees
- Bank and ATM Fees
- Internet, Cable, and Phone Fees
- Third Party Event Fees
Hotel Cancellation Fees
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. 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! To add insult to injury, if you are arriving early or late, a fee of ½ night can be added. The final insult may occur on your departure day when they’ll charge you fees for late checkout even when 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 waived. Always read the fine print before you reserve and ask questions at check-in to confirm what you may face on your bill later. Ask for a fee reversal or waiver. It can be negotiated.
Mandatory Resort Fees
Concierge fees, wi-fi fees, fitness center fees, pool fees, and even more can add up to $25 a day in extra cost to any hotel stay. I wouldn’t be surprised if there will be pillow and blanket fees one day as a part of your bill!
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, avoid the in-room charges and try to use the wi-fi in the public areas of the building or at the corner coffee shop next door which are usually free.
Ugly Airline Fees
If I could drive there conveniently, I would never fly. Not because of fear of the air travel, but because of the frightening airline fees that have gotten out of hand! There are now seat selection fees, carry on fees, ticket printing fees, a laundry list of government fees, so much so that that $79 low low fare to Florida winds up being $179 on the bottom line. And that’s one way! You know I’m not kidding.
Discount airlines in particular have figured out how to get your attention, and then zonking it to you when you travel. No free food, $6 for a movie, and all those extras like a “comfortable seat” (aka extra legroom) fee or some such junk.
There are still a few companies that are offering deals that resemble what used to happen in air travel so do your research before you book. Southwest Airlines is one that allows 2 free bags. When printing your tickets, do so at home and never at the airport kiosks. Get a frequent flyer travel card which allows a few perks, a lounge in some airports, and will avoid some of the fees that non-members must face. You may not be able to avoid all of the fees (especially the government mandated ones) but you can avoid some as well as rack up miles towards a free flight or a reduced airfare down the line!
The Auto Rental Game
Car rental costs seem to be sky rocketing over the past several years. One cost that is through the roof is the insurance you are asked to pay for a car rental. I never pay the up to $35/day fees that make my $9.99 bargain car cost me $40+/day not inluding taxes, other fees, and gasoline. Please don’t return the car empty or you’ll pay the refueling fee and gasoline cost as well!
Use your credit card to rent and you can avoid the insurance costs when your personal card and insurance policy covers it. Check to make sure it does just that.
Then quicksand may still await you if you’re a person who needs extras like GPS, child car seats, toll devices and/or luxury cars. I always rent a cheaper, smaller car since they’re in high demand and frequently unavailable. Therefore they tend to be upgraded for free if you have to wait more than 20 minutes at most counters. You can also try renting at off-airport sites which will offer less expensive rentals and similar models as airports do. Always pick up and drop off at the same location to avoid that fee. They can even pick you up and will get you back from your hotel to your airport location as well. Make a note and use your smartphone to photograph the before and after condition of your car rental to avoid any surprises about damage charges when you return it.
Lastly, look for coupons online for discounts on almost every company’s fleet and that can save big bucks on the rental.
Credit Card Fees
There are alot of trouble spots with the use of credit cards, and fees are just one of the ways you can suffer with them. First of all, the interest rates on using credit can be outrageous, up to 30% on some cards, making them a place to tread lightly unless you use them very carefully or have no choices whatsoever.
But more than that, the cards themselves can charge annual fees of up to $100 ore more just for the privilege of having them. I don’t and won’t pay any fee for having a card. You can switch on most cards from a fee paying account to a non-fee account without a change in your credit line and/or history and your credit rating score is maintained. That’s important if you’ve been responsible since you opened the account. If that doesn’t work for you, you could just replace the card with another but you lose the one you’re replacing which may not be good for your credit worthiness. You should check it out so you know if you need to improve your personal credit. It’s free to check your credit report and scores at Credit Karma and other sites.
Credit card foreign transaction fees annoy the heck out me. The charges are up to 3% of each transaction and can be avoided by using local currency which you can buy before you travel or seek out credit cards that have no foreign fees at all.
