Categories
Airport

Airline Fees: The Ultimate Guide

No more free snacks? Paying for a boarding pass? $200 for a bag?

Airline fees keep increasing, and even industry darling JetBlue has added additional charges for checked bags.

Need to know which services will be free and which ones you’ll have to shell out for? Luckily, with our Ultimate Guide to Airline Fees, you’ll find a one-stop reference chart for every major airline fee from every major domestic carrier. We update this chart frequently to add new fees and prices.

Best of all, you can download the airline fees chart in PDF format at no charge. Because unlike the airlines, we don’t make you pay for things that ought to be free.

Click on the image below for the Ultimate Guide to Airline Fees.

Free Download: Ultimate Guide to Airline Fees

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Editor’s note: The fees chart was updated in January 2019.

Categories
Money Travel Technology

How to Avoid Foreign Transaction Fees

Travel experts (myself included) will always recommend that you rely primarily on plastic while traveling: specifically, credit cards for big-ticket items and debit ATM cards for cash on arrival. The longstanding issue with that practice has always been foreign transaction fees—but you might be surprised to hear that this pesky type of fee is becoming less and less relevant.

In many cases you can now avoid foreign transaction fees entirely, while in others you’ll pay them, but will ultimately lose less money than any other cash-acquirement option. For foreign travel, especially, you can’t beat plastic: In fact, you may actually need credit cards in more and more places as they opt out of cash all together. Cashless retail outlets are becoming widespread, especially in Sweden and across China, with some places refusing to accept any paper currency at all.

[st_related]How to Choose the Best Travel Credit Card[/st_related]

Beating Foreign Transaction Fees on Credit Cards

Credit cards have improved dramatically in recent years for overseas purchases. About a decade ago, most banks had a three percent surcharge on foreign credit card purchases—even purchases in U.S. dollars. But now, most big issuers—including Chase, Bank of America, Capital One, and American Express—offer multiple credit cards with no foreign transaction fees. For the most part, cards that target travelers typically no longer have foreign surcharges. To see a list of cards without foreign transaction fees, see Airfarewatchdog (SmarterTravel’s sister site).

And although you can use a credit card to withdraw cash, that’s not a good idea: With all banks, cash withdrawal on a credit card comes with interest charges, plus fees, as well. The biggest trap for use of credit cards outside the U.S. is now the attempt by some merchants to bill you in dollars rather than local currency. The trap? They convert your bill at a lousy exchange rate. If a transaction ever prompts you to choose between dollars or the local currency, always choose the local currency. Also keep in mind that, even if your card charges a small fee, it’s likely less than the fee any currency exchange counter will take from you.

The best ways to deal with credit card purchases to avoid foreign transaction fees are:

  • Use whatever no-surcharge credit card serves you best.
  • Don’t let anyone try to bill you in dollars rather than the local currency.
  • Don’t use a credit card to acquire cash.
  • If your current card adds a surcharge—and you don’t want to apply for a different card—a loss of three percent is still a lot less than your loss converting currency at any exchange counter.

[st_related]How to Get the Best Exchange Rate[/st_related]

Beating Foreign Transaction Fees on Debit Cards

The foreign transaction fees situation is not as good with debit cards, but still improving.

In most of the world, you can use an ATM card issued by a U.S. bank at an ATM in a foreign country to withdraw local currency. The actual exchange is carried out by the international American Express, MasterCard, or Visa networks, and the exchange fee is typically one percent or less. But most U.S. banks add a surcharge of $3 to $5 per withdrawal from any ATM other than its own ATMs, including virtually all ATMs outside the United States. Many add an exchange surcharge on top of that, as well. And the local ATM operator may add a fee.

For a while, the Global ATM Alliance offered no-fee withdrawals on Bank of America debit cards when used at another member bank’s ATM, but Bank of America later imposed a three-percent exchange surcharge. The main exceptions are many small banks—most notably savings banks, online banks, and credit unions—that waive debit card transaction fees and cover other fees on foreign withdrawals.

And a new debit card problem has emerged in recent years: Many big international hub airports have kicked out ATMs operated by local banks and substituted ATMs operated by exchange bureaus, such as Travelex. The signs on these ATMs say “no fees,” which is somewhat true: Your money is exchanged at the same retail rate you get at the exchange counter, and that rate is typically around 10 to 15 percent worse than the official bank rate. And then there’s your own bank’s fees.

Ways to withdraw local currency from a local ATM without piling on the foreign transaction fees are:

  • If your usual ATM card is from a big bank with stiff withdrawal fees, consider opening a no-fee checking account at one of the many small banks that waive or cover foreign ATM charges.
  • If you don’t have any local currency when you arrive in a foreign country, avoid airport ATMs operated by exchange bureaus if you can. If you can’t, get only as much as you need to get to your hotel.

