By
updated 8/4/2008 3:36:26 PM ET 2008-08-04T19:36:26

With many of the services and amenities travelers once thought routine now accruing surcharges by the minute (if not disappearing altogether), travelers need to fend for themselves more than ever before. Between airlines dropping flights without warning and hotels sneaking unfair fees onto your final bill, it can feel like everyone else has their hand in your back pocket while you're looking the other way. But here at Traveler's Ed we have your back; here are my tips for fending for yourself from the time you start planning your trip until you get home.

  1. Don't miss these Travel stories
    1. Lords of the gourd compete for Punkin Chunkin honors

      With teams using more than 100 unique apparatuses to launch globular projectiles a half-mile or more, the 27th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin event is our pick as November’s Weird Festival of the Month.

    2. Airports, airlines work hard to return your lost items
    3. Expert: Tourist hordes threaten Sistine Chapel's art
    4. MGM Grand wants Las Vegas guests to Stay Well
    5. Report: Airlines collecting $36.1B in fees this year

1. Confirm your flights
On a recent connection through Las Vegas, traveler Lucy Sarks arrived at the gate to discover that her flight would not be flying and that she had been bumped to a later flight. Explanations were hard to come by, but Sarks later figured out that not only had the flight not flown, but the flight had been cut from the airline's schedule entirely — and her trip was the first one affected. Rather than try to contact a plane full of passengers, the airline chose instead to try to accommodate already-booked passengers on later flights without ever quite revealing why.

With airlines making unpublicized and even unannounced flight cuts all the time, it is easier and cheaper for the airline simply to deal with a few unhappy travelers and perhaps pay for a few nights at a hotel than it is to notify and rebook an entire flight. It is in their best interest to keep you in the dark, so you will want to check periodically in the days leading up to your trip to make sure your flight is still flying, let alone on time.

This problem will only get worse after Labor Day, when many airlines are quietly planning large-scale flight and route cuts. If you are already booked on a fall flight, watch your airline closely for cuts that might affect you.

2. Consider actual final pricing
With so many surcharges now in play, planning a trip is becoming more like spending time on a car lot; you think you're paying one price, but when they tally up the final cost, the numbers are a lot different (and always much higher). Many booking sites and processes seem to try to conceal many of these fees, making it harder to do true comparison shopping. And some of the costs don't even show up until you are actually at the airport, or the car rental desk, etc. As a result, you will want to collect as much information as possible so you can make an educated guess at the true final price with incomplete information at the time of booking. For example, if you purchase a roundtrip flight on an airline that charges $25 for each bag each way, you'll need to add $50 to any flight on that airline when booking flights.

3. Give yourself more time
Airlines are also cutting staff by the thousands; less staff equals fewer people to keep you moving through the airport, and thus longer lines, fewer people to help you with problems and slower progress through the airport. These cuts won't occur only at check-in and other front-line positions but also with baggage handlers and mechanics, resulting in more lost and delayed luggage, as well as increased mechanical delays when support staff can't keep up with maintenance and repair requirements.

We've all noticed it on the road; you actually need to obey the standard two-hour recommendation, which not so long ago was often safely fudged or even ignored. Ignore it now at your peril — and for peak travel at popular airports, you might want to allow yourself even more time.

4. Know luggage rules by airline
I reviewed the burst of surcharges on luggage and more in the past few weeks. Don't get caught opening your wallet wide at the airport when you follow your old routine of two checked bags plus a carry-on, only to find out that one or two of your three items will cost you $15 - $25.

Most folks know by now that the majority of airlines will charge $25 for a second checked bag; fewer realize that Northwest, United, US Airways and Spirit will charge you $15 for a first checked bag, each way. So anytime you are pricing out flights, you'll want to add the applicable baggage charges to the cost of any roundtrip flight on these airlines — or pack more efficiently to lighten your load.

5. Weigh your bags at home
Similarly, your checked bags could cost you if they are overweight; the difference between a 49-pound bag and a 51-pound bag could be $50, the most common fee for any bag weighing in excess of 50 pounds. It is worth noting that if you are traveling with a companion, and he has a 40-pound bag while you have a 52-pound bag, the airline does not average the two and let you pass; you'll still pay for the one overweight bag. If you take the time to weigh your bags before you leave, you can redistribute the contents such that you pay less or nothing at check-in.

As above, you will want to know the luggage rules; while most airlines charge $50 for any bag over 50 pounds, Delta charges $80 and Frontier charges $75; not all overweight bags lighten your wallet by the same amount.

6. Pack lighter, and let the hotel pick up the tab
Many essential travel items can be obtained free of charge in your hotel room or from the front desk — razors, tooth brush and toothpaste, hand soap, hair dryers and more. Instead of packing (and paying for) these items, simply request them at check-in. If you do end up having to purchase them at your destination, you'll find that prices at the CVS don't vary much nationwide.

7. Bring your own entertainment
With most airlines charging for headphones for the in-flight entertainment system, you can save money by bringing your own. And now that some airlines are discontinuing in-flight entertainment entirely, you'll want to BYO if you need some distraction to get you through long flights in a dreary aircraft cabin.

8. Skirt surcharges
You will find surcharges piling up all the way through your travel experience — for luggage (as above), for entertainment systems, for rental car insurance, for in-flight snacks and meals (and even water on some airlines). Prepare for and figure out ways to beat the surge of surcharges by knowing where to find them. Some resources to help:

9. Bring your own connection
After a brief high period for free Internet access and Wi-Fi at hotels, recent trends seem to be toward a $10 a day fee almost everywhere you go. With PDA's functioning more like portable computers all the time, and with the increasing availability of satellite access, you may save money by bringing your own connection, especially on longer trips. To figure out costs and options, call your wireless phone provider, or check into satellite phone and Internet services.

10. GPS your car (or phone)
When traveling in a strange city, a GPS system in your car can come in extremely handy to avoid getting lost in the wrong neighborhood, wasting time figuring out directions or wondering where the heck you are. If you will be driving a lot on your trip, consider paying the extra fee for a GPS system in your car. If you will not be driving around much, or if you'll be sticking to a few specific routes (from the hotel to the beach and back, for example), skip the GPS system, but consider your own GPS device or GPS-enabled phone that you can bring on this and future trips.

11. Use the phone for research, not booking
While we're on the topic of phones, you won't want to book your flight on the phone any more (as I have recommended in the past); almost all the major airlines charge anywhere from $10 - $30 for this privilege. Researching flights on the phone without booking, however, won't cost you anything, so if you have questions about certain flights, feel free to call the airline and then book online to avoid the fee.

12. Clip coupons
With rising fuel costs driving up the expense of every component of travel, finding novel ways to save money is essential for many of us to be able to continue to travel at all. Finding specials and discounts on local attractions has been made extremely easy on the Web — simply type in the name of your destination and the word "coupons," and you'll find dozens of ways to save money. Give it a try; you will be surprised at how much dough you can save with this simple tactic that requires no travel agent, tour operator or travel pundit to pull off.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments