The Worst Travel Rip-offs and How to Avoid Them


Don’t panic if your restaurant bill looks wrong — check it closely and then talk to the staff about it. Nicely. (Photo: iStock/pashyksv)

By Marybeth Bond / The Gutsy Traveler

Getting ripped off from time to time is just part of traveling — don’t let it ruin your day or your overall experience. But there are things you can do to avoid some of the most common jabs at your wallet. Let me share my travel tips for how to avoid hidden fees, disappointing experiences, and overpriced items.

1. Baggage Fees

Depending upon the airline, you can pay $15 to $75 for the first checked bag, and more for overweight bags. When possible, pack lightly enough to carry-on one bag or fly airlines that still allow free checked bags (two bags for Southwest and one for JetBlue). Many airline frequent flier programs allow members with a high status to have a free checked bag, so check your status.

2. Wi-Fi Charges

Hotel Wi-Fi can be very expensive — hotels charge from $10 to $30 per day to have it in your room. Save money by setting up a personal hot spot on your smart phone and using your cellular service to access Wi-Fi on other non-cellular devices.

Some hotel chains offer free in-room Internet access to members of their loyalty programs, so ask in advance and sign up to take advantage of the offers.

3. Paying Double for Rental Car Insurance

Check your current car insurance policy to see if it covers your rental car. Don’t forget to call your credit card company to check their coverage of rental car insurance too. Major credit card companies (including American Express, MasterCard, Discover and Visa) offer protection if you use your card to pay for the rental.

Related: Savvy Rental Car Strategies: 8 Ways to Save Time, Money and Stress


Check if your credit card provides sufficient rental car insurance — it could save you big bucks. (Photo: iStock/izzetugutmen)

4. Overpriced Hotel and Airport Food

To avoid the overpriced water sold at airports, bring an empty water bottle with you through security at the airport. Then, fill it up at a water fountain or ask a barista at a coffee shop to fill it up for you. Pick up some snacks at a local corner store instead of hitting the hotel room mini bar, which can lead to expensive surprises on your final bill.

5. Restaurant or Hotel Bill Mistakes

Many times mistakes occur by accident; politely ask responsible staff to revise. Even if it wasn’t a mistake, a polite request to fix the bill will go much further than an aggressive accusation.

6. Credit Card Transaction Fees

Check with your bank before you leave: Some charge $5 per withdrawal, and an added 3% for all credit card purchases. Many credit cards and banks do not charge these fees. Avoid carrying a ton of cash around with you while abroad. Use your credit or debit card and go to ATMs for cash. Before you leave home, call your bank and credit card companies to put a “travel alert” on your file detailing your travel plans, so they don’t think the foreign transactions are fraudulent and freeze your accounts.

Related: Planes, Hotels, Cars — How to Book Everything Better

7. Tourist Trap Restaurants

If you’re visiting a restaurant or attraction that has an online presence, Google it or search it on Yelp! to see what the locals say about it — and to find any available coupons that might get some extra savings. Often restaurants run deals on Yelp! where if you “check in” at that restaurant and review it, you get a free dessert or 15% off the total bill, etc. By researching online, you’ll not only see whether there are any coupons or extra savings available, but people will tell you if the chef changed a month ago and the food is lousy now.

8. Airplane Food

In-flight meals are often expensive and disappointing, and everyone will drool over the take-out snack you were smart enough to pick up en route to the airport.

Related: These Are the Worst Things You Can Do on a Plane


Avoid high-priced airplane cocktails by bringing your own little bottles. Bring some for your seatmates too! (Photo: iStock/Panmaule)

9. Airplane Drinks

Think ahead and pick up some nips (three-ounce or less to comply with TSA requirements) at the local liquor store and bring them with you to avoid the $6 “cocktail” charge many domestic airlines charge for weak drinks.

10. Hidden Tour Fees

Ask lots of questions and read the fine print before signing up for an organized tour. Questions to ask: Is tax included in the price? Are tips or service fees included, and what can I expect to pay in this regard? Any meals that are not included? Is alcohol included? Are all side trips/shore excursions included in the price, and if not, how much are they? Cancellation policies?

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