Travel always costs more than you think it will. And unfortunately, that’s increasingly by design.
As you plan your next getaway, keep a wary eye out for hidden costs and fees. They often get buried in the fine print — until it’s time to pay the bill.
Hidden Airline Fees
Because they sort search results by the base fare price, airlines now try to game the system by quoting ever-lower base fares, then piling on as many fees as possible to make up the difference — and then some.
As such, always compare the final total when browsing airfares. It takes longer than it should because you have to enter all your details before seeing the end total. But that’s the unfortunate state of modern air travel.
1. Checked Bag Fees
It’s not news that many airlines now charge for even a single checked bag.
But when using fare comparison tools, you don’t necessarily know which airlines include a checked bag and which don’t. That means you need to look it up for each airline.
As a cheat sheet, check out TripAdvisor’s baggage fee comparison list. Then, get comfortable with traveling with just a carry-on.
Note that these fees vary widely among airlines as well. For that matter, so do the volume and weight allowances.
2. Low Weight and Volume Limits
Many airlines have reduced their checked baggage allowances. Not just from two bags to one or one bag to none but also the size and weight of those bags.
They once allowed 70 pounds, but today, they may only allow 50, 40, or even fewer.
Go over the limit, and you pay another hefty fee. In some cases, these overweight or oversize baggage fees exceed the cost of checking a second bag.
Sadly, the same logic applies even more starkly to carry-on bags.
If you travel often, it pays to invest in a luggage scale.
3. Low or No Carry-on Baggage Allowance
There was a time not so long ago when any passenger could carry a bag for free on any airline. Those days have passed.
Today, many airlines charge for even a carry-on bag. Among those that still allow a free carry-on, many keep the weight and size limits so low it’s nearly impossible to avoid paying a fee.
That means you have to look up each airline’s carry-on fee schedule and weight and size restrictions when comparing fares.
4. Offline Booking
When you book online, no one at the airline needs to spend time speaking with you. That saves the travel companies time and money.
So when you call and speak with a live agent, they often charge you for the personal attention. For example, United Airlines, American Airlines, JetBlue, and Hawaiian Airlines all charge for offline reservations.
You can call for clarification or to ask questions, but book online, either directly with the airline or through a third-party site like Expedia. Just check the total price to ensure there’s no booking fee.
5. Fuel Fee for Miles Booking
While frequent flyer programs seem to offer great deals, they impress less if you have to pay extra fees for your “free flight”.
On many carriers, loyalty programs’ rewards points or miles only cover the base fare, not the fuel surcharge or government taxes. That means you still have to pay out of pocket for that so-called free flight.
These fuel surcharges can cost you hundreds of dollars. Parents even have to pay them for babies that sit in your lap not taking up a seat at all.
It gets even more complicated because some airlines charge them in certain circumstances only. For example, American Airlines doesn’t generally charge fuel fees, but it does for partner airlines British Airways and Iberia. Likewise, some Delta SkyMiles partners charge fuel fees when you book airline flights with rewards, while others don’t.
6. Close-In Fee for Miles Booking
In addition to fuel charges and unavoidable airport fees, some airlines charge you just to use your airline miles if you book within 21 or 30 days of the flight.
For instance, United Airlines charges a $75 close-in fee if you book with miles within 30 days of flying.
Avoid the fee by booking early or using miles from an airline that doesn’t have time constraints. For example, JetBlue and Southwest let you book a flight with your miles or points without a fee.
While you’re at it, read up on some of the best travel rewards cards to rack up free flights faster.
7. Seat-Picking Fee
Many airlines now charge you to pick a seat: every seat on every flight leg for every member of your party.
While these fees seem small at first, such as $10 or $20 per seat, they add up quickly for multi-leg flights for an entire family.
Don’t bother picking a seat. Airlines nearly always put your booked seats together by default.
8. Flight Cancellation or Change
Heaven forbid you change your plans at the last minute.