And finally: Traveler’s checks? Not if you’re living in the 21st century. You’ll have a lot of trouble finding a bank that will exchange these checks, if you still have them. A lot has changed in travel banking in the past couple of decades—for the better.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2012. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Airport

Heading to the Airport? Use This Pre-Flight Checklist

If you’ve booked an airline ticket for an upcoming trip, heading to the airport may be an anxiety-inducing experience. Whether you’re an avid flyer or an infrequent one, there are a slew of fees to keep track of, plus security protocols that may seem overwhelming.

Fear not. This handy flight checklist will help you get to the airport, through security, and to your gate with ease.

Before You Leave Your House

Before you even start to pack, consult this packing list to make sure you’re well prepared.

  • Check in online to avoid a long wait at the airport. You can usually check in online up to 24 hours before your flight.
  • Find out if your carrier charges extra baggage fees if you check your bags in person at the airport. Save yourself time and money by checking your bags online at home before you go.
  • Verify what the airline’s weight limits are for baggage. To avoid extra fees, weigh your bags at home using a small luggage scale. If they are overweight, remove or redistribute some items, or plan to pay extra.
  • Make sure you have all your travel documentation in one place (purse, carry-on, etc.) that’s easy to access. Add your hotel and airline’s phone numbers as well as the emergency number at your destination into your phone.
  • Make extra copies of important travel documents, ID/passports, key phone numbers, etc. It’s advised to have a copy for each bag.
  • If you’re traveling with a carry-on bag, make sure there are no full-size toiletries inside. All liquids and gels must adhere by the 3-1-1 rule, and be stored in a clear plastic quart-sized bag. For more information, see Airport Security Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Ensure you’re not traveling with any prohibited items. If you were planning on bringing such items with you, ship them instead—otherwise they’ll be confiscated at the airport.

At the Check-in Gate

Once you’ve arrived at the airport, you may need to head to the check-in gate, depending on what you did online before you left your home.

  • If you’ve checked in online, drop off your baggage (if applicable) and head to the security line.
  • If you haven’t checked in online prior to arrival, check in at a kiosk or in person at a check-in desk.
  • After checking in by kiosk, drop off bags at the appropriate counter.
  • Add your baggage claim receipt to your collection of travel documents. If you have connecting flights, especially those on separate carriers, it’s especially important to keep your baggage claim tag with you to avoid any delays or snafus.
  • Get your ID and boarding pass out for the security line.
  • Be sure to throw away any bottles of water, cups of coffee, or other liquids or gels that may be confiscated at security.

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At Security

Take stock of the following steps before getting in the security line.

  • Have your ID and boarding pass out and ready for the TSA official.
  • Take off your shoes, belt, and any jewelry that may set off the metal detector. Make sure there is no loose change or other items in your pockets. Place all items in a bin on the conveyor belt. (Note that you can skip some of these steps if you have TSA PreCheck or Global Entry.)
  • If you have a clear plastic bag of liquids or gels in your carry-on bag, take it out and place it in a bin next to your shoes, belt, etc.
  • Place your bags and coat on the conveyor belt.
  • If you are traveling with a laptop, take it out of its carrier case and onto the screening belt. If your laptop is in a checkpoint-friendly case, it does not need to be removed from its outer bag.
  • Wait until you are called to go through the metal detector or full-body scanner. If asked, show the TSA official your ID and boarding pass. Acceptable forms of ID include passports, driver’s licenses, military IDs, and permanent resident cards, among a few others. (Make sure your ID is compliant with REAL ID requirements.)
  • Comply with any TSA official requests, such as an additional bag inspection or personal screening.
  • Reclaim your items and head toward the gate.

[st_related]10 Things Not to Do at Airport Security[/st_related]

At the Gate

You’re almost done. Before you board the plane, check the following:

  • Make sure your carry-on fits the aircraft’s overhead dimensions. Usually there is a sample crate at your gate to determine if your bag will fit.
  • Check to see if there is meal or snack service onboard your flight. If not, you may want to purchase food and drink from a concessionaire in your terminal or at a food court.
  • Wait for your clearance to board the plane, then make sure to get in line with your designated group (check your boarding pass to see which group you’re in). If you have small children or special needs, you may be able to get advanced boarding privileges. See the gate agent if you have any questions.

Do you have any expert tips for how to prep for a trip to the airport, as well as how to handle check-ins and security? Share your own airport checklist below.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2010. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Booking Strategy Travel Scams

10 Dirty Little Secrets of Hotels

On average hotels do a much better job of satisfying customers than airlines—a conclusion supported by many surveys and ranking systems. But beating the airlines is a pretty low bar: No modern hotel accommodations are as downright uncomfortable and unpleasant as an economy class airline seat.

