May 25 2010|07.52 AM UTC

Stan Reybern

The Hidden Costs and Expenses of Travel

Category: Personal FinanceTags: , , ,

Most of us think we’ve got travel costs all figured out, don’t we? Other people overlook expenses (and underestimate those they acknowledge), but we know better. Or do we? The cold, hard truth is that more people than not fail to account for all of the expenses involved in reaching their destinations. It’s an easy mistake to make, since most trips tend to center around a large, obvious expense (like a resort, hotel or theme park) which overshadows the ancillary costs incurred along the way. Of course, the only way to accurately budget for a trip is to be fully aware of all the costs. Today, Billshrink will examine several “hidden costs” of hitting the road.

Tolls & Rest Stops

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Many travelers justify not flying by pointing to all the savings to be reaped by packing everyone into the family van instead. “We’d all need airline tickets”, they say, “but you only buy gas once or twice.” True as this may be, the appeal of driving to a destination frequently overshadows some of the unique expenses involved. For one thing, most cars need serious preventative maintenance before an extended journey. A lengthy trek from Connecticut to Disney World, for instance, would appear to mandate an extra oil change, new air and oil filters, fresh coolant and perhaps even new tires. There are also tolls, which are often imposed on drivers leaving and entering a state. Some tolls are as high as $10 a pop. Finally, it is undeniable that a long drive will entail numerous stops along the way at rest stops and gas stations, many of which will lead to snack and beverage purchases that might have been avoided on a quicker flight. Whether this ultimately costs less than flying is less important than whether all the expenses are acknowledged ahead of time.

Airline Fees

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Of course, flying is hardly a shining example of straightforward pricing in travel. Despite widespread belief to the contrary, it is not true that your airline ticket covers the costs of flying. Virtually all airports charge you just to check your bags – as high as $25 for your first bag and $30 for the second, according to MSN. Sadly, that is not even the worst of it! Back in April, MoneyTalksNews broke the story of Spirit Airlines charging $45 for a single carry-on bag. The airline later added insult to injury when it attempted to justify the fee in the name of faster boarding times and enhanced passenger safety. In any case, luggage fees are far from the only overlooked air travel costs. If you drive to the airport, you’ll need to pay another fee for each day that you store your car there. You could take a taxi, but that, too, is yet another fee added to the others. Finally, no inventory of hidden airline fees would be complete without mentioning the sky-high prices charged for food. Both on the flight and in the airport, food items are priced orders of magnitude higher than would be found at gas stations or convenience stores in the very same city. [Tip: Take a look at checked baggage fees list before your next flight].

Hotel Stays

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While hotel pricing is rather straightforward (especially compared to airline tickets), there are several opportunities for unexpected costs to mount. First, some websites charge a booking fee that you must pay but which is not included in the booking price you see on the screen. There are also local occupancy taxes to consider. While these will also generally not appear in the quoted booking price, they can easily add 10%-20% to the total costs of staying there during your trip. Unfortunately, the fees do not stop and can actually intensify upon arrival. Ordering a pay-per-view movie to your room’s TV set will likely trigger an astronomical fee, as will using the Internet in some hotels. Parking, while free at most hotels, is not free at all of them. Refreshments and “junk food” such as soda, chips and candy is virtually certain to be priced higher than it would be at convenience stores and gas stations in the same city or town. All things considered, it would not be uncommon for a full, thorough accounting of all hotel-related costs to surpass by several hundreds of dollars the price you were quoted.

Vehicle Rentals

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Renting a car at your destination is frequently another way to play the nickel-and-dime chump’s game. Like hotel stays, the price you are quoted for a rental online or over the phone is likely to be far lower than what you end up paying. As CNN explains, most renters wind up paying extra fees for collision and damage insurance – even when these are covered by their own existing car insurance policy or credit card! Apparently, such fees can quickly add up to $20-$30 for each day the rented car is in your possession. Failure to return the car without a full tank of gas is another profit center for the rental companies, who often “fill up the tank with gas that may cost $5 a gallon.” Late fees, however, are the grand-daddy of all the overlooked costs associated with car rental. According to CNN, fees as high as $50-$80 can be levied for being merely an hour late (depending on the type and popularity of the car you rented.)

Preparation Costs

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Finally, there is a category of costs that even most articles on this subject overlook: travel preparation. The typical traveler (and especially the typical traveling family) can wind up spending a great deal simply to prepare for a trip. Take pet care, as just one example. A dog or cat will have to be kept at a kennel throughout the trip, which will cost money for each day that your pet is stored there. Nor are kennels especially cheap., for instance, clocks the price of using a kennel at $30-$100 per day in the United States. Failing that, you will likely need to pay a friend or family member to stop by the house and feed the pets. Others find that they must pay someone to tend to their gardens or pick up mail. In any case, these expenses should also be considered when tallying the full cost of traveling.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Will May 25, 2010 at 7:19 pm

OK so stay home. Problem solved.


Worldly May 25, 2010 at 9:51 pm

I agree with all of these some executive was sitting with other managers coming up with way to suck more money out of people. If they just took care of their customers they would get more repeat business and probably make more money. I personally hate when I don’t have time to fill the tank I have to spend 4 times as much.


Brian May 26, 2010 at 4:25 am

Hahaha well said Will!


Austin May 28, 2010 at 1:45 am

I’ve always added 25-30% to my trip budget for extra expenses. That way when they happen I’m not shocked and I never have to rely on a credit card to finance a vacation.

Austin @ Foreigner’s Finances


Anonymous August 6, 2010 at 3:07 am

unfortunately this is life for you, bloody tip offs. this is why i try to get other members of the family to pay for me so it doesn’t come out of my pocket and i don’t suffer!!!


shortrentalholi August 6, 2010 at 3:09 am

we might as well walk and swim. would keep us in better shape. this is why im still trying to make sure my vacations are paid for by other members of the family


ben September 21, 2010 at 8:33 pm

it all comes down to just one word PLANNING


write March 10, 2011 at 6:40 am

stay at home with family and dogs… more better :)


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