Expect airlines to charge hefty fees to change or cancel your flight — if they refund you at all.
Note that some airlines, such as Delta and American Airlines, offer a 24-hour flexible booking period during which you can get a refund or change your flight without penalty. If you aren’t 100% sure about your trip, fly with an airline that offers this flexible window or wait until you know you can go.
9. Flight Insurance
Nowadays, every airline pushes you to buy flight insurance.
If you change your plans, flight insurance lets you avoid the massive cancellation or change fees.
But as with all insurance sellers, they know the odds of having to deliver on their insurance, and they charge enough to come out well ahead. I never buy flight insurance unless I have a specific known risk that could throw off my plans.
Note that some credit cards offer travel insurance as a perk when you book travel with their card. Check your credit card’s benefits to see if they cover a change in plans.
10. Boarding Pass Printing
I didn’t believe this was a risk until it happened to me.
On Wizz Air, a low-cost (read: nickel-and-dime you to death) airline in Europe, I arrived at the airport without having printed my boarding pass in advance. They charged me over $100 for a printed piece of paper.
Print your boarding pass in advance. Even if the airline accepts electronic boarding passes on your phone, the scanners often have difficulty reading them, which slows you down at security and the gate. Just print it.
11. Meals and Beverages
Don’t expect free food or drinks with your airline ticket.
Depending on the length of your flight and the country where you’re flying, the airline may be required by law to give you food and beverages. But they might not.
If you do pay, expect high prices for poor-quality food and drinks. That goes doubly for alcoholic beverages.
12. Pillow and Blanket
Some budget airlines now charge you for a pillow and blanket. That makes you wonder if you get to keep them. You don’t.
Bring a sweater and maybe even a pair of pants if you board the plane in shorts. Airplanes are rarely the temperature you want or expect, often swinging from sauna hot before takeoff to ice-cold once the engines start roaring.
I’m also a huge fan of convertible neck pillows that transform from horseshoe-shaped to rectangular by turning them inside out. Try the convertible pillow from JML, which comes with earplugs and an eye mask.
Some budget airlines now charge for access to movies, TV shows, music, and other in-flight entertainment on the mini-screen.
Just bring your own laptop or tablet, and load it up with entertainment before you fly. Better yet, bring a good old-fashioned book instead.
To access many entertainment options, you probably need headphones, which some airlines also now charge for.
Skip the shoddy airline headphones entirely and bring your own noise-canceling headphones. I have a pair of Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones that I bought as a Christmas present for myself a year or two back, and they’ve changed my life. And they even came with a two-pronged airplane adapter for in-flight entertainment.
If your budget doesn’t stretch into the triple digits, try the Anker SoundCore Life Q20 headphones, which offer good bang for your buck.
15. In-Flight Wi-fi
Most flights now offer in-flight Wi-Fi — for a fee.
But we’re all too connected in the modern world as it is. Do you really need to stay connected on social media you’re willing to pay for it?
I certainly don’t. If I feel obliged to work on a flight, I do offline work, such as cleaning up my email inbox.
Download any cloud-based documents, such as Google Docs or Sheets, you need for work before heading to the airport. If you don’t have Microsoft Office or a similar paid software suite, you can access and edit Google Drive files offline.
Hidden Charges at the Airport
If you haven’t noticed, everything costs more at airports.
They charge more because they can. You can’t even take a bottle of water past security, so you have to pay triple the market price once inside. So buy as little as possible at the airport. But blatantly charging more for food and drinks isn’t the only way airports bilk you.
16. Currency Conversion and Airport ATMs
If you change your money at the airport, don’t expect a reasonable exchange rate. Currency exchanges inside the airport rake you over the coals simply because they can.
Granted, it still beats the alternative of wandering around a foreign country looking for a currency exchange. But there’s another way. Change your money over to your destination’s local currency before you fly rather than waiting until you land.
