12 Ways to Limit Travel Fees This Holiday Season

Here's how to get the most out of your next getaway.

No matter how you plan to travel this holiday season, someone might try to squeeze extra money out of you. Hotels, airlines, rental agencies, and others in the travel industry can have add-on fees that make your trip more expensive. But if you travel smart, you can avoid unnecessary costs.

Here are 12 tips for avoiding excessive fees as you travel to see your loved ones this holiday season.

1. Combine Your Luggage 

Checked bag fees get expensive at the airport, especially if you’re traveling with a group. If you can, combine your luggage with your travel companions to save money.
Cindy Richards, editor of TravelingMom.com, says, “Pack one large communal suitcase so you only have to pay one checked baggage fee. Just be sure it is under the weight limit so you don’t get dinged for overweight baggage.”

2. Carry on What You Can

You don’t have to check every piece of luggage you have. Most airlines let you bring one personal item and one carry-on bag. If every person in your party brings a carry-on, you can drastically reduce the number of checked bags. You can even enlist any young children in the group.

“It’s easy to forget that children who have a ticketed seat have the same luggage allotment as adults. Even if your little one can’t carry a carry-on yet, you still can. So take advantage of that extra luggage space to help free up room in your checked luggage,” says Amanda Norcross, Features Editor of Family Vacation Critic. 

3. Ship Your Gifts 

Don’t travel with holiday gifts. You’ll end up having to pay for additional checked bags. Instead, make the best use of shipping that you can.

“Don’t buy and carry your gifts,” says Richards. “Save the hassle and baggage fees by ordering gifts online from a service that offers free delivery . . . and have them delivered to your destination.”

4. Purchase Bulky Items Later 

Norcross also points out that bulky necessities can be purchased after your flight. “When it comes to things that you can easily purchase . . . like toiletries, diapers and wipes, hold off on them packing in your luggage and instead pick them up once you’ve reached your destination.” If you have young children and you need things like diapers during the flight, pack only as many as you know you’ll need.

5. Check for Credit Card Perks

Before you spring for additional car insurance from the rental agency, you should check if you’re already covered by your credit card.

“Don’t get pushed into buying car rental insurance from the rental agency,” says J.R. Duren, Personal Finance Expert at Highya.com. “There’s an extremely high probability that your favorite credit card provides complimentary collision damage waiver (CDW) insurance that will cover you if you get into an accident. This can save you a ton of money, especially if you’re doing rentals of at least one week.”

6. Use Credit Card Travel Perks

Many travel-focused credit cards—especially airline and hotel-branded cards—will waive certain travel fees. For instance, an airline’s credit card may offer free checked bags, while a hotel’s credit card may offer free late check-in or free Wi-Fi. General travel credit cards often get you free access to airport lounges.

7. Avoid Foreign Transaction Fees

If you’re traveling out of the country, some credit cards will charge you dearly for foreign transactions, usually to the tune of 3% of the purchase amount.

“If you’re going overseas for the holidays,” says Duren, “know which credit cards in your wallet charge foreign transaction fees and which ones don’t. The few minutes it takes to sort it out is worth saving the 3% fee you’d be charged for each foreign transaction if you use the wrong card.”

8. Check Your Hotel Bill 

You should always review your hotel bill when you check out to make sure you aren’t overcharged.

Duren says, “You’ll want to verify that all charges are legitimate and there aren’t any errors. If the front desk promised you certain perks or meals for free, make sure you weren’t charged for them. As an example, if you’ve got a guest staying at a hotel under your loyalty program account, make sure they aren’t charged for things that should be complimentary according to the loyalty program’s rules.”

9. Avoid Parking Fees

Airports and hotels often charge exorbitant parking fees. When you fly to visit family, get your family to provide rides to and from the airport if you can. If you must drive, use an app or the internet to find cheaper local parking and avoid hotel parking fees. 

10. Ask for Free Wi-Fi

Even if your hotel charges for Wi-Fi, they might waive your fee if you ask nicely at the front desk. Or you can stick to using data, provided you aren’t in danger of running over your limit and incurring extra fees from your phone provider.

11. Avoid Cancellation Fees

Sometimes you can get cheaper hotel rates or airfare by waiving the right to cancel your reservation for free. But this comes at a big risk; if you do end up having to cancel, you could be liable for costly fees or even the full cost of your purchase. In the long run, paying a little extra for the right to cancel could actually save you money.

You should also check if your credit card offers trip cancellation insurance, which can protect you if your plans are interrupted. 

12. Stay with Family

Staying with family for free will provide the ultimate discount. You might have to give up a little convenience or privacy, and you might have to endure an awkward conversation or two, but at least you won’t be stuck with a hotel bill. Whether the tradeoff is worth it is up to you—your mileage may vary!

For more ideas on limiting your travel costs and money management this holiday season, visit the blog at Credit.com.

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Want to Sit Together on a Flight? That’ll Cost Extra

pay-to-fly-with-family

Airlines are making families pay extra to sit together, angering some consumers, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“Airlines have expanded extra-legroom seating on planes and labeled more plain coach seats as preferred, leaving fewer seats to reserve in advance without fees,” Scott McCartney reported. Some carriers took away the right to reserve a seat in advance from their cheapest fares, he reported, while others are “openly marketing the so-called family fee.”

Elite Status Is Key 

A big part of the issue is the disparity between consumers with elite status and passengers without top-tier privileges. For those with elite-level frequent-flier status, a greater inventory of unassigned seats is shown when they go to book reservations. In contrast, those who don’t have top-tier status only see open seats in extra-legroom rows or seats that require extra fees, the paper said.

“Why did I just pay for a better seat when I could have just moved around anyway?” Louis Silfin, a banking consultant in New York, lamented to The Journal. Silfin paid $9 extra to sit near the front of the plane on a roundtrip flight between New York and Boston. Each time he boarded the supposedly full flights, only five people filled the combined 12 seats from his row and the one behind.

For extended families taking a trip together, costs for advance seat assignments can run well into the hundreds or even the thousands, the paper reported.

Nabbing a Cheap(er) Seat

For their part, some airlines do try to make seat maps available to customers before they purchase a fare and try to seat families together at the airport. Recently, this reporter was checking in for a flight to New York when an Emirates agent noticed my husband and I weren’t seated together, despite booking our fares well in advance. We complained, and the agent resolved the issue, no questions asked.

Though spending extra on airfare isn’t ideal for families on a budget, there may be ways to get around it. For starters, you can budget for money-wasters, as I’ve written about before, and look into some of the best travel reward cards, which offer perks such as a free checked bag and the occasional seat upgrade.

Credit cards that offer airline miles are another option, as they can maximize your chance of nabbing a free flight or earning extra rewards toward one. Just be sure to check your credit before applying for any new credit cards since you’ll need a good score to qualify and want to avoid generating a hard inquiry on your credit report. (You can see where your credit currently stands by viewing your free credit report summary, updated each month, on Credit.com.)

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