See How the Travel Fees Add Up . . .

Sunday, August 31, 2008

A consumer facility charge from Enterprise Rent-A-Car: $2.25 per day. Not a dealbreaker, perhaps, but what is it? Well, it’s described partly as a daily rental fee for the car’s parking space. Yes, the space the car isn’t using for as long as you’re paying to rent it. And yes, other rental-car companies assess such a fee as well.

Like the great American inventors of the past, corporate and governmental geniuses have, in recent years, shown considerable creativity in extracting additional cash from travelers’ pockets: Think about the “resort fee” some hotels charge and New York City’s “bed tax.” Corporations cannot always control the taxes and fees heaped upon their services — have you looked at your cellphone bill lately? — but other fees seem to be a way for airlines, hotels, cruise lines and rental-car companies to underwrite their own cost of doing business.

Grouse though they may, consumers well understand why airlines are adding fuel surcharges to airfares. And there’s grudging acceptance of post-9/11 security fees. But some of the charges you find on your final bill stem from the travel and hospitality industries’ lack of “pricing power.” That means that in this atmosphere of cutthroat competition, companies don’t dare raise their prices lest they be one Priceline search away from losing business.

What’s a travel consumer to do? Be ever vigilant, questioning the $1 charge for the room safe, especially if you never used it. Be entertained by the idea that you’re paying an extra $5 for the privilege of having U.S. Customs seize that salami. And in the end, be aware that the more they nickel-and-dime consumers, the more you will do the same back to them.

— The Flight Crew

... By Airplane Air France business-class fl ight last December, from Newark to Rome, Rome to Paris, then Paris to Newark.

Unlike some American carriers, Air
France does not charge passengers
for checked bags (within the weight
and size allowance), meals, seat
assignment or pillow usage.

The taxes are unavoidable. However, if you do fly an airline that pecks away at your wallet, research the additional charges beforehand and act accordingly. Bring carry-on baggage only. Pack food. Wait until check-in to receive your seat assignment. Carry your own pillow. You can control the actual air ticket price in the usual way, by using online fare finders and by flying on off-peak days and in off-peak seasons.

. . . By Rental Car
A four-day car rental from the Manchester, N.H., airport.

BASE RATE: $171.88 ($42.97 per day)
REFUELING CHARGE: $20.20 ($5.05 per gallon)
CFC: $9 ($2.25 per day)
The CFC, or customer facility charge, varies by location; it's also known as the rental car facility charge and the facility usage fee.
VLF: $6.40 ($1.60 per day)
Not every state lets rental car companies charge a VLF, or vehicle licensing fee, which helps the company recoup the cost of licenses and titles for vehicles. Fees vary from company to company, location to location.
This is charged by airports; a.k.a. airport concession fee, concession recovery fee.
Goes to New Hampshire government, a.k.a. state tax.

TOTAL: $241.03

Unavoidable when applicable:
Excise taxes: Some state and local governments levy a special tax on rental cars to raise money, often for such projects as the construction of stadiums, convention centers and arts facilities.
Security (for on-site security measures)
Energy recovery (a fuel surcharge)
Customer contract fee (for processing paperwork)
Peak season (leaf-peeping season in New England)
Young driver surcharge (for ages18-24)

Insurance: Loss damage waiver, supplemental liability protection, personal accident insurance and personal effects coverage might duplicate insurance the renter already has.
Frequent flier surcharge (for using rental cars to earn miles)
Additional drivers
Roadside assistance
Equipment (ski rack, GPS device, child seat)

Rent through online travel sites such as Orbitz, Travelocity or Hotwire, which display total cost upfront, or make an online reservation with the car company itself.

Avoid airport fees by renting near your hotel or downtown when possible.

Sidestep refueling charges by fi lling up right before returning the car; use or AAA’s Gas Price Finder to find the lowest-priced nearby station.

. . . By Cruise Ship
A four-day Carnival cruise, departing Sept. 1, traveling round trip from Miami, with stops in Key West, Fla., and Cozumel, Mexico.

BASE FARE: $180.
Each port city charges a fee to cover such costs as security, electricity, water, etc. The port authority and the cruise line determine a rate that each passenger must pay. This figure is not based on the size of the ship or amount the passenger paid for his cabin, so everyone pays the same amount.
The cruise line does not break out these fees, considering them part of the price of the cruise; the travel agent broke them out because his commission is based on the smaller base fare.
The cruise industry began introducing fuel surcharges last year to defray rising oil costs. The amount varies per cruise line; Carnival charges $9 a day.

TOTAL: $414.99

Gratuities: Expect to pay about $10 a day per person. The breakdown:
$5.50 per day for the waiter and assistant waiter; $1 per day
waiters/cooks in the bistro (alternative dining); $3.50 for the cabin
steward. Some cruisers also tip the maitre d' and other helpful crew
Beverages: Drinks, both alcoholic and
some booze-free, are additional. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically tacked on.
Shore excursions: Any activity off the boat will cost you; tours start at $14.
Onboard classes: The main amenities such as the fitness center and evening shows are free. However, guests pay extra for special classes, such as yoga, aerobics, kickboxing and cycle spinning ($10 per person per session), and spa treatments (e.g., a Swedish massage costs $72 for 25 minutes, $109 for 50 minutes).
Internet: 75 cents per minute; $16.50 for a 30-minute package (55 cents per minute); $24 for a 60-minute package (40 cents per minute).

For land excursions, book through an independent operator, not the ship's activities desk.

Wait for the ship to dock and go online at the port, at a nearby cyber café.

BYOBeverages: Applies generally; in this case, each guest can bring onboard one bottle of wine or champagne at the beginning of the cruise, as well as a small amount of nonalcoholic drinks. Beverages can be stored in coolers no larger than 12-by-12-by-12.

. . . By Hotel Room
One night’s stay at the Library Hotel in
midtown Manhattan last winter.

STATE TAX (8.375%): $28.39
CITY TAX (5%) and OCCUPANCY TAX ($2): $18.95
These are what’s called the “bed tax.”
Finances renovations to the Jacob K. Javits
Convention Center.

TOTAL: $387.84

Gratuities: $2 or more per day for housekeeping, $1 or $2 per bag for the porter, $5-$20 for concierge services, $5 for room service, $2-$5 for parking attendant.
Housekeeping/bellhop: Additional fees are sometimes added to your bill.
Resort fee (sometimes tacked on at properties with gyms, swimming pools, etc.)
In-room safe
Luggage holding
Telephone use: For in-room calls; some hotels even
charge for toll-free calls or for picking up the receiver.
Mini-bar: Motion sensors in fridges can add charges for just opening the door.
Package delivery
Laundry/dry cleaning
Cancellation or early departure

Ask about resort fees, automatic housekeeping tips and other charges when booking. Such add-ons may persuade you to spend the night somewhere else.

Use a cellphone instead of the room phone.

Have packages delivered to a nearby shipping office (like FedEx) instead of to the hotel.

Find a nearby WiFi hot spot or Internet cafe
instead of paying for Web access at the hotel.

Skip the mini-bar items, and avoid opening the fridge. Store cold items in the ice bucket, or be prepared to contest mini-bar charges if you do use the fridge.

Allow yourself extra time at checkout to examine your bill and ask about any unclear charges.

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