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Absurd travel rules that should be jettisoned

You don’t have to be a card-carrying frequent flier to know that the travel business is littered with silly little rules that make no sense whatsoever.
Are you sick of the silly rules that accompany traveling? You're not alone. Columnist Chris Elliott has his list of pet peeves — read on to find out ...
Are you sick of the silly rules that accompany traveling? You're not alone. Columnist Chris Elliott has his list of pet peeves — read on to find out ...Elaine Thompson / AP

You don’t have to be a card-carrying frequent flier to know that the travel business is littered with silly little rules that make no sense whatsoever.

Actually, it helps that you’re not a grizzled veteran of the skies, because most hard-core business travelers have come to accept these absurd policies, even though they know how wrong, wrong, wrong they are.

From time to time, you might even catch one of these old road warriors in the act of defending the rules when a less experienced leisure traveler has the impertinence to wonder why things are the way they are.

“Don’t you know?” they’ll sniff, “You can’t transfer your airline ticket to a friend.”

Oh, but why not?

Start asking questions like that, and you’re bound to make folks in the travel industry squirm. That’s because there are no valid reasons for having these policies. I’ve been collecting and documenting ridiculous travel rules my entire career in my nationally syndicated column, , and I specialize in asking these questions.

Here, then, are five things the travel industry won’t let you do — but should:

Change the name on your airline ticket
Let’s say you buy a set of plane tickets to vacation somewhere with your sweetie. But just before your trip, the relationship turns sour. Your airline may sympathize, but it won’t let you transfer the ticket to another friend — even if you paid for it. The reason? Well, air carriers disingenuously claim that they prohibit name changes because they’re worried about security and potential fraud.

But what they won’t tell you is they’re also worried about their earnings. Making airline tickets transferable could cost the domestic airline industry more than $1 billion in monthly revenues, according to an estimate by San Diego, Calif.-based Innovation Analysis Group.

OK, that may be a tall order, even for an industry that’s currently wallowing in profits. But perhaps a good start would be to allow people who have made honest mistakes — like making a reservation under their nickname or maiden name — to fix their tickets. Those passengers now pay hefty change fees, and in many cases, have to buy brand-new tickets. How about giving those passengers a little break?

Carry a bottle of water through a TSA screening area
The Transportation Security Administration’s prohibition of carry-on liquids and gels should have been stricken from the books months ago, when the government agency decided to replace its outright ban on liquids with one that’s difficult to understand — and enforce. (If you’re still a little confused about what “toiletries of three ounces or less that fit comfortably in one quart-size, clear plastic, zip-top bag” are, you’re not alone.)

Now, instead of looking for terrorist hijackers, our federalized airport screeners are busy confiscating toothpaste, perfume and bottled water. I haven’t seen any conclusive evidence that the liquid and gel ban is protecting us from the bad guys. What I have seen are a lot of needless confrontations between TSA agents and frustrated air travelers, including the highly publicized that got Monica Emmerson and her toddler in hot water recently.

Maybe the government needs to buy a clue and realize that the villains have moved on to some other way of blowing up a plane. It’s time for them to move on, too.

Use any part of an airline ticket you want
Here’s another ill-conceived airline rule: Most carriers require their passengers to use every segment of their ticket. If you don’t, they could cancel the remaining portion of your ticket or, in extreme cases, bill you or your travel agent for the fare difference.

These tariff rules make perfect sense for airlines. They use a complex and counterintuitive pricing system called “yield management” that often churns out some truly bizarre fares. A one-way ticket, for example, can cost more than a round-trip fare. A cross-country flight is sometimes cheaper than a short commuter flight. In order to make sure everyone pays these crazy prices, airlines say you must use every flight segment on your ticket exactly as you booked it. (One of my favorite examples is Northwest Airlines — check out Rule 70, part C of its — which warns that circumventing its tariff rules could result having your frequent flier miles confiscated or being denied boarding. Ouch!)

But the rule makes absolutely no sense for passengers. I can think of no other business that tries to control how its product is used the way that airlines do. It’s about time to jettison this customer-hostile rule.

Return your rental car early without being charged more
Common sense tells you that if you return a rental car early, you should get a partial refund on your bill. But common sense doesn’t necessarily apply to the travel industry. For example, Alamo Rent A Car, not only charges a $15-per-day early-return fee, but it also recalculates your rate, charging you the same price that walk-up customers pay to rent a car without prior reservation. (In one case, that ).

Now, I can understand charging a nominal early-return fee and likening it to a restocking fee charged by stores. But asking for more money for less of a product? That’s travel industry logic, but it doesn’t fly with travelers. Time to junk that rule.

Not pay a hotel’s resort fee
I’ve never met a hotel guest who likes paying a mandatory resort fee, which is a surcharge that covers little extras like beach towels, in-room coffeemakers and exercise equipment. The fees can add anywhere from 10 to 20 percent to the cost of your room. Hotels are not always up-front about the surcharges. Instead of quoting them as part of the room rate, they wait until after you’ve asked for a price, and then say, “Oh, by the way ... there’s a $15 a day resort fee. Here’s the real room rate.” In some cases, they wait until you’ve checked in to tell you about it. Not very sporting of them.

Charging extra for amenities that should be included in the hotel room is ludicrous. But not nearly as ludicrous as forcing every guest to pay for these amenities, whether they use them or not. The most-forward looking hotels have already either scrapped their resort fees or made them optional. Call me old-fashioned, but I think resort fees should take a permanent vacation.

This is just the top of a very long list of senseless, anti-customer rules imposed by the travel industry. You probably have a few of your own. (I’ll admit, I found picking just five wasn’t easy.)

Next time you run into a rule that doesn’t make sense, don’t be afraid to ask “why”? If enough people do, the travel industry might actually start listening.

I’ll be taking a closer look at what makes the travel business tick in a new weekly column that will appear here. are always welcome, and if you can’t get enough of my column, for daily insights into the world of travel.