Even so, however, many hotels and hotel chains harbor some dirty little secrets they’d prefer to keep under wraps. Some are endemic while others are isolated. Here are a few to you’ll be glad to know.

Mandatory Fees

Mandatory “resort,” “concierge,” “housekeeping,” “porterage,” fees (along with other more esoteric varieties) are the hotel industry’s most active and widespread current scam. Hotel perpetrators slice off a part of the real price, post the remaining low-ball partial price as the basic room rate, give a plausible label to the sliced-off part, and add it back in before you buy. The practice started in Las Vegas and Hawaii, but it is spreading like a cancer throughout much of the U.S.

The practice harms consumers by giving the scamming hotels an apparent price advantage over honest hotels in side-by-side price comparisons. These function as “hidden” fees in some cases, but for the most part hotels disclose them somewhere along the line. As is so often the case, however, disclosure is an insufficient remedy: The Florida Attorney General rightly described a similar scam a few years back as being “inherently deceptive.”

Fortunately, several consumer activists are getting after the FTC and individual states to ban the practice. And attorneys general in other states are getting interested. Consumers may see some sorely needed corrective action soon.

[st_related]Hotel Resort Fees: The Real Story[/st_related]

There Is No Consumer Protection from Overbooking

The Department of Transportation requires airlines to compensate travelers who are bumped from an oversold flight. But oversold hotel guests have no comparable protection at either the federal, state or local levels, as far as we can tell. If you show up with a confirmed reservation but the hotel is oversold and can’t give you a room, the hotel has broken a contract and you presumably have a remedy through contract law. But that doesn’t get you a place to sleep that night.

Traditionally, if you have a reservation and a hotel is unable to accommodate you, a hotel is supposed to “walk” you: Find an accommodation in a “comparable” hotel nearby, arrange your transportation to that hotel if it’s more than walking distance away, and pay for your first night. Unfortunately that practice is something of an urban legend, sometimes honored but sometimes ignored. It’s neither a law nor a formal requirement anywhere, even as a recommendation from the industry’s trade associations. You can ask, but you can’t demand. And, as far as we know, nobody is currently working toward establishing any sort of industry standard.

They Want to ‘Own’ You

Many hotel chains are following the same objective as the big airlines: They want to “own” you as a customer and, specifically, make sure you book through their own channels. The benefits to the hotels are (1) they don’t have to pay anything to third-party online booking agencies and (2) they have a chance to upsell you or sell you something else.

What this means for consumers is that hotels offer you some strong incentives to do things their way. They can offer membership or age-based discounts that most third-party systems can’t access. And some chains now limit their “free” Wi-Fi or breakfast deals to members of their frequent stay programs who book directly with the hotel. The net result is that third parties are great for locating hotels, but you have to go through the hotel check for deals those third parties may not show.

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Wi-Fi: High Fees, Low Speeds

Wi-Fi is rapidly approaching deal-breaker status: If a hotel doesn’t have in-room Wi-Fi, many travelers will want to go somewhere else. This is apparently true even in resort areas where the focus is (ostensibly) on enjoying the local beach or mountain. And, increasingly, customers expect Wi-Fi to be included in the room rate along with beds, ventilation, and hot water.

For some strange reason, many hotels still charge for Wi-Fi. And for some really strange reason, the more upscale hotels are more likely to charge for it. That seems insane: If Motel El Cheapo can manage to offer free Wi-Fi, why does the Ritz have to charge as much as $15 to $20 a day?

A related and equally appalling problem is that even expensive Wi-Fi at posh hotels can be really s … l … o … w. You can see for yourself thanks to hotelwifitest.com. Some of the most expensive hotels provide extremely low bandwidth.

This problem—at least the fee part—will likely solve itself, as free Wi-Fi is on its way to becoming an almost universal norm. As to the speed, however, that’s anyone’s guess.

[st_related]The New Hotel Wi-Fi Scam You Haven’t Heard of Yet [/st_related]

Unreasonable Parking Fees

Nobody expects free parking at a hotel in midtown Manhattan or around Union Square in San Francisco. But you do expect free parking at a low-rise in a suburban location that is surrounded by an expansive parking area. Unfortunately, however, you sometimes run into parking fees at unexpected places and locations where the hotel can’t really justify them.

This is more of a peeve than a serious problem, and one you can usually avoid. But it goes to show that you should always verify that the parking is free.

Unresponsive Climate Control

The most unpleasant night I ever experienced in a hotel was at a four-star property at Orly Airport outside Paris. It was in early spring during an unseasonal heat wave. The hotel’s climate control system was still set for “winter,” meaning only heat was on, and with windows that didn’t open the room became an oven. The hotel couldn’t do anything but offer a small portable fan; apparently switching the full system from heating to cooling mode required a day or more.

These days, modern hotels tend to have windows that don’t open at all or, if you’re lucky, open a few measly inches. Some even charge for air conditioning! And if the climate system isn’t really yours to control, you can find yourself in for a bad night. You don’t encounter this problem often, but when you do, the only relief is to move to a different hotel.

[st_related]Easy, Breezy: The 10 Prettiest Open Air Hotel Rooms in the World [/st_related]

Location and View Exaggeration

The words “just steps to the beach” in a brochure or online description don’t mean much unless the hotel specifies how many steps it is. Similarly, a “partial” ocean view can be partial indeed if the only way to catch a glimpse of the sea is to stick your head out a window and look beyond a busy highway, shopping center, or airport runway. And a wide-angle lens can make a closet look as big as a ballroom.

You routinely encounter mild puffery that makes a hotel seem better than it is. But hotels sometimes cross—or at least stick their toe across—the fine line between harmless exaggeration and outright lying. As a consumer, your best protection is to do some investigative research on TripAdvisor or some other source of unbiased reporting from travelers.

Bedbugs

Yes, hotels sometimes harbor bedbugs, and the problem seems to be getting worse in recent years. Hotels find it hard to prevent the invasion of bedbugs since the little critters often hitch rides on unsuspecting guests. The problem has gained a high enough profile to attract websites devoted to reporting on hotel bedbug experiences, including Bedbug Reports. You can also see bedbug reports on TripAdvisor and other reader-based hotel review websites.

[st_related]5 Ways to Stop Bedbugs Before They Bite [/st_related]

Price Gouging

Hotels jack up their rates for big events. Surely, that’s not a surprise. Whether it’s a Super Bowl, World Cup, World Series, Olympic Games, or a big convention, local hotels typically ask double or more what they charge in normal times. In some ways, you can’t blame them: After all, pricing is the classic method of balancing supply and demand, and when demand is high and capacity is fixed, the market says hike the prices until demand shrinks to the level of capacity. But you can’t avoid at list a little bit of schadenfreude when predicted hordes fail to show up for a heavily hyped event and the rooms go empty.

Too Many Palms to Cross

Check into a typical motel along an Interstate and the clerk hands you a key, says “Have a nice day,” and promptly forgets about you. But in an upscale hotel, you sometimes have to run a gauntlet of folks holding out their palms for you to cross—with bills. You’ve schlepped your baggage in from the airport, maybe along a half mile of corridors, only to have someone want $3 to haul the bag a few hundred feet to your room. Want a taxi? The doorman toots a whistle, you fork over a few bucks.

The most annoying element in all this is the relatively recent trend that you’re expected to tip housekeepers and other employees for services you formerly figured were covered by the room rate. This is not to say that housekeepers may both deserve and need more compensation than the hotel provides. But the sad fact is that all too many employers these days try to shift employees from fully compensated toward tip-based work categories to cut their pay.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Booking Strategy In-Flight Experience Money Passenger Rights

3 Airlines Raise Checked Bag Fees to Match JetBlue Changes

Move over, JetBlue: United, Air Canada, and WestJet all announced an increase to their checked bag fees to directly match a fee hike JetBlue introduced just a few days ago. The first checked bag on each airline now costs $30 (Air Canada’s start at $30 and vary), and a second checked bag now costs about $40 on all four airlines.

The new United fees took effect Labor Day weekend. On Air Canada, the new fees affect tickets booked before August 21 or for air travel before October 5, 2018. On WestJet, the fees impact tickets purchased after August 24 (for travel within Canada), or after August 28 (for travel everywhere else).

[st_related] Do Bag Fees Really Improve Customer Satisfaction? [/st_related]

WestJet also asks travelers to “see an airport agent for the grandfathered fee after October 1st, 2018.” This means the fee hike applies to all WestJet travel after October 1, unless you booked before the cut-off dates above—but you apparently have to ask for that privilege.

More Bag Fees to Come?

Most travelers have grown used to this copycat behavior among airlines, but it’s disappointing to see a customer-favorite like JetBlue leading the charge. Unfair as it may be, we expect this nickel-and-diming to come from legacy carriers like United, which was among the first to add checked-bag fees a decade ago. JetBlue, after all, had zero checked bag fees until 2015.

But all airlines are subject to the same market forces, and JetBlue is not immune. Forbes points out that fuel prices have gone up 40 percent over the past year, and as fuel prices rises, fees and airfares tend to rise as well. Fees don’t go back down after fuel prices decline, of course. Funny how that works.

Now the question becomes whether or not Delta and American will match these fee hikes. Airlines tend to take an everyone-else-is-doing-it approach, so it’s a safe bet one or both will follow suit. Customers only have only one alternative to the bag fee crunch: Southwest, which still allows bags to fly free. But even Southwest isn’t afraid to charge a fee or two.

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Categories
Airport Booking Strategy In-Flight Experience Money

Southwest Is Raising EarlyBird Check-In Fees

Southwest has announced it will increase its EarlyBird Check-In fees for select flights starting August 29.

The fees, which used to be $15 across the board, will now be $15, $20, or $25 per flight, depending on availability and route.

In a statement to USA Today, the airline said, “We’re making this change so we can continue offering a product our customers love. Of course, an increase in the price of a product is rarely welcome news, but as EarlyBird increases in popularity, we want to protect the value it offers our customers.”

[st_related]United Will Charge for Seats at the Front of the Plane[/st_related]

That’s a strange way of justifying hiking fees, isn’t it? Saying you’re “making a change so we can continue offering it” and to “protect the value it offers to customers” is quite a feat of mental gymnastics. Most customers would likely feel the so-called value of the service diminishes as the price goes up, especially because the benefits of EarlyBird Check-In are both confusing and somewhat unsubstantial.

What’s the Value of Southwest EarlyBird Check-In?

EarlyBird Check-In doesn’t actually guarantee early booking. Southwest says so on its website, stating that “while EarlyBird Check-In doesn’t guarantee an A boarding position, it improves your seat selection options to help you get your favorite seat.”

Instead, EarlyBird Check-In does exactly what it describes, and only that. The service will “automatically check you in and assign your boarding position within 36 hours of your flight’s departure—that’s 12 hours before general boarding positions become available.”

But given Southwest’s unorthodox boarding process, checking in early doesn’t always result in an advantage. USA Today notes that “travelers who buy the airline’s priciest Business Select fares or have status in the frequent-flier program are automatically ahead of [EarlyBird Check-In purchasers] in line. The only way to guarantee an A boarding pass outside those groups is to pay the Upgraded Boarding fee at the gate,” which can be as much as $50.

[st_related]The Airlines That Charge the Most Fees[/st_related]

EarlyBird Check-In was only $10 when it launched in 2009, a reasonable fee for the convenience and increased chance of a good boarding position. Paying up to $25, however, seems a stretch for a service with no guaranteed benefits. One wonders if too many people are buying the service in an attempt to cheat Southwest’s boarding system, and watering down the value of EarlyBird Check-In the process. Maybe that’s what Southwest means when it says it wants to “protect the value” of the service.

Readers, have you purchased EarlyBird Check-In? Do you feel it’s a valuable service?

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Categories
Booking Strategy Cities Entertainment Money Travel Trends

Wallet Watch: Daily Resort Fees Reach $45 in Las Vegas

With the widespread imposition and quick escalation of parking fees, Las Vegas hotels seem to have little interest in preserving the city’s reputation as a budget-friendly destination. And it’s not just the parking fees.

Last week, two popular hotels, the Venetian and the Palazzo, raised their so-called resort fees to $45 a night. That’s up from $39 a night previously, and now the highest such fees in Las Vegas.

Today, resort fees remain at $39 per night at many of the pricier hotels, including the Aria, Bellagio, Caesars Palace, Mandarin Oriental, and Wynn.

[st_related]These Are America’s 10 Most Sinful States[/st_related]

Resort fees are the mandatory surcharges hotels impose for a slew of services that travelers may or may not need or use. Here’s how they’re described by the FTC in a report overtly critical of the practice:

Resort fees are per-room, per-night, mandatory fees charged by some hotels. According to the hotel industry, the purpose of the fees is to provide hotel customers with certain hotel services, such as Internet access, parking, and use of the hotel’s health club. However, these services could be provided without charging separately-disclosed resort fees by making them optional to customers for additional fees or, alternatively, bundling them with the room and including the cost of the services in the room rate. By charging a mandatory resort fee, a hotel is bundling the services with the room, but is disclosing the fee for the services separately from the room rate.

The overwhelming consensus among both travelers and the media is that resort fees amount to legal extortion. They should be banned.

For now, Las Vegas hotels will keep squeezing travelers ever-harder, until occupancy rates fall off or the government restricts their use.

Reader Reality Check

Have you ever been blindsided by a hotel’s resort fee?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

[st_newsletter]

Categories
Booking Strategy Budget Travel Frequent Flyer Holiday Travel Money Travel Trends

Recap: The Week’s Biggest Travel Stories and Best Deals

Following is our regular summary of the latest travel news and best frequent traveler promotions reviewed during the past week.

If it was a good deal—or a notably bad deal—from an airline, hotel, or car rental loyalty program, you can read all about it here, and plan your travel accordingly.

These Are America’s 10 Most Sinful States

A new study purports to rank the 50 U.S. states by their sinfulness. See if you agree with the findings.

Airbnb’s 10-Year Plan to Rock the Travel World

Airbnb wants your lodging dollar. The hotels will have something to say about that.

Wallet Watch: Southwest Raising Drink Prices

Remember when all Southwest alcoholic beverages were $5? No more.

That NRA Travel Discount? Check, It Might Be Gone

A slew of travel suppliers have discontinued their discounts for NRA members.

Coming to Caesars Palace: Daily Room Checks

When does “Do Not Disturb” not mean do not disturb? At a growing number of hotels, it turns out.

United Is Now Selling Wi-Fi Subscriptions – Deal or No Deal?

United is now selling monthly inflight Wi-Fi subscriptions. Should you buy?

The 10 Worst Airports for Spring Travel

Here are the top-10 airports to avoid for seamless spring travel.

Wallet Watch: Price Hikes at Disney Parks

A visit to the happiest place on earth just got more expensive—by as much as 9 percent.

Here’s How You Can Win a 19-Night Trip to Antigua and St. Lucia

Prize includes a 19-night trip for 2 to St. Lucia and Antigua, worth $100,000.

Somebody has to win this trip, right? Might as well be you.

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

[st_newsletter]

Categories
Budget Travel Food & Drink In-Flight Experience Money

Wallet Watch: Southwest Raising Drink Prices

For years, Southwest has bragged about its simple, low price for all onboard alcoholic beverages: “$5 happy hour, every hour.” In fact, Southwest has held to that $5 drink price since 2009.

On March 1, Southwest’s drink prices got a bit more complicated, and a bit more expensive:

  • Beer: $6 (Miller Lite, Dos Equis); $7 (Fat Tire, Lagunitas, Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy
  • Wine: $6
  • Liquor: $7

[st_related]That NRA Travel Discount? Check, It Might Be Gone[/st_related]

The good news is that Southwest’s drink prices are still $1 or so below most other airlines’.

[st_content_ad]In other good news, the new pricing won’t affect Southwest’s popular drink coupons, doled out to members of the airline’s Rapid Rewards program and to Business Select passengers.

A modest price rise after all this time is no cause for concern. But combined with Southwest’s recent increase in priority-boarding fees, it’s an sure sign that Southwest is looking closely at such so-called ancillary fees to nudge up its top and bottom lines.

Reader Reality Check

Worrisome trend?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

[st_newsletter]

Categories
Airport Booking Strategy Budget Travel In-Flight Experience

Wallet Watch: Southwest Raises Fees for Priority Boarding

Southwest has made a point of promoting itself as the airline that doesn’t nickel and dime its customers with the long lists of nuisance fees other carriers charge. While it’s true that Southwest doesn’t charge for the first two checked bags, and for flight changes, it can’t call itself a fee-free airline.

Among the airline’s fees are its Upgraded Boarding fees. These are the surcharges to snag a place at the front of the boarding queue, an option available at the gate on the day of departure only. And they’ve just effectively gone up.

[st_related]Coming to Caesars Palace: Daily Room Checks[/st_related]

Until this month, the boarding fees were either $30 or $40, depending on the length of the trip. Beginning this month, a $50 fee category was added, presumably for the airline’s longest, most lucrative flights. (There’s no published list of fees by route; passengers will be advised when they check in what the boarding fee is for their flights.)

So, $30, $40, or $50 to jump the boarding line. And that’s each way, so those fees will double for a roundtrip flight. Worth it?

It depends, of course. On the length of your flight. On your tolerance for claustrophobia. And on your finances.

We can infer from the addition to the new higher Upgraded Boarding fee that there has been no lack of demand for the service. Which says something about what flyers want and need. It also says something about Southwest: For all its benign public countenance, the airline is looking for ways to squeeze more cash from its customers.

No surprise there. Southwest’s management is answerable to its stockholders, as are the managements at American, Delta, and United.

Reader Reality Check

Would you pay $50 extra for a better boarding position?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

[st_newsletter]

Categories
Airport Booking Strategy Budget Travel Frequent Flyer Security

Recap: The Week’s Biggest Travel Stories and Best Deals

Following is our regular summary of the latest travel news and best frequent traveler promotions reviewed during the past week.

[st_content_ad]If it was a good deal—or a notably bad deal—from an airline, hotel, or car rental loyalty program, you can read all about it here, and plan your travel accordingly.

Wallet Watch: Parking Fees Rise at 12 MGM Las Vegas Hotels

For the second time in less than two years, MGM is raising parking fees at its 12 Las Vegas properties.

TSA PreCheck Now Available at 5 More Airlines

Flyers can now take advantage of shorter TSA PreCheck security lines on 47 airlines, in 200 airports.

Expect More and Better Inflight Wi-Fi in 2018

Inflight Wi-Fi is expanding and improving.

20% Hotel Discount with Capital One, Hotels.com

Here’s how to earn an effective 20% rebate on hotel stays.

InterContinental Hotels Raises Prices on Popular PointBreaks Rates

The latest PointBreaks promotion from InterContinental features more hotels, at higher prices.

2018 Olympics Travel: Is South Korea Safe to Visit for the Games?

Should safety be a concern at the 2018 Olympics in South Korea? The answer is a little bit more complex than it might seem.

WalletHub Says Delta’s Is the Best Frequent-Flyer Program. Is It?

A new study picks Delta’s SkyMiles as the best U.S. mileage program. Really?

Here’s How You Can Win a 7-Night Trip to Shanghai

Prize includes a seven-night trip for two to Shanghai, airfare, hotel, an $1,800 gift card, and travel agent services.

Somebody has to win this trip, right? Might as well be you.

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Booking Strategy Cities Frequent Flyer Money Travel Trends

Wallet Watch: Parking Fees Rise at 12 MGM Las Vegas Hotels

Less than two years after beginning what has become a wholesale change from free to paid hotel parking in Las Vegas, MGM is already charging hotel visitors even more to park.

[st_related]InterContinental Hotels Raises Prices on Popular PointBreaks Rates[/st_related]

This week, the company raised parking rates at its 12 Las Vegas properties, as follows:

  • Aria, Bellagio, Vdara – Self-parking is free for the first hour, $9 for one to two hours, $15 for two to four hours, and $18 for four to 24 hours. Valet: $21 for up to two hours, $24 for two to four hours, and $30 for four to 24 hours.
  • Circus Circus – Self-parking is free, but valet starts at $12 for up to two hours, and rises from there.
  • Delano, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, The Mirage, Monte Carlo, New York-New York – Free self-parking for the first hour, $9 for one to two hours, $12 for two to four hours, and $15 for four to 24 hours. Valet: $16 for up to two hours, $18 for two to four hours, and $24 for four to 24 hours.
  • Excalibur and Luxor – Free self-parking for the first hour, then $6 for one to two hours, $8 for two to four hours, and $10 for four to 24 hours. Valet: $12 for up to two hours, $14 for two to four hours, and $16 for four to 24 hours.

MGM also raised its parking rates in April, so this is the second increase in just two years.

Free self-parking is available to members of MGM’s M life Rewards program who achieved Pearl, Gold, Platinum, or NOIR status. Free valet is offered to Gold, Platinum, and NOIR Members.

Just as they followed MGM’s initial move into charging for parking, other area hotels can now be expected to follow MGM’s lead in pushing those fees even higher.

Reader Reality Check

At what point do these new and ever-rising fees push Las Vegas off your visit list?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Booking Strategy Budget Travel Peer-to-Peer Travel

Tip Your Uber Driver, or Else

Remember when Uber was a tip-less service? Indeed, part of what made Uber the undisputed leader in rideshare services was its no-tipping policy, as featured front and center on the company’s website: “No cash, no tip, no hassle … When you arrive at your destination, just hop out—we’ll automatically charge the credit card on file. And there’s no need to tip.”

That verbiage is long gone from Uber’s website, and in July 2017 the company began actively encouraging riders to tip drivers: “Great service deserves to be rewarded.”

[st_related]WalletHub Says Delta’s Is the Best Frequent-Flyer Program. Is It?[/st_related]

[st_content_ad]Now, Uber is using a combination of carrot and stick to encourage riders not just to tip, but to tip extravagantly.

In an interview with CNBC, Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi as much as admitted that there is a link between tipping and rider ratings. “I am a very aggressive tipper right now. I pick the highest tip every time. Somehow my rating is getting better. I’m not sure if it’s aggressive tipping. Everybody, tip aggressively.”

Why bother currying a higher rider rating? To begin with, riders with higher ratings are more likely to get drivers with higher ratings. And if that’s true, the converse must be true as well: Lower-rated riders get lower-rated drivers.

And that’s just the beginning. Khosrowshahi also disclosed that the company is developing a package of perks available exclusively to higher-rated riders. No details yet.

Reward or extortion; carrot or stick. Uber has long had a reputation for ethically dodgy business practices. But the service’s ease and convenience and value—anchored by its no-tipping policy—combined to make it the clear choice compared to most traditional and non-traditional taxi options.

If Uber drivers are not adequately compensated from their share of published rates, the company should either raise the rates or increase drivers’ portion of every fare. Squeezing riders for ever-higher tips is a step back to a compensation system that’s not just antiquated, but disrespectful of workers.

Reader Reality Check

How has your relationship with Uber evolved?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Booking Strategy Budget Travel In-Flight Experience Money Travel Trends

Wallet Watch: The Latest Nasty Fee for Basic Economy Fares

UPDATE: According to Straight To The Points, Singapore has dropped the policy, even before its effect date, in response to negative pushback from customers. Nevertheless, it’s a policy that other airlines are surely considering.

Singapore Airlines, best known for its glamorous flight attendants and sumptuous first-class cabins, is making news at the budget end of the travel spectrum. And it’s not good news.

As have many full-service airlines, Singapore will introduce no-frills coach fares to stay competitive with ultra-low-cost carriers. In Singapore’s case, they’re called Economy Lite fares (fare codes Q, N, V, K), and they come with restrictions typical of basic economy: a fee for advance seat selection, reduced frequent-flyer miles, not upgradeable, no cancellations. But the airline has added an extra element of pain to its version of the fares: a surcharge for credit-card payments.

[st_related]It’s Not Just You – Air Travel Really Has Gotten Worse[/st_related]

Beginning with bookings made on January 20, Economy Lite tickets issued in Singapore will incur a 1.3 percent surcharge, up to a maximum of 50 Singapore dollars, when charged to a credit card. Tickets charged to the co-branded Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer credit card are exempt from the surcharge.

The limitation of the surcharge to tickets issued in Singapore constrains the consumer damage somewhat. But as always with such onerous policies, there’s the danger of its spreading beyond its initial bounds. Singapore may well be intending to expand the fee to tickets issued in other countries. And now that the precedent has been set, other airlines may well follow suit.

Singapore, which has dominated the luxury segment of air travel for decades, is now a leader in the race to the bottom.

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Booking Strategy Frequent Flyer Travel Trends

Another Harsh Hotel Cancellation Policy, This Time from Hyatt

When Marriott (which owns Starwood) changed its cancellation policy, in June, it was widely perceived as the beginning of the end of consumer-friendly booking rules.

[st_content_ad]Previously, travelers could cancel their Marriott bookings up to 24 hours before check-in, with no penalty. Under the new rule, travelers are charged a fee if they cancel within 48 hours of check-in.

Marriott justified the change as follows: “The revised policy allows us to make rooms available to guests that would have otherwise gone unoccupied due to a last-minute cancellation.” Of course that’s true; the new policy does indeed enable Marriott to sell more rooms, as well as rake in more fees for last-minute cancellations. It’s a great move for Marriott’s bottom line. But it’s a thumb in the eye of Marriott’s customers.

To no one’s surprise, Hilton quickly followed Marriott’s lead, imposing its own 48-hour cancellation policy, beginning July 31.

[st_related]Wallet Watch: Airport Parking Costs How Much?[/st_related]

What was surprising was the pivot by InterContinental a few weeks later in the opposite direction: With some regional exceptions, InterContinental standardized its cancellation policy across most of its multiple brands not at 48 hours, like Hilton and Marriott, but at a significantly more consumer-friendly 24 hours.

InterContinental’s contrarian move suggested the remote possibility that other hotel chains might use a more tolerant cancellation rule as a competitive advantage—you know, in keeping with Adam Smith’s theory that competition among companies results in better outcomes for consumers.

Hyatt, for one, will not be following InterContinental’s lead. Rather, as announced this week, Hyatt will begin imposing its own 48-hour cancellation policy for reservations made on and after January 1, 2018.

According to the company, “Effective for reservations made or changed on or after January 1, 2018, Hyatt will implement a revised minimum cancellation policy that allows hotels to manage guestroom availability more effectively, including offering rooms and upgrades to rooms that would have otherwise gone unoccupied.”

However, implicitly acknowledging that the new policy is a negative for its customers, elite members of the hotel’s World of Hyatt loyalty program will still be able to cancel fee-free up to 24 hours before checking in.

So Hyatt’s new policy turns out to be a hybrid: a bit Adam Smith (for elites), but mostly Ebenezer Scrooge (for everyone else).

The takeaway: Cancellation policies are in flux, with the overall trend being negative for travel consumers. Travelers must be extra-aware of hotels’ rules to avoid nasty cancellation fees.

Reader Reality Check

Do cancellation policies factor into your loyalty to hotel chains?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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