Reading the fine print is essential for warding off travel woes. Last week we looked at charges travelers incur in package trours. This week, the hidden fees of transportation are examined.
BY REBECCA SLOAN
The summer travel season is almost here, and people are preparing to board trains, planes and automobiles and head for their dream destinations.
But before getting set to jet across the globe or to ride that ribbon of highway into the glorious red sunset, travelers would be wise to learn about the costs of getting around.
"There are hidden charges in some forms of transportation," said Luba Horsky, travel agency director at AAA's regional office in Independence, Ohio.
"Being aware of what to look for and what questions to ask can help you avoid paying more than you bargained for." Horsky said. Renting a car can include legions of hidden charges that may leave travelers paying hundreds more than they planned.
"Most car rental companies quote you a base rate, but this rate typically does not include a number of additional charges," Horsky said.
Auto extras: Some of these additional charges are: state and city taxes; fuel surcharges; extra fees to allow more than one person to drive the car; charges to drop the car off in a different city; insurance fees; extra charges for shuttle service to or from an airport; and charges for equipment such as a ski rack or child safety seat.
"When you arrive at the car rental office, you will be asked to read and sign several papers. Really pay attention to what you are signing and ask questions about what it will cost," Horsky advised.
According to Laura Bardos, supervisor of AAA's business travel services in Independence, the base rate to rent a midsize car for one week from a leading car rental company in Orlando, Fla., is about $129. After state and local taxes, the price jumps to $167.
"The $167 only includes a few basic surcharges, so that price could easily end up being even more if you are paying for insurance or other additional fees," Bardos said. Travelers could pay as much as $50 to 200 more, for example, for renting a car in Orlando but dropping it off in Tampa, Bardos said.
If travelers are surprised by all of the hidden charges in renting a car, they might be even more surprised to learn that car rental companies will not accept debit cards, will not rent a car to a person with too many violations on their driver's license and sometimes will not rent to people under 25.
"This presents a problem for many honeymoon couples under age 25," Horsky said. "If you are going to Hawaii for your honeymoon and you want to drive all over the island but are under 25, you won't be able to rent a car to do that." Car rental companies also charge higher rates to rent a car on weekends and often have higher rates for holidays.
"Make sure to ask about blackout dates, or dates when the advertised rental price is not valid. Blackout dates are often on weekends or holidays," Horsky said.
Bardos said car rental companies might charge a tax to cover the cost of a recovery fee for mileage earned on a frequent-flyer program.
Air fares: Air travel also has its own brand of hidden costs.
"There are fewer hidden costs involved in flying than there are in renting a car, but there are some things to be aware of," Bardos said.
Passenger facility charges, or fees charged to airline passengers to fly in and out of a city, are one hidden cost in air travel.
"For example, if you fly from Cleveland to Miami and you stop in Atlanta on the way, you are going to be charged three passenger facility charges," Bardos said. "They cost about $3 a piece, which doesn't sound like a lot, but if you are a family of four and each person is being charged, it can add up."
Bardos said fuel surcharges are another hidden cost of air travel. Fuel surcharges are about $20, and passengers must pay them when they leave home and when they return.
"For example, if you are flying from Cleveland to Los Angeles, you will pay $20 to get there and $20 to get back," Bardos explained. "It's just a way for the airlines to help cover the high costs of fuel."
Flying out of the country can also mean additional fees. If the destination is Mexico, for example, a departure tax is assessed to cross the border and to return to the United States. The price could range from $5 to $15 and must be paid in the country's currency. Credit and debit cards are not accepted.
Horsky said fliers also need to check about whether a low-priced airline ticket is one-way or round-trip and if the price includes federal taxes.
"Sometimes people will think a ticket price is round-trip and they go to buy the ticket and find out that it's really $99 each way," Horsky said. Prices can also differ among passengers on the same flight.
"You can have three people sitting together on a plane who all got the same ticket with the same terms, but one of them could have paid $1,000, one could have paid $800 and one could have paid $600. It just depends on when you bought your ticket and if the airline was running a special at that time," Bardos said.
Train: When it comes to riding the rails, ticket costs are pretty straightforward, according to Horsky, but there are a few things train travelers should be clear about before they climb aboard.
"Be clear about what your ticket price includes," Horsky said. "Does the price include a sleeper car or just a seat? Does the price include meals? Is it round-trip or one-way?"
Bardos said bus travel also presents few hidden costs.
"Bus travel is pretty basic. There are basic flat rates," he said.