By Ed Perkins, Tribune Content Agency
Travel is full of gotchas — those unexpected and unwelcome extra fees or hassles on top of what is already a stressful process. By definition, the aspects of travel you know going in will be a problem, such as long airport security lines and slow cruise debarkation, are not gotchas; they’re right out in the open. Gotchas are the sneaky ones that you might not have seen coming.
Airline: Unexpected Baggage Fees. Say your spouse pays $100 a year or more for one of those airline credit cards that promises “free” checked bags, and you get a card on that account. When you travel with the spouse, your baggage is free, too. But when you travel without the spouse, you pay for a checked bag even when you use your supposedly “free baggage” card. Gotcha!
Airline: Frequent Flyer Fees. You’ve saved up your miles for that supposedly “free” trip to Europe in business class, only to have the airline tell you that you have to pay $1,000 in “taxes and fees.” That doesn’t happen when you fly a U.S. line, but it does on Air Canada and most European lines. Of that $1,000, maybe $300 amounts to genuine taxes. The other $700 is an “airline imposed fee” that is nothing but a complete gouge. And some lines just say “taxes,” without telling you that part of the figure is their gouge. Gotcha!
Hotel: Deceptive Fees. An ad for a hotel in Vegas proclaims “deluxe room in four-star hotel for just $48” and also posts that rate to the first screen on Booking.com or Expedia. But that room actually costs $78, not $48, because the hotel adds a $30 daily “resort fee.” This is, of course, a complete scam. Yes, you see the fee before you buy, but your initial price comparison is based on the phony low-ball price. And resort or equivalent fees, once confined to Hawaii, Las Vegas, Orlando and vacation enters are now showing up in downtown hotels in Chicago, New York and other big cities. Consumer advocates are lobbying the Federal Trade Commission and Congress to outlaw this highly deceptive process, but in the meantime, it’s expanding. Gotcha!
Hotel: Early/Late Checkout fees. Time was, if you arrived on an early plane and went to your hotel at noon rather than 3 p.m. the hotel would let you check in, if enough rooms had already been serviced. Or if your departure was on a late plane, the desk clerk might allow you to stay in your room until 1 p.m. Now, however, many hotels are adding stiff fees for either early check-in or late departure, whether or not it imposes any burden on the hotel. Gotcha!
Rental Car: Geographical Limits. Recently, a friend was arranging a rented car in Vancouver for a driving trip in Western Canada. Nothing in the entire rental process disclosed the fact that the rental rate increased dramatically if he drove beyond BC, Alberta or Washington State. He was savvy enough to call the rental company to confirm the details, and when he found this limitation, he switched to another company. But if he hadn’t called — gotcha!
Package Tour: Hotel Substitution. A classic travel story involves a package tour operator in the U.S. that featured London tours, and its brochure specified the several well-located London hotels where travelers would be staying. But when travelers arrived in London, the tour operator’s local rep told them that their hotel was actually “slightly” out of London — in Brighton. You probably know that Brighton is 53 miles south of London and an hour on a fast train. But this switch was legal: Tour contracts allow the operator to substitute “equivalent or better” hotel accommodations without your right to a refund, and the operator, not you, gets to decide what’s “equivalent.” Fortunately, I haven’t heard any recent stories as bad as that one, but the legal loophole remains. Gotcha!
Other Gotchas. These are just a few examples of the many gotchas that plague travelers. Look closely for others when you arrange a trip.
(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, check out Ed’s new rail travel website at Rail-Guru.com.)
Tribune Content Agency — May 24, 2016
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