Chances are, you're headed to the airport sometime this holiday season, but not to visit a quiet, sandy beach (even if you deserve it).
Unlike travel seasons past, the upcoming one has more to do with visiting loved ones. In a Nov. 4 survey conducted by research firm Harris Interactive in conjunction with the Washington, D.C.-based Travel Industry Association, 71 percent of Americans said that spending extra money on travel during the holiday season is worthwhile — so long as it affords them time with family and friends.
But just because traveling may be the right thing to do this year, that doesn't mean it has to be the expensive thing to do. Traveling involves myriad hidden costs that, once you're aware of them, are easy to spot — and even easier to eliminate.
To start your trip on a frugal foot, consider transportation fees first. For example, if you're driving, fill up the gas tank before hopping on the highway, where it's much costlier, says Clarky Davis, a personal finance expert. According to NewJerseyGasPrices.com, a Web site that tracks prices across the state, on Friday at the Citgo Station at 86 Klockner Road in Trenton, N.J., a gallon of regular gas cost $1.61. At the Exxon on U.S. 130 South in East Windsor, N.J., a gallon of regular gas costs $2.59.
And make sure your car is in good condition by checking your heating vents, keeping up with routine maintenance and ensuring your tires are properly inflated, all of which help the car achieve optimum fuel economy. Furthermore, not only does a towed car cause inconvenience; it also means extra costs.
Small costs add up
For those opting to fly, there are several ways to avoid extra fees. First, if you're driving to the airport, park in the long-term lot, which is usually just a shuttle ride away from the main terminal. While the short-term lot is usually closer to the terminal, it often costs up to $10 or more, extra, per day.
"Parking in the daily lot is tempting," says Davis, "but it's not worth it, even for a three-day weekend."
Also, be aware of how much it costs to check a bag. These days, most airlines are charging for every checked bag, but prices vary from carrier to carrier. If you can manage to pack everything into a carry-on, you'll save at least $15.
Brooke Ferencsik, a travel expert at Newton, Mass.-based TripAdvisor.com, which offers user-generated hotel and restaurant ratings, suggests considering secondary airports when booking your flight. These airports often are less crowded and frequently offer cheaper tickets. If getting to the Manchester Boston Regional Airport costs the same or less than traveling to Boston's main hub, Logan International Airport, the money you'll save is worth the extra 20 minutes in travel time.
And when it comes to your actual destination, don't assume that, this year, hotels are going to cut back on fees simply because they're desperate to draw customers. "They won't be adding or increasing fees, but they won't be decreasing them either," says Ferencsik.
The best defense against egregious fees is to read about the hotel's rates online, before you make a reservation. "Be aware of surcharges and gratuity fees for everything from housekeeping to groundskeeping to use of the in-room safe," says Ferencsik. Some hotels even install a sensor within the mini bar, charging guests for simply touching the items, let alone eating or drinking them.
The main rule of thumb at hotels is to be aware of every small detail, and when you examine your bill at the end of your stay, don't be afraid to dispute a charge if you believe it's unjust. In fact, that rule holds true across the board.
"From airlines to hotels to rental cars, they've all got hidden fees you need to be aware of," says Ferencsik. "Do your homework and ask questions."