published Saturday, February 11th, 2012

Phillips: Book online and avoid hotel service fees

by Ellen Phillips

While we normally think of summer when traveling, I know a number of folks who plan to do so this month (lucky dogs!); therefore, I thought a column on specific fees that really irk travelers might be in order.

Unfortunately, some fees are unavoidable, such as a room safe whether we use the safe or not or a $250 fee to take a small pet on an airline in a carry-on under the seat.

To avoid other fees while traveling, always read the fine print on a ticket or a contract of any type. Obviously, air travel, car rentals and lodging are the main culprits.

• Always book online to save money. You usually will pay up to $35 to pay by phone and $50 to pay in person at a ticket counter. (Kinda like Verizon’s new $2 fee to pay your bill on the company’s website announced in December.)

Consolidate checked baggage or use a carry-on only. Better yet, fly Southwest if you can; it charges zip, zero, nada for a checked bag. If you must check luggage, try to do so from home; if checked at the airport counter, the airline may charge an extra fee.

• Watch for hidden hotel “service” fees. For example, avoid room service. Find out upon check-in if the hotel charges for inspecting your email in the room. Never change your reservation too late (times vary) or you’ll end up paying a premium late fee.

• Return that rental car on time and, if possible, to the same place from which you rented. Opt out of extras, like a bike rack or child safety seat (always bring your own).

Bring the auto back with a full tank; you’ll pay much less than what the rental company will charge to fill ’er up. And for heaven’s sake, if you’re not going to show up, cancel as soon as possible to avoid a possible cancellation fee.

Tax Tip: You can get a break if you pay extra for a license plate that advocates a charitable cause. Deduct the fee on Schedule A.

about Ellen Phillips...

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at under Local Business.

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