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Beware of ‘junk’ charges when booking travel online

Many of us have been desperate to travel this summer as a pandemic has affected our plans for years. But travelers – and I’m sorry to say the pleasure – should beware: Cheap plane tickets or hotel rooms advertised online can be a trap to make you spend more than you anticipated.

That’s because hotels and airlines, struggling to recoup their losses from the pandemic, are resorting to nickel-and-diming consumers with hidden charges, according to studies and travel experts. Regulators call these “junk fees,

You’ve probably come across junk fees at least a few times in your travels. Additional fees can come in many forms, such as fees for resort amenities, checked baggage and seat selection, and are usually not disclosed when you use an online search engine. They creep towards the end of the transaction.

This strategy, known as “unbundling” in the travel industry, is not new. But some fees, such as baggage and seat selection on planes, emerged during the pandemic, according to studies. And obscure hotel resort fees, which are typically daily wholesale charges of $20 to $50 for basic services like Wi-Fi and parking, have become common.

All told, hotel-related junk fees cost travelers about $3 billion a year, according to Consumer Reports. for airlines, revenue from ancillary feesThat includes carry-on luggage, seat assignments and early boarding is set to grow to $102.8 billion in 2022, up 56 percent from the previous year, according to IdeaWorks, a consulting firm for airlines.

This means that the days of using search engines like Google, Expedia and others to find travel deals fast are long gone. You may be able to estimate the approximate cost of a ticket or hotel room, but it will take a lot of time and effort to match the actual cost.

“Hotel and airlines want to make it difficult for you to compare exactly what your flight or hotel stay will cost because they don’t like to be bought based on price alone,” said Henry Harteveldt, president of Atmosphere Research, a travel analytics company. Are.” Firm in San Francisco.

Junk fees have become so widespread that regulators say the practice must change soon. The Federal Trade Commission, which launched an investigation into the fees last year, said it plans to announce rules in the coming months preventing businesses from charging them.

But until the new laws come into effect, it’s up to us to keep an eye out for deceptive pricing tactics and sidestep them when possible. Here are some ideas for how to do this.

What do hotel junk charges look like?

Let’s say you’re booking a room at Hyatt’s Grayson Hotel this month. In online search tools like Google or Expedia it may show up as $331 for a room per night. But once you’re in the checkout process, the actual price jumps to $421.

When you click on Details, you will see the additional taxes that you are expected to pay. But less expected is the $34 destination fee — which includes Wi-Fi, gym access and a 10 percent discount at the hotel’s restaurant — the daily fee. This is about 8 percent of the cost of the room.

After a few days, those small charges add up.

“We have non-transparent, deceptive pricing,” said Chuck Bell, a director at Consumer Reports who has been protesting the junk fees for years. “Tour providers are reluctant to tell you the full price up front, so they hide it.”

Although hotels make it difficult to view their resort fees, several resources online regularly track charges.

Resort Fee Checker Lets you search for a hotel to see if it charges a resort fee and if so, how much. NerdWallet, a personal finance site, conducted a Analysis on the biggest offenders this year Resort fees. The study found that Wyndham properties, Hyatt and IHG charged the highest rates, on average 3.8 percent to 6.5 percent of the total cost of a room.

Another best practice is to check prices directly through the hotel’s website rather than through a third-party agency like Expedia or Priceline. This is because hotels sometimes charge a separate resort fee to those booking through third parties. And if you join the hotel’s loyalty program, they often offer to waive the resort fee for returning customers.

Airlines make the process extra painful, as additional fees usually aren’t shown until deeper into the ticket booking process. After you’ve already selected a flight and entered your personal information, you’re shown how much it would cost to select seats or check bags.

Mr. Harteveldt said that by far the best rule of thumb is to become familiar with a brand’s business model and the types of fees it typically charges. It has become common knowledge that the budget airlines offering the cheapest tickets compensate for the difference in price by charging more for basic amenities like seat selection and baggage.

analysis by NerdWallet February found that budget brands Frontier and Spirit Airlines charged the most for seat selection, and Alaska and Hawaiian Airlines charged the least.

If you choose an airline that charges for seat selection, you can choose not to select a seat and then expect to be able to do so with a customer service representative at the terminal. But it’s a gamble and not ideal, especially for families.

Now more labor is necessary if you want to travel on a budget. After plugging in all the numbers for each vendor, tally up the totals with all the charges. Only then will you be able to make the correct cost comparison.

Hopefully we will not need to do this in the future. Doug Farrar, an FTC spokesman, said that instead of advising consumers on how to deal with the surprise charges, the agency was attempting to cut down on junk fees by keeping up with the rules regulating the practice.

He said, ‘We are going to try to eliminate it. But he added: “I don’t think you can avoid it strictly speaking. It’s just baked into the process.

Some brands are evading regulatory action by changing their ways. Marriott International said it recently updated its room rates to include resort fees charged when people used its app and website to book. Hyatt said in a statement that it plans to do just that.

Of course, that doesn’t mean brands will stop charging. But it would help to know right away that the deal isn’t as good as it seems. Then you can book elsewhere.

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