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How to spot hidden vacation costs

Many consumers will spend more than they expected for airline travel and hotel stays this summer. Sometimes they were scammed, but it pays to read the fine print.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Many consumers will spend more than they expected for airline travel and hotel stays this summer. Sometimes because they were scammed, other times because they didn't read the fine print on a company Web site.

Some travel companies will try to lure customers by low-balling prices of hotels, cruises and other travel expenses.

"Most people are savvy enough to spot the obvious ones, so travel companies are getting better at things that inflate your price," says Gabe Saglie, a blogger for retailer "They're becoming much more creative in their marketing."

Saglie says some companies fail to disclose fees and taxes, or they will advertise a low price on one leg of the trip but charge a higher fare for the return trip.

Extra fees have become part of the deal when paying for airline travel. Virtually all carriers charge extra for some things; in particular, fees for checking baggage have become important money-makers for most airlines. But those fees don't appear as part of the base fare when you buy a ticket.

"It's natural right now to automatically gravitate toward the lowest base fare, but people need to be aware of the fees," says Genevieve Brown, senior editor at "Some airlines charge for reserved seats — even the middle seats — for a family that needs to sit together, it's going to cost them more money."

Brown says those might not be hidden fees because they're usually disclosed somewhere on the airline's site "if you have time to look for them. But I don't know how many people do the math."

Cruises are another potential minefield for extra charges that add up. Shore excursions and alcohol are typically not included in the price.

Those extra fees don't stop even after you reach your destination.

Hotels, particularly upscale ones, are taking a page out of the airlines' strategy book and charging a "resort fee" that can run from $10 to $25 a day. It might be explained as a payment for using the pool and gym, but it's usually not optional.

Some hotels add fees for a second daily housekeeping visit or turndown services. Others will charge fees for checking out early — it can be nearly as costly as staying that last night.

And some hotels will offer a lower rate but make it nonrefundable — much like airlines do with their cheapest tickets.

Some vacationers wishing to avoid hotels are drawn to timeshares, especially if they think they'll visit the same beach in Florida or Mexico year after year. Scott Roberts, a Florida attorney with a big real estate practice, says timeshares are still a major source of consumer complaints.

One of the latest wrinkles in timeshare circles is the offer of mortgage relief. Unscrupulous operators will contact timeshare owners and tell them they've been defrauded by the developer, then offer to help them get out from under their payments and ownership of the timeshare — for a fee, of course.

But Brown says the offers of help are usually bogus. Timeshare owners can wind up with their credit ruined and owing more money to the developer.

The local Better Business Bureau can see if there is a history of complaints against a travel agent or a timeshare condo, although Brown cautions it sometimes gives "good grades to somebody who doesn't deserve them."

Other advice from experts that covers a range of circumstances:

  • Buy trip insurance for a costly vacation such as a cruise or trip to Europe. Last week's volcano eruption in Iceland, which shut down air travel to Europe, underscored the value of insurance for big purchases.

Ed Perkins of Smarter Travel and the former editor of Consumer Reports travel letter, recommends a policy that covers cancellation for any reason.

"Even though it's a little more expensive, it avoids an argument about the fine print — whether this policy covers volcanic ash," Perkins says. He says policies run 7 to 10 percent of the trip's cost, and the older you are, the more you'll pay.

  • Make purchases with a credit card. You can dispute a fraudulent charge with the card company. Many card agreements hold the customer liable for only the first $50 in phony charges.

  • Only give out your credit card information when making a purchase. Don't give it out over the phone at a hotel. Some experts say a scam, especially in foreign countries, is someone posing as the front desk calling late at night and saying there's been some mix-up with your records, then asking for your card number and expiration date.

  • If you buy a vacation package of airfare, room and other needs in one deal, call each company to verify the details including dates and prices. Saglie suggests also asking if you're likely to encounter additional fees.