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Budgeting for a vacation requires crunching numbers and seeing how much wiggle room your expenses have. But when it’s time to hit checkout on that flight or hotel reservation, you may be surprised when the final total is way higher than when you were booking.
Hold up, what?
Enter junk fees, also known as hidden fees.
Hidden fees can come in the form of paying extra to pick your seat on a flight or for on-site parking at a resort. They can even be so hidden that you think you’re getting a complimentary service–at least it’s marketed as so–when it’s not, or it’s an amenity you aren’t planning on using.
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At the Thompson Central Park New York hotel, the “destination fee” of $34.86 plus tax covers access to the fitness center and internet plus an hour of free bike rentals, but only if you pay for an hour already.
“These fees can sometimes catch travelers off guard and add unexpected expenses to their trip. While some fees may be legitimate charges for specific services, others can feel misleading or unfair if not properly communicated during the booking process,” said April Cheng, founder of Honolulu-based travel agency TravelChic World.
About half of U.S. adults said they ended up spending more than they budgeted for when it came to their hotel, air travel and car rental bills, according to a 2018 Consumer Reports survey.
These additional costs are coming under fire lately. Last year, President Joe Biden announced that he was going to crack down on these junk fees for being unfair to consumers, especially the most marginalized Americans.
Typically, going through a travel agent can help bring some clarity and transparency to any additional costs, Cheng said. Still, it’s essential to read all terms and conditions before offering up your credit card.
In the meantime, here are some common hidden fees you may encounter when booking travel plans and what you can do about them, according to travel exports.
1. Resort fees
According to a January 2023 NerdWallet analysis of 100 U.S. hotels, the average resort fee was $42.41 – or about 11% of one night’s stay. If your vacation is a week long, this is an additional nearly $300 you’re on your hotel bill.
However, about 7% of U.S. hotels charge a hidden resort fee, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA).
“They can sometimes be buried in the fine print or only disclosed at check-in, leading to frustration among travelers,” Cheng said.
According to NerdWallet, Wyndham and Hyatt properties have the highest average resort fees compared to their room rates. The hospitality brand with the lowest resort fees was Marriott (who implemented a policy to be upfront about mandatory fees in 2021 after being sued in 2019).
➤ How to avoid resort fees: You can try to avoid these fees by doing your research when booking your hotel on the hotel website or a website called Resort Fee Checker – or at least to see what you’d be paying for and if you find these amenities worth it. Some hotel brands like Hilton Honors don’t charge resort fees if you book with points.
2. Airline class fees
When booking your airfare, you’re likely using a third-party platform like Google Flights. But that low price is typically not what you’re going to end up paying, especially if you don’t want to be the last to board, earn no miles and sit wherever the airline allows you (at least according to Delta Air Lines’ Basic Economy).
Typically, the fares you see are for the lowest economy class, which has little to no benefits – and is usually non-refundable – so you’re encouraged to pay extra money to go a class up if you want to select your seat or cancel for full credit.
➤ How to avoid airline class fees: One way to reduce the surprise fees with airlines is to do your research with each airline’s policy when it comes to their basic economy policies. For example, Alaska Airlines’ lowest Saver fares still let passengers bring a carry-on for free and can cancel for a full refund within 24 hours of booking. However, JetBlue doesn’t allow its Blue Basic passengers to bring carry-on bags for domestic flights.
In the long term, consider using an airline credit card, which often comes with benefits like free checked bags. Enrolling in the airlines’ loyalty programs can help rack up miles to get benefits such as priority boarding and upgrades.
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3. Booking fees
“Booking platforms may add service fees or booking fees to the final price of your reservation,” Cheng said. “These fees are often not immediately visible during the search process and may only be revealed during the checkout.”
According to a 2017 AHLA survey, 23% of travelers said they were misled when using a third-party booking site, including being charged extra fees.
For example, Reservations.com charges people a non-refundable $35.85 service fee for using the platform.
➤ How to avoid booking fees: If you book directly through the hotel website, you’ll probably avoid the extra cost.
4. Hotel parking
Just because you’re a guest at a hotel doesn’t mean you can park on-property for free, said Bruce Fisher from Hawaii Aloha Travel. This is especially true for crowded touristy locations and urban areas like Honolulu’s Waikiki. Since 2021 at the Park Shore Waikiki, guests have to pay $48 per day for overnight parking–not including tip for the valet.
➤ How to avoid hotel parking fees: If you need to park a car at your hotel, be sure to find out if there are any parking fees. Cheng suggested looking into hotel reviews to see what previous guests had to say about other potential parking lots or what the parking situation is like.
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5. Early check-in or late check-out
It’s not uncommon for your travel plans to have you arriving at your destination before afternoon check-in times or departing way after check-out time.
At the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, check-in is typically at 4 p.m., but if your room is ready before then, you could check in for a fee of $75. Standard check-out is at 11 a.m., but if you want to depart early, it costs $100 and checking out later in the afternoon is an extra $175.
➤ How to avoid early check-in or late check-out fees: Be sure to find out your hotel’s policy before you arrive because some properties charge a fee for early check-in or late check-out, Cheng said.
6. Family hotel rooms
Karen Morales, a travel advisor for Fora Travel who specializes in accessible travel, said to look out for extra charges if you’re hoping to use a rollaway bed or add an extra person to a room.
“I recently did a reward stay in Barcelona, praising myself for maximizing my points redemption,” she said. “It wasn’t until checkout that I saw the fine print, the rollaway bed charge was $50 a day! Be careful with adding children to rooms. You should check to see if there is a charge for bedding, even on a free stay.”
➤ How to avoid family room fees: When booking a hotel with children, call ahead to check for these extra charges.
7. Rental cars
Fisher said many consumers overlook rental car fees and taxes, but they can drastically change the total price. For a two-day medium SUV car rental from Hertz from Aug. 30 to Sept. 1, a renter would be charged almost $50 in additional fees, bringing the total from about $180 to almost $225.
The hidden fees include about a $40 charge just because I’m picking up at the airport and $4.10 to cover “the cost Hertz pays for registration, licensing and other related fees for applicable car materials,” according to the Hertz website.
➤ How to avoid rental car fees: “I tell customers that the rental car companies are not in the rental car business. They’re in the insurance business that’s why they try so hard to get people to sign up for services they don’t need,” Fisher said, advising people to always read the fine print. He also said to check with your credit card company since some cards will cover car rental insurance.
What are some hidden fees you’ve encountered?
Kathleen Wong is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Hawaii. You can reach her at [email protected]