Note that some credit cards don’t charge foreign transaction fees, making them a better option while traveling abroad. If you pay with a credit card whenever possible, you likely don’t need to convert much foreign currency at all.
Similar logic applies to ATMs inside the airport. They charge a high “convenience fee,” and then your bank will probably also charge you for pulling money from an out-of-network ATM. The two fees could easily combine to total $5 to $10 just for the privilege of accessing your own money. So pull out cash before you fly.
17. SIM Cards
Buying a foreign SIM card for your phone is usually cheaper than international roaming charges with your domestic SIM card. But like currency exchanges and ATMs, SIM cards cost more at the airport than elsewhere.
Alternative options include ordering an international SIM card for delivery before you travel or buying one around town once you arrive at your destination. If you opt for the former, try Keepgo SIM cards, which work in over 100 countries worldwide.
18. Airport Wi-Fi
Most airports still offer free Wi-Fi, but many have started limiting either your time or your speed on it.
For example, you may get one hour of free Wi-Fi before you have to start paying for it. Or they may offer it for an unlimited time frame but meter your speed to make it slow.
Avoid paying for Wi-Fi at the airport if you can help it.
You can download entertainment like movies and music or cloud-based work files in advance. If you must have access to the Internet and you’ve exhausted your free Wi-Fi, you can always turn on your phone’s mobile hotspot feature.
19. Duty-Free Shopping
The whole notion of duty-free shopping is a scam.
Neither you nor the seller has to pay a sales tax on the transaction. But the seller still raises the retail price to cover their expensive retail space.
That means you end up paying at least as much as you would elsewhere, all costs included.
Don’t buy duty-free unless you need to bring a bottle with you that you can’t buy at your destination. The only time I’ve ever bought duty-free goods was when I visited a Muslim country without liquor stores and my wife and I wanted to have a bottle or two of wine on hand.
20. Exit Visas
Some countries charge both an entry and exit visa fee, which aren’t necessarily included in your airfare price.
When you buy tickets for international travel online, companies like CheapTickets, Orbitz, and Expedia aim to display the total ticket price, including any tourist fees. But they don’t always get them right, so if you’re traveling internationally, do your own homework on visa fees.
Hidden Rental Car Charges
Rental car companies are just as bad as airlines at trying to slip in as many upsells and hidden charges as possible.
Pay attention to rental car company reviews before booking. Or better yet, rent from a private citizen through Turo instead, though you should read those reviews carefully too.
21. Rental Insurance
Taxi and bus fares can add up quickly, so while a rental car may sound like a costly choice, it’s often the best way to save money on longer trips.
While the per-diem rental quote should include taxes and fees, many renters make the mistake of purchasing additional insurance when they’re already covered.
Place a quick call to your car insurance provider to find out if your policy covers rental car claims in addition to your personal vehicle. Also, many credit card companies provide collision coverage as an added perk when you pay for your rental with your card.
Drivers under the age of 25 used to be barred from renting a car at most companies. Now, most rental companies let drivers between the ages of 21 and 25 rent and simply charge them higher rates.
These younger drivers often pay a daily surcharge of between $25 and $30 per day, according to Smarter Travel. To be fair, this age bracket statistically gets into more accidents than older drivers. Drivers between the ages of 18 and 21 should expect even higher surcharges if rental agencies rent to them at all.
Look into public transportation and ridesharing as alternatives if you don’t have anyone 25 or older going with you.
23. Extra Driver
If you’re traveling with a group and want to share driving responsibilities, rental car companies sometimes charge as much as $30 per day for the additional driver, allegedly to cover insurance costs for the extra person.
Stick to one driver if you can. If you have to report more than one driver, choose someone over 25. Ideally, you want someone with their own auto insurance coverage, either from their personal policy or through their credit card.
24. Key Replacement
If you lose the rental car key, expect to pay several times the actual cost to replace it.
Leave the key in your hotel room safe if you don’t plan to take the rental car. That way, if you get pickpocketed, you don’t have to go through the hassle — and expense — of replacing it.
