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Welcome to the age of nickel-and-dimed

A traveler's journey through the endless fees imposed by airlines, hotels, cell phone companies, etc. Is there no end to this assault?

By Karen Datko Jun 29, 2010 12:33PM

This guest post comes from Cap at


A trip from San Diego to Indianapolis.


As you're about to book your flight, you stare at the computer screen, wondering what's the best choice.

You quickly searched Southwest, but the timetable and seats available just didn't match up to the meeting's schedule.


You could fly American, as you actually managed to store up some mileage through the years. Despite the fact that you prefer other airlines, you've stuck with American, because loyalty's gotta mean something, right?


With a quick check, those mileage are currently meaningless as there are no reward seats available to claim.


The problem is that you're now running on a much tighter budget. Ever since the recession, business hasn't been going so well, and you can barely afford this trip out to the Midwest. But you have to get to Indianapolis, as sealing this deal ensures your business' survival and that of its six lifelong employees.


So, despite your better judgment, you book the American Airlines flight.


Accompanying your PowerPoint presentation slide on your laptop is your rather large luggage full of equipment and samples. You usually prefer to travel light, but in this situation you have little choice. Not a very compelling way to wow the clients when you're relying only on PowerPoint.


You've managed to somehow fit everything in two bags -- a check-in and a carry-on. You thought about American Airlines' first checked bag fee of $25 and decided that there's no other choice but to eat the fee. At the very least you don't have to pay the second checked bag fee of $35.


But wait, all those samples can be quite heavy. Is the luggage overweight? If the luggage is between 51 and 70 pounds, you'll have to pay an additional $50 for the checked bag; if it's over 100 pounds, it'll be $100. (On an international route, the fees can be even higher. Thank goodness the clients are in the States.)


After distributing the samples between your clothes and carry-on, you're able to keep the checked bag under the weight limit.


Hmm. Better make sure I now have room for my carry-on, you think to yourself. Being a frequent flier, you know that certain passengers get to board the flight before the other seating groups, thereby getting first dibs on space for carry-on luggage on a full flight.


As you select your seat, you're slightly thankful that you don't have to pay the extra $10 to $25 other airlines may charge for "premium" economy seats.


But then you see an early-boarding fee option. You can pay an additional $10 if you want to board early. Hmm, this could be the solution I need, you think again to yourself. So you pay for the extra $10 on the outbound flight to Indianapolis.


While at the gate, you quickly realize that your early-boarding fee was slightly pointless, as your particular flight has many American Airlines elite status members, and they have priority boarding before you. Following them are those who may need extra time and have special needs, and your flight is surprisingly filled with many parents and children, so you board after them too.


Luckily, you are able to secure a bin for your carry-on luggage, albeit it is eight rows behind your seat.


The flight to Indianapolis is uneventful, but you're glad that the flight is delayed for only an hour. Any later and you'll miss your connecting flight in Dallas, or you'll check into your hotel very late, which would have made flying out the day before the meeting pointless.


Your hotel room is like any other mid-level hotel scattered through the country. The fridge/mini bar is stuffed with candy, snacks and drinks that are marked up 300%. At this particular hotel chain, a bottle of water will cost a cool $4.


Slightly thanking the divine that there was no additional charge on the flight for your carry-on laptop bag, you prop the bag open and decide to do some last-minute, pre-meeting work.


"High-speed Internet access is conveniently available for a price of $9.95 per day" says the friendly placard on the table.

You scratch your head and wonder why low-cost motels can offer free Wi-Fi, while many middle- to high-end hotels still charge for wired Internet access.


The placard is brushed aside as you make room on the desk. Not an issue. You're prepared.  Situations like this are why you've purchased a smart phone.


Ah. Your smart phone.


The trusty latest device that lets you text, surf, record videos, take photos, battle aliens, and much more. It also supposedly makes phone calls.

The phone sets you back $200 even though it's subsidized by a two-year contract locked with the cell phone carrier. Your monthly plan sets you back another $60, and the data plan for your smart phone costs an additional $30 a month.


Though you were initially happy with your phone when you first got it, you quickly felt duped that you had to pay an additional $25 a month to tether your phone to your laptop in order to use your phone's data service on your laptop.

"My clients in Europe can use the same exact phone to tether their device with no extra cost and no additional needs to download some special software," you exclaimed to the cell phone company representative.


"But with our mobile broadband smart-phone connect package," explained the rep, "you will have additional support and peace of mind when you need access to data."


You sit there in the hotel room, wondering why you're paying for the same data service, from the same provider, three times. One for your home. One for your cell phone. And one for your laptop.


Brushing all these negative thoughts out of your head, you get to work on your laptop.


But the wireless data network from your cell phone company is down.


"We apologize for the inconvenience as we're currently experiencing heavy usage in your current region," says the telephone support representative. "Service is expected to resume to normal within one to two business days."


So you pay for the hotel's $9.95 Internet service. And you sit there. Waiting.


Because the "high-speed" Internet is no faster than your nonworking smart phone.


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