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Fees: Don’t just hate ’em, avoid ’em

By Ed Perkins, Tribune Content Agency

You hear a lot about travel fees these days — especially airline fees, more especially fees for “something you used to get free,” and most especially fees that are theoretically optional but in reality are mandatory. A recent survey by MileCards listed fees that travelers hate most. Fortunately, you can avoid many of the worst fees, at least some of the time, at little or no cost.

Airline Fees

In MileCard’s survey, checked-bag fees came out as the most hated. In theory you don’t have to check a bag, but if you’re going on a two-week vacation or business trip, you really need to check a bag. You can avoid this fee completely in only one instance: when you fly Southwest, an airline that allows two free checked bags on any type of ticket. You can also avoid the fee on a single big airline if you use that line’s credit card, but if you don’t already have the card, you’ll have to pay an annual fee of $80 or more to get one.

Another most-hated airline fee is for exchanging or canceling a ticket, and like the bag fee, the only way to avoid it completely is to fly Southwest. You can limit the loss on other airlines by buying cancellation insurance, which costs a lot less than the fee.

The third top-hated fee is payment for advance seat assignments, which is especially annoying for family groups who want to sit together. You can’t avoid it. This problem is tough enough that several legislative proposals call for airlines to seat families together without fees.

Fees for extra-legroom seats make the hate lists, and unless you’re an exalted-level frequent flyer, you can’t avoid them. But they’re in a different class: You can fly without paying, as most travelers do, and an extra-legroom seat is a product upgrade for which you should expect to pay.

Fees to use an airline’s phone reservation system are a minor annoyance. My take is that Allegiant’s fee to book online is even worse: The only way to book Allegiant without paying an extra fee is to schlep to an airport and line up at Allegiant’s counter.

Hotel Fees

Surprisingly, Wi-Fi fees topped MileCard’s hate list, and it’s hard to see why: These fees are easy to avoid most of the time. With a giant chain, just join its loyalty program, at no charge, and book through its website, where you might even get a slightly better rate. And very few small independent hotels add a Wi-Fi fee: If they have it at all, it’s free, and most have it.

The really annoying hotel fee is the “resort” or similar fee, which is not included in the initial price display but is actually part of the true price. You can’t avoid it. It’s actually a scam, a deceptive pricing practice that the Federal Trade Commission should outlaw, but I’m not holding my breath until the sluggish FTC fulfills its obvious obligation.

Other Hated Fees

Cellphone data roaming charges are a moving target, with constant adjustments to roaming costs. But you can avoid most problems by installing an app that lets you call through the internet when you’re roaming.

Fees for using an out-of-network ATM are unavoidable with many ATM cards. But if your regular bank charges for foreign withdrawals, you can open a separate checking account for travel use with a bank or credit union that issues no-foreign-fee debit cards.

Similarly, you can avoid credit-card and debit-card foreign transaction fees by using a card that doesn’t charge fees — a feature most travel-focused cards now provide.

Rental car companies’ fees for collision damage waiver (CDW) are outrageous — but avoidable. Your regular auto insurance may cover you, and these days, many credit cards provide secondary coverage that picks up whatever your insurance doesn’t. If you’d rather avoid a potential hit on your insurance rates, some premium credit cards offer primary collision coverage, or you can buy third-party primary coverage starting at around $8 a day.

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins@mind.net. Also, check out Ed’s rail travel website at Rail-Guru.com.)

(c) 2018 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.– May 15, 2018

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