Traveling's hidden costs
You've gone online and gotten the best possible deals on your airfare, rental car and hotel. Think your costs are covered?
Online search engines are great for seeking the lowest rates on anything travel-related, from plane tickets to rental cars. That's why when vacation time rolls around, the first trip many people take is to the computer.
There's only one problem: The base price you compare while searching and the final price you actually pay are often vastly different.
Take a look at this news story we recently shot, then meet me on the other side for a closer look at how your travel expenses could end up 20% to 40% higher than you anticipated.
Use Priceline, Hotwire, Hotels.com or another travel search engine and you'll probably (although not always) find a deal on a room. But after you book, be prepared to pay more than the price you were quoted. The site may charge you a booking fee. Then there are taxes: Local occupancy taxes can add 10% to 20% to the bill. Sales taxes could add 5% to 10% more. In California, for example, the minimum sales tax is 8.25%. Add local sales taxes, and in some cities you'll pay more than 10%.
When you get to your hotel, you've got another potential tsunami of fees, from Internet use fees to a "resort fee" to use the gym. In some major metropolitan areas you can pay $45 just to park a car overnight.
Add it all up and you could easily pay 20% more than the price you bargained for.
Solution? Before you pay for a hotel room on any travel site, be sure you know the full cost, not just the basic rate. Before you book, call the hotel directly and ask about extra fees. (While you're at it, ask if they can beat the price you were quoted online. If you're a member of AARP or AAA, it's possible.)
If you don't like what you discover, consider other options. For example, check out our recent story called "Best hotel price you'll pay this summer? $0!"
Most major airlines now charge $25 for the first checked bag and $30 for the second, with much higher prices for oversize and overweight bags. Be sure to check the fees on the carrier's website and weigh your bags before you get to the airport.
Once you're on that discount flight, prepare to pay up if you're hungry or thirsty. While most airlines still provide free soda or water (Spirit Air charges $3 for water), snacks on some carriers can set you back $3 to $7. Pillows and blankets could cost you, as will alcohol, headsets and, if it's available, Internet access.
Of course, most in-flight fees can be avoided simply by carrying on what you need. Luggage fees can be minimized by packing less, flying airlines that don't charge for luggage (Southwest) and avoiding those that do (pretty much everyone else).
As you saw in the news video above, the guy we stopped at the airport rental car counter booked his car for $15 a day, then proceeded to pay $75 for three days -- nearly 80% more than the rate he booked. Where did the extra come from? Largely the same sources as hotel extras: local taxes and fees.
Then there are the extras: If you need a child safety seat, it's $10 to $12. GPS? That's $12 to $15. Collision damage waiver (basically rental car insurance)? It's $15 to $50 a day.
To avoid the high cost of the collision damage waiver, always check to make sure your own car insurance policy and/or premium credit card will cover you in a rental. As for the other fees? There's not much you can do except be prepared.
How would you like to pay 3% more than everyone else for everything you buy? That can easily happen if you pack the wrong credit card on an international trip.
Most credit cards add as much as a 3% international transaction fee to the cost of your purchase. "This international transaction fee is assessed to any purchase, whether it’s a $3 piece of pizza or a $5,000 piece of art," says Bill Hardekopf, CEO of LowCards.com.
There aren't many cards that don't charge a fee, but there are a couple. Check out our story called "Traveling overseas? Pack the proper plastic" for zero-fee international cards and other travel tips.
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Editor Bev O'Shea lives and works in the foothills of the Appalachians. A former copy editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Orlando Sentinel, she joined MSN Money in 2007. She's a fan of sunsets, college football and free shipping, among other things.
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A writer for MSN Money since January 2007, Donna Freedman won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. She also writes about smart money tactics for magazines and on her own site, Surviving and Thriving.
Mitch Lipka has been warning people about scams and shining light on questionable business practices for more than 20 years. Mitch, the consumer columnist for The Boston Globe, has also been a reporter and editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Consumer Reports, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and AOL. He won the 2010 New York Press Club award for best consumer reporting online and was honored in 2011 for his reporting on child product safety.
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