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How to avoid hidden costs when traveling

April 19, 2020
8 min read
Closeup image of young tourist putting money in wallet, saving money for vacation trips
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Travel is almost always an additional expense, even if you've managed to use your points and miles for airline tickets and hotel stays.

You can plan ahead for some of the more costly extras, such as dining out and airport transportation, but hidden fees and unanticipated add-ons always seem to creep up during a trip.

Fortunately, with a bit of studying and extra organization, you can predict, prepare for and perhaps even avoid some of these additional costs entirely. Consult this guide to learn more about some of the hidden fees you might encounter on your next getaway.

Resort Fees

(Photo by Sigarru / Getty Images)
Resorts will often charge you a resort fee even if you do not use the amenities like the pool or the gym. (Photo by Sigarru / Getty Images)

Resort fees — sometimes known as destination or urban fees — are typically added to your final bill for every night of your stay. The fees are allegedly in place to pay for things like gym or pool use, but you're usually charged regardless of whether or not you used the amenities.

Before traveling, check to see if your hotel charges these pesky fees. Pay special attention to not only the amount, but also if it's a per person fee or a room fee. Prepaying for your stay on a website such as Booking.com often bundles your fees together ahead of time, so you can clearly see if you'll be paying a resort fee. Or, you can simply try to stay at a hotel that doesn't charge these fees — but that may be difficult it places that are notorious for these additional charges (think: Las Vegas and Orlando).

Another option is to hold elite status at a large hotel chain. For example, Hyatt waives resort fees on paid stays for Globalist elites. Using points for your stay can be another way to get out of paying these pesky fees. Neither Hyatt nor Hilton charge resort fees to guests who paid for their stay with points.

Foreign Exchange Fees

Using a credit card to pay for expenses when traveling abroad is obviously much more comfortable than dealing with cash in a foreign currency, but be careful that your card of choice isn't charging you added foreign transaction. One way to avoid these irritating charges is to apply for a credit card with zero foreign transaction fees. Another tip is to always select the local currency when given the option, as your card is being charged abroad. The conversion rate you'll later see on your statement is better than the conversion offered to you in the moment of the charge.

Baggage Fees

If you plan to bring hold baggage, familiarize yourself with the airline's fare class hold baggage policies. Reserving and paying for the hold baggage at the time of booking or adding it online before your day of travel usually offers you the best deal. If you show up at the airport and find out hold baggage wasn't included with your ticket, you'll usually be charged much more to check it then.

Hidden fees can also apply to carry-on baggage, too — especially if you're traveling with a low-cost carrier like Ryanair or easyJet. Use this handy chart to understand the detailed carry-on baggage regulations for some of the UK's most popular low-cost carriers, including information on how many bags you can bring as well as weight and size limits. Know that if your bag is larger, you will be charged extra, even during the boarding process. Doing the research ahead, packing accordingly and weighing your bags with a handy luggage scale can help you avoid these extra surcharges.

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Boarding Pass or Check-In Fees

(Photo by Yiu Yu Hoi / Getty Images)
Printing off or downloading your boarding pass before you get to the airport may save you money. (Photo by Yiu Yu Hoi / Getty Images)

Make sure to check in and print your boarding pass at home or download it to your mobile phone, as some airlines (primarily low-cost carriers) charge travelers to check in or print their boarding pass at the airport.

Ryanair passengers who don’t check in online and print their boarding pass at home or download a mobile pass (when available), for example, must pay $60 to check in at the airport and $27 to print their boarding card at the airport. Just consider that if you forgot to check in and print ahead of time for a family of four, you'd pay $239 at the airport to do so -- an expense quite likely higher than the total cost of your original tickets.

Transport Scams

Some of the biggest rip-offs you'll encounter when traveling abroad are unscrupulous taxi drivers ready to cheat you out of your newly-acquired local currency. Using rideshare apps such as Uber and Lyft, among others, ensures you won't have to negotiate fares or deal with fixed meters. You'll see the price of your ride on your phone before committing; avoid language barriers or confusion when trying to explain where you're going; and avoid dealing with cash in an unfamiliar currency. Plus, if anything goes wrong or you're overcharged, you can challenge it with the app's customer service, rather than take it up directly with the driver.

Mobile Roaming Charges

You definitely don't want to arrive home relaxed and rejuvenated after your holiday to a $400 phone bill thanks to roaming charges. Before traveling, confirm with your mobile provider what your options are for roaming packages and select one that best fits your needs. Or, if your phone is unlocked, buy a local SIM card upon arrival to swap out with your regular card. Another option is to turn off your roaming and connect to Wi-Fi only when you need it. After all, an internet detox never hurts!

Taxes and Fees on Award Travel

Sometimes fees added onto "free" airfare purchased using points or miles can be astronomical. Unfortunately, the UK is one of the worst offenders when it comes to these additional fees, as its government-imposed Air Passenger Duty (APD) is applied on all international flights departing from the UK. These fees are based on the distance you travel and your class of service. The charges start at $14 but can be as high as $187.

But some fees come directly from the airline, and not the government. Some of the airlines most notorious for adding hefty surcharges are Austrian, Air France, British Airways, Emirates, Lufthansa, KLM, Qatar and Virgin Atlantic.

Some programs, however, won't charge these fees on partner airline tickets, like Avianca LifeMiles. United also has lower fees than some other carriers. Using Iberia as all alternative to British Airways is also another way to avoid high fees.

Money-Change Fees

(Photo by Kenishirotie / Getty Images)
If you need cash while you are traveling, try getting it locally instead of ahead of time to avoid any excess fees. (Photo by Kenishirotie / Getty Images)

You may need cash when traveling abroad, and you will likely lose out, at least a little bit, when changing currency. The best way to avoid high exchange fees is to consider taking cash out from a local ATM. Just check with your bank first to see what fees will be charged — and ask if they have a partnership with international banks (Barclays, for example, has an agreement with Bank of America as part of the Global ATM Alliance).

If your bank charges excessive fees, do a little research about your destination to see where you can get the best rate on exchanging cash. In some destinations, it could be the airport or a specific money-change chain. In places like Cuba or Myanmar, where cash is king, things may deviate from the norm, so asking locals is also a good way to find the best spot. One rule of thumb is to avoid changing money at big hotels, which often give terrible rates.

Featured image by Getty Images/iStockphoto

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TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
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Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023