Interest rates on your card can be renegotiated, especially if you’ve been a loyal customer. Check online for competitive rates and call up your card company and ask them to match it. It almost always works!
And lastly, there’s an easy way to avoid the always annoying late fee…pay on time! If it’s a one time slip-up and you’re a good customer, call customer service and ask them to waive the fee.
Bank and ATM Fees
Here we go again, you pay a fee from your own bank and another from the company that the machine belongs to every time you claim your very own money! Unless the only machine in town belongs to “Bank of Mars”, you can use your smartphone to locate a nearby bank ATM of your bank and save the cost of the withdrawal. Those fees hurt even more when you are withdrawing a small amount of money because they’re not prorated. Ugh! If you’re desperate, you can even go to the supermarket, purchase a pack of gum and get cash back for no fee (other than the cost of the gum you didn’t want in the first place).
Have you heard about “inactivity fees” your bank may charge you? That’s right. If you have a savings account or any account that isn’t used regularly (6 months without activity is considered dormant), you could be charged up to $10/month for not using it. The way to beat it is either close and consolidate your accounts or even better, just link it to another account and move as little as $1 every month into it. That activity alone will prevent it from falling into the penalty zone.
Internet, Cable, and Phone Fees
You know them already, don’t you? There are the installation fees, the early termination fees, the data usage fees, the upgrade fees, the fees for HD, rental of equipment like DVRs and cable modems, and the list goes on and on. All in all, it adds up to hundreds of potential dollars it can cost you! For one, ask that some fees be waived. If you are a new subscriber and they really, really want your business, why are you paying a fee to have your cable installed? If they want you to switch providers like they ask you a zillion times a week in their ads, why should you pay the early termination fee from your current provider? Shouldn’t your new provider cover that cost?
You can avoid some fees by simply getting services without any contract at all. The monthly cost may be a bit higher, but then you have the flexibility to switch at any time without a penalty. You can avoid other fees by buying your own equipment instead of “renting” it, like your cable modem. In fact, you can avoid all of this by simply cutting the cable all together as many are doing and that threat alone may give you leverage and/or savings if you actually go forward with that plan!
When it comes to things like data usage and minute plans, make sure you have the right one. If you’re a heavy user, switch to an unlimited plan and save on the extra costs every month that may be burying you. The same goes for wasted usage by having just too much of it for your use. Be smart about your smartphone usage. If you see something happening after a couple months, change the plan.
Oh Those Third Party Event Fees!
Movies, concerts, sports events…all of them seem to have a fee attached when you purchase tickets online. The “convenience fee” is so annoying and not very convenient at all! Yes, it does save you the trip to the venue’s box office and it does give you a chance to buy the tickets before a sellout occurs, but come on, a fee to mail them to you too? A fee to print them at home? Ridiculous! If you do buy them online, have them held at the box office for pick up the day of usage. There’s still no fee for doing that and if you can go to the box office to buy then you’ll save even more.
You have to pay a parking fee at almost every venue now. I wonder if they think that we might walk to the ballpark or beam ourselves there like on Star Trek? Try to carpool whenever possible to avoid multiple car expenses when attending these events. Public transportation, if possible, may be an even better alternative.
For me, attending events in New York City or Philadelphia can be impossibly expensive these days. Tolls for bridges and tunnels alone are now about $17 as well as the toll roads to get to things like City Field or Citizen Park for a concert or ball game. There’s also gasoline and the rest. A trip can cost well over $40 without even including the tickets and fees associated with the event! Somehow in my old age and frugal life, I’d prefer to just watch it on TV or listen to a music DVD (which of course I’d get from the library!). Or consider streaming it online or getting it On Demand through your cable provider.
Annoying 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.
Are you as annoyed as I am in this ever challenging attempt to keep the costs down on these everyday services (that not too long ago were free)? Are you ok with it? How do you cope and what can you suggest to help with these charges?