Americans are traveling again…and travel companies are trying to take them for a ride. Sneaky travel fees and gotchas abound as airlines, hotels, car-rental companies and cruise lines try to drain as many dollars as possible from their customers. One trend: Rather than invent all-new fees, which trigger a backlash from government regulators, many travel companies are simply enforcing existing fees in increasingly aggressive and unfair ways.
Among the fees to be wary of if you are planning a trip in 2023…
Carry-on-bag fees. Airlines are becoming extremely aggressive with fees for the bags you carry on the plane with you. Most airlines limit you to one carry-on and one personal item—some are even more restrictive—but unwary passengers also are being told that their carry-on luggage exceeds size or weight restrictions, even though they’re the same bags they’ve traveled with many times before. The resulting fees sometimes exceed the cost of their tickets.
Ultra-low-cost carriers such as Frontier and Allegiant in the US and Ryan Air and easyJet in Europe are the worst offenders, but this is common with many airlines. The worst part: Passengers don’t learn that their carry-ons will trigger massive fees until they’re checking in at the gate, at which point they have to pay up, abandon the bag or skip the flight. What to do…
Review and follow the airline’s carry-on-bag size and weight rules carefully, especially when flying on discount carriers. If traveling abroad, note that carry-on-bag size limits are slightly smaller in many parts of the world than in the US.
Divide heavy items between carry-on bags and backpacks to prevent any bag from exceeding weight limits.
If your carry-on bag might run slightly afoul of the rules, check in when lines are long at the gate—the busier airline employees are, the less likely they are to weigh and measure borderline bags.
If you’re traveling with a backpack that might exceed size limits, keep it on your back and face toward the airline employee at the gate so he/she doesn’t get a good look at its dimensions.
Refueling fees. Car-rental agencies now have technology that tracks the amount of fuel in cars’ tanks more precisely than dashboard gas gauges, and they apply fees if this tech says the tank is less than completely full—even if the gas gauge points to “Full.” These fees, typically $15 to $20 but sometimes higher, are quietly added to the total charged to customers’ credit cards—many customers never even notice them. What to do…
Top off the tank at the gas station closest to the rental agency immediately before returning the vehicle. It is true that some gas stations near an airport raise their prices, but even so, those prices can be less than the car-rental company charges.
Take a picture of the gas station receipt and a picture of the gas gauge showing that the tank is full upon reaching the rental lot. Show the receipt to an employee, invite him/her to check the gas gauge, and ask, “Can we agree that I’m returning this car with a full tank of gas, or is there a problem?”
If this employee agrees that the tank is full, request his business card—or jot down his name—and note key conversation details on the back of the card.
If the employee says the tank isn’t full, drive to the nearest gas station to top it off, time permitting.
Cleaning fees. Savvy travelers already know to take pictures and videos of the exterior of rental cars before first driving them and when returning them—this can serve as evidence if the rental company later falsely claims the vehicle was dented or scratched. Now rental companies increasingly are imposing steep fees for returning cars with messy or even smelly interiors. Not long ago, cleaning fees averaged around $100 and tended to be imposed only when customers truly left cars messy…but now they’re often $400, and reports of unfairly imposed charges abound. Renters are regularly hit with cleaning fees for sand or pet hair left in rental cars, for example—including renters who never went to the beach or transported pets.
Cleaning charges for odors also are increasingly common—and especially insidious. Renters can take pictures of vehicle interiors to protect themselves against false charges of messes left in cars…but pictures can’t prove they didn’t leave an odor. What to do…
Demand a different vehicle if a rental car smells of pets, cigarettes, food or anything else when you first get inside.
Refuse vehicles that are dented, scratched, dirty inside or that have any other noticeable flaws. Often when renters get hit with these charges, it’s because a prior renter caused problems. In theory, reporting these issues to the rental agency before leaving the lot and having them officially noted in rental forms should avoid any charges…but in practice, the potential for hassles and charges is so great that it’s not worth taking this chance. The safest option is to demand a different vehicle.
If you notice an odor after you’ve driven off the rental lot, immediately return to report the problem and demand a replacement.
If you do make any sort of mess in a rental car—even something as seemingly minor as sand on the floor—visit a self-service car wash before returning the vehicle, and vacuum the interior.
Request that an employee inspect the vehicle when you return it, and ask, “Can we agree that this car is clean and undamaged, or will I face any sort of cleaning fee or other fee?” If this employee agrees that its clean and in good shape, get his card or name, and note the conversation details, as above.
Housekeeping fees. Hotel housekeeping charges will be the next big travel fee. And in fact, some independent hotels already have begun charging a fee to clean guests’ rooms each day during their stay. Executives at major US chains have privately admitted that they expect to follow suit. These charges likely will be buried in small print or go completely unmentioned until guests check in. What to do…
Ask if there is a fee for daily housekeeping when you check into a hotel. If there is an extra charge, consider declining daily housekeeping—it sends a clear message to the hotel that you won’t tolerate these junk fees.
Resort fees. Most travelers already are aware of resort fees—those charges of $10 to $50 or more per night that many hotels tack onto room rates. Officially, these fees cover amenities such as swimming pools, gyms and Wi-Fi…but really, they’re just a way to offer attractive rates and then boost bills. Some hotels lowered or eliminated resort fees during the pandemic, but these fees are once again rising rapidly. What to do…
Seek out hotels that don’t charge resort fees. These fees remain uncommon at mid-range suites chains such as Extended Stay America and Homewood Suites, for example. The website
ResortFeeChecker.com can confirm whether a hotel imposes these fees.
Also, some hotel chains waive resort fees for guests who have elite status in their rewards program and/or who use points to pay for stays.
On-board cellular service. Many cruise ships now offer on-board cellular service—but passengers who take advantage often are hit with a tidal wave of roaming fees. These fees can be several dollars per minute. What to do…
Switch your phone to airplane mode if your cruise ship offers cell service, so it won’t connect to this.
Sign up for the cruise ship’s Wi-Fi package, and use an Internet-based calling service such as WhatsApp or Skype. Cruise ship Wi-Fi tends to be less overpriced than cellular service.
Automatic daily tips. This is increasingly common on cruise ships. Most cruise line passengers tip, but many believe that tipping should be the passenger’s choice and based on the quality of service provided, not a charge of perhaps $15 per day tacked onto their bill without their permission. What to do…
Review your statement of charges before stepping off the ship at the end of a cruise. This statement might be printed and slipped under your cabin door on the last day of the cruise…or available digitally on the cabin TV.
If you see automatically added gratuities that you don’t wish to pay—or any other charges that seem unfair or unclear—visit the ship’s front desk to question these before disembarking. Explain that you prefer to decide for yourself who and how much you tip. Don’t wait until you disembark to dispute these fees. If you do this before the cruise ends, there is a good chance the fees will be removed from your bill.
Don’t wait—your odds of having charges removed from a bill decline the moment you step off the ship.