25. Alternate Drop-Off
Are you planning to drive your rental car from one city to another?
Car rental companies charge a premium for alternate drop-off locations, and it makes sense. If no one books a trip in the other direction, they have to transfer the car back themselves.
Consider taking a bus or train. While you might not have as much control over the schedule, at least you can relax or work rather than spending your vacation time on a stressful drive.
Also explore booking an RV relocation deal or relocating someone’s car for them. The latter is called driveaway, and often, they pay you or at least cover many of the costs. Check out this guide to driveaway by Go Nomad if you’re not familiar with it.
Most rental car companies are direct about this charge. If you don’t return the car with a full tank, they’ll charge you extra to refill it. Often, they charge as much as $10 per gallon.
They also come at you from the other direction and try to upsell you to prepay for gas “to avoid these high charges.” In this case, instead of overcharging per gallon, they charge you for an entire tank’s worth of gas knowing you’ll probably return it with a partial tank.
Fill up the tank before returning the rental car, but aim to avoid any gas stations close to the airport or rental car agency, where gas stations often charge more per gallon. Instead, use a service like GasBuddy to find the cheapest gas in the area.
Hidden Hotel and Accommodation Charges
Not to be outdone, many hotels get creative with their additional fees. Keep a watchful eye out for the following extra costs in the form of hidden hotel fees.
27. Resort Fee
Some hotels charge what is known as a “hotel resort fee” upon checkout. Often, this fee is an extra 10% per night. Thus, even if you’ve already prepaid through a site like Expedia or TripAdvisor, you have to pay an extra 10% at checkout. It’s essentially a hidden higher nightly rate.
Read the fine print, and remember that all hotels must disclose this fee upon booking. Include this fee when you compare different hotel options — especially against more transparent Airbnb bookings.
28. Extra Person Fee
When hotels include breakfast in the nightly rate, it makes sense for them to charge extra for additional people staying in the room.
Of course, some hotels get greedy and charge extra for additional people even if they don’t include breakfast. In these cases, I simply book the room for one person. It’s none of their business if someone else joins me there.
29. Hotel or Hospitality Tax
One of the reasons some cities threw such a hissy fit about Airbnb was that it ate into their hotel tax revenue.
Some cities and states charge a specific tax on hotels, looking to gouge every penny they can out of visiting tourists. In a perfect world, these taxes appear within the total when you compare booking prices and when you book a room. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and sometimes, you get hit with them upon checkout.
Double-check whether the rate you see includes all taxes and fees before booking. Better yet, book on Airbnb to support a local individual rather than an international conglomerate hotel chain.
If you drive to a hotel with a rental car from the airport or on a road trip directly from home, you may have to pay a nightly parking fee. Unlike hotels in rural or suburban areas, city hotels may add a garage or valet fee because parking is limited in high-traffic areas.
Fortunately, this is one fee that’s quite transparent on third-party comparison sites. They explicitly list whether parking is included, though you have to remember to check for it.
In urban areas where parking is at a premium, the hotel’s parking fee may or may not be cheaper than nearby alternatives. Run a quick online search when in doubt.
31. Airport Shuttle Service
Just because a hotel advertises airport shuttle service doesn’t mean it’s free.
In some cases, it is. In others, you can find yourself waiting around for an hour for the hotel shuttle, which costs just as much as a quick Lyft or Uber ride.
If it’s not apparent from the hotel website or third-party booking site, call the hotel to determine whether and what they charge and ask how frequently the shuttle runs.
32. Early Check-In or Late Checkout
I’ve had largely positive experiences with hotels when it comes to early check-in and late checkout. They usually accommodate you without charging for it if they can.
But some hotels do charge for the flexibility. Before asking for it, confirm with the hotel that there’s no charge for early check-in or late checkout.
