A trip doesn’t mean a vacation from your budget. Be aware of the hidden costs of traveling, or you may travel your way into credit-card debt.
Traveling is expensive enough, with airfare, hotels, meals, touring, and souvenirs. Then there are the hidden costs that may be lurking beneath every cobblestone or beyond every winding road. The only way to accurately know the true cost of your travel plans is to consider all these hidden expenses up front and include them in your travel budget. The last thing you want to do is come home to a suitcase full of laundry and then have to deal with the emotional (and financial) “baggage” of a huge credit-card bill.
It’s very tempting to just think about the big-ticket expenses (no pun intended) when you are putting together your travel budget. Even if you find a great deal on flights (or train fare) and hotel, you can find yourself way over budget if you don’t also account for hidden costs. They may seem small in isolation, but they can add up to almost as much as the basic cost of the trip itself if you’re not careful.
Here is a list of 13 hidden travel costs to be aware of before you plan your next big trip:
1. Checked baggage on a flight
If you booked what seemed like a great airfare, make sure you see what the luggage restrictions are. Some flights include the cost of one checked bag, but others may charge $30 or more for each piece of checked luggage. If a family of four takes a flight that only includes the cost of carry-on bags, that family could be spending $240 or more round-trip just to get one piece of luggage per person on that airplane. Read the luggage rules and fine print carefully so there are no surprises at the gate. A low airfare may not look as attractive after you factor in the cost of getting your bags on that plane.
Also, know what perks your credit cards may have (in addition to travel rewards). If you booked on Delta, for example, and have a Delta SkyMiles American Express card, that first checked bag is free. Just make sure you book your flights using the card that maximizes all your benefits.
2. Oversized and overweight baggage
Make sure you pay attention to the weight and size restrictions for checked bags. Overweight and oversize fees might be waived if the overage is slight AND the clerk at the check-in desk is in a good mood. Other times, though, even if you’re over by a pound or a few inches, you can be charged A LOT. (The fees can be about $100 – $200 per bag, each way, for oversized and overweight bags, but check the specific rules for the airline that you are using.)
We’ve all seen that unfortunate traveler who is standing at the check-in counter, removing heavy items from a bag and trying to stuff them into a carry-on bag (and getting the nasty glares from everyone behind them). Don’t be that person. Weigh and measure your bag at home before you leave for the airport. And do yourself a favor: don’t pack your bag to the max on the way there if you want to leave room (and weight) for souvenirs on the way home.
3. Getting to and from the airport
Don’t forget to include the cost of airport transfers in your overall travel budget. Whether you are taking a taxi, bus, shared van, or train to the airport, the cost of airport transfers (round-trip!) can really add up.
Even if you are driving your own car to the airport, your travel budget will have to include the cost of parking overnight or for multiple days. Airport parking rates can be steep. (At JFK, for instance, short-term daily parking is $35-$39/day. Long-term daily parking is $18/day.) Driving yourself to the airport won’t necessarily be the most cost-effective way to get there, especially if you are going to be away for a week or more (once you figure in gas, tolls, and the cost of daily parking). If you are traveling as a family or with one other person, though, driving your own car will probably be a better option than taking a shared ride which charges per person.
Airport transfers can significantly add to the cost of transportation. Always compare the price of shared rides (airport minivan services, airport buses, shared rides like Uber Pool) and other methods (subway, train, or bus in some cities) before you take the knee-jerk( but more convenient) private car or taxi route.
4. Airport food
Everyone knows that you have to get to the airport early. This usually means that you find yourself buying meals or, at least, snacks at the airport. Be prepared to wildly overpay for water, sandwiches, snacks, dinners . . . everything. Airport food vendors can charge anything they want, especially for water and other drinks, given that you can’t carry liquids past security.
You can bring small, pre-packaged snacks or items like fruit, granola bars, etc. with you from home to save on triple-paying for these at the airport. Meals are a lot tougher to bring, but small sandwiches that don’t need refrigeration can work if you plan ahead. You might also want to bring an empty, refillable water bottle if you have room in your carry-on bag. (Most airports have water fountains past security.) Otherwise, be prepared to pay through the nose for any drinks.
5. Food on the plane
Gone are the days when every flight that offers a meal includes the food service as part of the ticket price. Be prepared to pay for any meals on board (in coach). These meals are not elegant and not cheap. But you gotta eat. If you think you can do better by purchasing a meal at the airport (also overpriced), then, “buy” all means, go for it.
6. Transportation to and from your hotel
Once you arrive at your destination airport (or train station), don’t forget to account for the cost of getting to your hotel or other lodging and then back again for the return trip. In many cities, the airport is situated in a suburb or other location outside of the major metropolitan area (either due to noise pollution, space availability, cost of the property, or other factors). The cost of getting to your ultimate destination can be steep, so it pays to look into options and compare prices.
If you are traveling to a major city that has more than one airport, make sure you consider how far the secondary airport might be from your hotel. The savings you might get in a lower airfare could be erased (or outweighed) by a much higher cost of getting to or from that airport.
Taxis or ride-sharing options are certainly convenient, but they can cost a lot to go door-to-door. If there are public transportation options like buses, subways, or local trains, these will be more affordable but may be difficult to manage if you have heavy luggage. Make sure you consider this hidden and often overlooked cost of getting from the airport to your hotel when you are figuring out your overall travel budget.
7. Hotel parking
If you drive to your destination, make sure you inquire about parking fees at your hotel. Some hotels include parking in the room rate, but others add on a nightly fee to park your car. These fees can really add up if you are staying for a week or more. Do your homework before booking if you know you will be parking overnight.
8. State and local room taxes
Did you ever book a hotel at what looked like a good price, and then when you check out and look at the bill, the nightly rate is a lot higher? The published rates often do not reflect the room taxes that will be tacked on to your stay. State and local hotel taxes can be in the neighborhood of 12-15% in many areas. Before you book a room, make sure you know the percentage of the nightly rate that will be added to your bill.
9. Resort fees
If you are staying at a hotel that has certain high-end amenities, you might get hit with a resort fee on top of the probably already high nightly rate. Even if you never take advantage of any of these amenities (sauna, whirlpool, fancy pools or gyms, etc.), you will be expected to pay the resort fee. Cynics might say that the mandatory resort fee is just a way to make the published room rate look lower. In any case, make sure you know the policy on resort fees before you book what might look like an expensive resort. Better yet, find a cheaper place and save yourself some money.
10. In-room wifi and landline
There are still many hotels that charge a daily rate to access wifi. Some hotels include so-called “free wifi” only if you are a member of the hotel’s rewards program. (Become a member and save yourself some money. It’s usually just as simple as registering for an account online or even at the front desk.) Don’t just assume you will have wifi access included with your room. Again, read the fine print before you book a room. (And if you innocently pick up the room landline and make even a local call, be prepared to see a surcharge on your bill.)
11. Minibar in room
If you think a bottle of water at the airport is expensive, try getting one from the hotel minibar. Those miniature bottles and miniscule snacks don’t come with a mini price; they are significantly marked up. The housekeeping staff takes inventory each day and relays this information to the hotel, which will add a hefty charge to your bill. Also, beware of the weighted shelf: In some hotels, even picking up a bottle to look at it might automatically ding you with a charge.
If you still feel the urge to indulge in tiny bottles of alcohol, pig out on salty or sweet snacks, or have a soft drink, then dive right in, but get ready to overpay. Better yet, go down to the lobby and see if there is a gift shop or mini-market in the hotel that sells these same items for less. (And if there’s a small store or market near your hotel, even better. With a little advance planning, you can stock up on what you need and not blow through your food budget.)
12. Foreign transaction fees and ATM fees
If you are traveling abroad, find out if your credit card provider charges foreign transaction fees on international purchases. If they do charge these fees, which can be as high as 3% of the purchase price, weigh the pros and cons of applying for a new credit card that comes with no foreign transaction fees (and no annual fee). Are you going to be abroad for a long time? Do you have too many cards already? Can you handle another credit card without taking on debt? If you decide to apply for a new card, leave yourself enough time for the approval process and for the physical card to be mailed to you.
When you are taking out cash at a foreign ATM, many banks will charge a fee for the privilege of exchanging your money. Some banks will waive this fee if you take out cash at a foreign machine that is part of a network that participates with your bank. Before you leave on your trip, check to see if your bank is part of a network or has any foreign bank partners that will waive these fees. Although a few dollars for withdrawing cash may not seem like a lot, these fees can add up if you are on an extended trip or if you take out multiple smaller amounts. The bank will also apply a currency conversion rate, and this rate might be better than what you’d find using some other local currency conversion method (and also could be more secure). Save yourself time and stress by researching local cash options (and fees) before you leave home.
13. Travel insurance
Travel insurance can include trip cancellation coverage as well as medical expense coverage for international travel (if your regular health insurance plan doesn’t fully cover your medical expenses when you are outside of the country). If you choose to self-insure as to trip cancellation risk, just be aware of the change fees or cancellation fees you might incur if you have to modify your flights or other reservations.
If you are going to be traveling abroad (especially for an extended trip), you might want to look into adding some kind of supplemental health coverage for your stay. Find out what your current policy covers for medical expenses and hospitalization outside of the country. If your policy has reduced coverage for non-U.S. expenses, it would be worthwhile to at least look into the costs and terms of medical coverage for your travel abroad. (For example, Travel Guard offers plans that cover medical expenses when traveling abroad.)
Whether you have your airfare and hotel paid for with rewards points or you’ve researched and booked great deals using real dollars, be prepared to pay out-of-pocket for lots of other travel expenses that may be traveling just below the radar. If you don’t plan ahead for these camouflaged costs and include them in your overall budget up front, you are likely to be greeted back home by a larger-than-expected credit-card bill.
Many people vastly underestimate the cost of their trip. Don’t let hidden costs “trip” you up.