If you plan to arrive long before check-in opens, contact the hotel and ask if they can let you check in early. They usually can’t commit to you in advance, as it depends on their vacancy the night before. But they can add a note to your reservation, and the manager can try to select a room for you that wasn’t occupied the night before if available.
Likewise, most hotels allow you an extra hour or two for late checkout as long as they don’t have full occupancy the following night. Talk to the manager about it and turn on the charm.
33. Luggage Storage
If the hotel can’t accommodate your early check-in or late checkout, you might have to pay to keep your bags in the hotel’s storage room.
While not a large sum, it’s money that comes out of your trip’s budget. Even if the hotel doesn’t charge a formal fee, it’s customary to tip the concierge or bellhop on a per-bag basis.
If your hotel does charge a fee or you just don’t want to tip the bellhop, you can potentially take your bags with you to a restaurant or store them somewhere else, such as lockers at the train station if you’re catching a train later.
It’s not always clear whether breakfast is included in the nightly rate.
In some cases, hotels charge a higher nightly rate to include breakfast. If you don’t opt for it but show up anyway, they charge you an even higher flat entrance fee.
So before you book, determine whether it’s included or not, what it’s worth to you, and the quality you can expect. If they charge extra for it, you’re probably better off just walking around the corner to a mom-and-pop diner. The food will be less industrial and probably taste better in addition to being made to order.
35. In-Room Snacks and Beverages
The rule of thumb used to be that the snack bar fridge was pay-as-you-eat, but now, everything from the bottled water on the counter to the cookie on top of the minibar may be less complimentary than you think. Drink that bottle of water, and you might just find it listed on your bill at checkout — with a hefty markup.
The hotel could charge you a “restocking fee” just for opening the door to the minibar for a peek.
Don’t touch the minibar. Most hotels have a convenience store or drugstore nearby, so pick up some snacks there.
36. Pool or Beach Towels
Hotels with a pool or near a beach sometimes charge for using towels. When you enter the pool area, look for a sign before you snag a clean towel. If you borrow one from your room, return it to avoid additional fees.
If you have room in your bag and know you’ll be near a pool or beach, bring your own towel from home.
Most hotels offer complimentary safes for storing valuables, but lately, some have been charging several dollars per night. If you stay for more than a few days, these nightly fees can add up.
Ideally, don’t bring your valuables in the first place. Also, check the fine print before you book because some hotels charge this fee whether or not you use the safe. Unfortunately, it’s likely the only way to bypass this fee is to avoid staying at a hotel that charges for the safe.
38. Hotel Wi-Fi
Not all hotels include free Wi-Fi. Those that do sometimes slow down the free version while offering a faster premium option.
If Wi-Fi is essential, check whether the hotel includes it for free and that the speed is adequate. Or you can stay at an Airbnb. You can also buy a personal Wi-Fi hotspot if you travel frequently and don’t trust spotty connections on the road.
39. Hotel ATMs
Expect hotel ATMs to charge similarly high fees as airport ATMs. And like airport ATMs, your bank may well charge an out-of-network fee on top of the ATM fee.
Find an in-network ATM outside the hotel for getting quick cash.
40. Pet Fees
Even pet-friendly hotels sometimes charge extra when you bring a furry friend. And it makes sense. Pets add more wear and tear on the room and require a more thorough cleanup, especially if they have an accident.
Don’t assume a hotel allowing pets means they do so for free.
Look up hotel pet policies and pricing on PetsWelcome.com. They often have more detailed information than even the hotel’s site. Also remember that almost everything in life is negotiable, so don’t be afraid to push hard for a pet fee reduction or waiver.
41. Fitness Center
The standard hotel fitness center includes a stationary bike, a treadmill, and a few hand weights, but if you’re staying in a swankier place, they may offer a high-end gym. But be wary of the nicer fitness centers, as some hotels charge a daily fee to cover operational costs.
Instead of using the expensive gym, take a run or a walk outside. It’s free, and you can see more of the area. If you have to take your exercise routine indoors, go for a swim in the hotel pool or run up some stairs instead of taking the elevator. Or explore other free or cheap ways to exercise based on your location, such as walking in Central Park or rock climbing in Salt Lake City.
Some hotels go so far as to nickel and dime you with energy surcharges. I’ve heard the Atlantis in the Bahamas charges $12.95 per adult per day, but while their terms and conditions mention energy surcharges, they don’t actually state how much they charge.
When comparing hotel rooms, ensure you include all fees and charges to compare the bottom line. More honest and transparent hotels, who don’t resort to such underhanded tactics as “energy surcharges,” may look more expensive at first glance but represent the better bargain after accounting for their competitors’ hidden fees.
43. Homestay Fees
Typically, peer-to-peer lodging services like Airbnb and VRBO are far more transparent than hotels.
Still, you need to compare the total cost, not just the nightly rate, when comparing hosts.
Some charge a cleaning fee, while others charge a pet fee or additional occupant fee. Airbnb charges the host a service fee, which some hosts pass on to the guest, others split with the guest, and still others pick up entirely.
And then there are hospitality taxes, which some states and cities require homestay hosts to collect and pay. While you can’t avoid these by picking a different host or a hotel, you should still be aware of them.
Hidden Cruise Charges
Cruise lines are just as likely as any other travel industry to squeeze you after you book your “all-inclusive” cruise. You may just spend double your initial purchase if you’re not careful.
44. Port Fees
When a cruise ship docks at a port of call, the government charges the company a port fee, which the cruise line passes on to travelers. These fees vary based on destination.
While usually included in the cruise fare, double-check before you book. Smaller cruise lines in particular may pass these along to you as a separate charge.
45. Built-In Gratuities
You thought you already paid for drinks when you bought an all-inclusive package. And you did.
But that doesn’t stop cruise lines from charging you a gratuity for each drink you down. Many cruise lines add a 15% to 20% gratuity fee to beverages, even if the waitstaff didn’t serve it to you.
If your cruise line charges a gratuity fee, keep it in mind before you slip even more cash into the tip jar.
46. Ship Wi-Fi
Most hotels offer free Internet, even if it is slow. However, connectivity is more challenging on the open ocean.
Most cruise ships now offer Wi-Fi throughout the ship, but they usually still charge, and you should expect a slower, spottier connection.
If you can’t imagine life without the Internet, wait until you get off the ship at port and can get to a land-based Internet cafe or coffee shop with free Wi-Fi. Connections off the ship are usually much faster, stabler, and free. A personal hotspot might work, although most only work within one country, so they won’t help you if you’re docking in multiple nations.
If your cruise lasts longer than a few days, you might need to do laundry. Higher-end cruise ships offer dry cleaning at several dollars per shirt, and they charge by the pound (or the bag) for room service laundering.
Lighten the load by packing plenty of undergarments and clothes with wrinkle-resistant fabric. You can also use Febreze Fabric Refresher to get another wear or two out of each piece of clothing. Just remember that if you have to fly to the port, you can’t bring a big bottle in your luggage. So plan to make a pit stop at a supermarket on your way to board.
48. Shore Excursions
Even all-inclusive cruises don’t include most shore excursions. These costs can quickly outpace your actual cruise reservation.
If you’re looking forward to an adventure-filled vacation of kayaking, snorkeling, or sightseeing, don’t overlook the cost of tour operators. Plan which ones you want to do before booking a specific cruise, and budget accordingly.
And remember, no one says you have to use the cruise line’s partners. Look up unaffiliated excursion operators and other things to do at each port, both to save money and find more authentic experiences.
With a little planning and research and the right travel tips, you can avoid many hidden travel fees. Perhaps more important, you can avoid budget-busting surprises.
Before following the crowd, do some research. Look into ways to travel the world for free and other lower-cost alternatives to traditional travel.
In my experience, the further I’ve gotten away from mobs of other tourists, the more interesting, memorable, and affordable my travels have been.