10 Sneaky Vacation Costs That Add Up Quickly


We all love going away on vacation, but we don't love the costs associated with it. Usually, the big costs are taken into account before leaving the house — the hotel, the flight, the attractions, even the rental car. But what we often forget about are the little costs that can eat into the budget before your plane even takes off. Here are 10 of the biggest offenders, with a little advice on cutting down these last-minute expenses.

1. Check-In Fees

Most of us check-in way ahead of time to avoid lines at the airport. However, more airlines are starting to charge for different aspects of this service, knowing that you would rather pay a fee than leave it to the last minute. In some instances, you will be charged for the convenience of checking-in online. Amazingly, there may even be a cost for printing a boarding pass (currently Spirit charges $10 if you have one printed at the check-in counter), so look for options that are free (like printing yours at home, or using an app). (See also: 5 Airline Miles Secrets Only Frequent Flyers Know)

2. Checked or Carry-On Luggage Fees

If you've flown anywhere in the last few years, you probably noticed how insanely full the overhead luggage compartments were. That's because people got wise to the checked baggage fees, and started bringing even more carry-on luggage instead. In fact, you'd often see flight attendants asking for carry-on bags to be checked free, due to space issues. However, recent carry-on fees (which are usually more than checked baggage fees) have reversed that trend. Now, there's plenty of room in the cabin, because once again, people are looking for the cheapest option. So, even if you have a bag that's carry-on-sized, look at the prices. It may be cheaper to check it.

3. Overweight Luggage Charges

This one can really bite you at the last minute. If your bag weighs more than 50 pounds, you will pay a penalty, and this can vary depending on the airline. For instance, Frontier will charge you $75, whereas American Airlines tacks on a whopping $200! Sometimes, you can do some quick swapping between bags to get them all under 50 pounds, but if that's not an option, you may find it cheaper to leave some items at the airport (give them away, trash them) rather than pay the hefty fee.

A good way to avoid this is to buy a luggage scale and weigh your luggage before you ever get to the airport. Bring it with you, too. You may also want to pack a light extra bag that you can use in an emergency. Usually, the additional bag fee is cheaper than the overweight bag charge. Or, try Luggage Forward, which ships your bags to and from your destination.

4. Seat Selection

If you're happy with any old seat on the plane, you usually don't have to worry. But if you would like to choose your seat (and if you're not traveling alone, you will most likely want to sit next to the person you're flying with), you'll be faced with a variety of costs. These costs get much higher as you move toward the front of the plane, where there is extra legroom, or if you want to sit in an exit row. Some airlines, like Spirit, will charge you for an advanced seat assignment, no matter where it is on the plane, so you may want to wait until you get to the check-in counter.

5. Food

When you're on vacation, you don't think much about food on the way to your destination. But remember, you're a captive audience in an airport. And when you're hungry or thirsty, you'll pay big bucks. Airport food is always more expensive than it is elsewhere, and when you're traveling as a family, those costs add up quickly. On the plane, it's even worse, with in-flight meals now costing upward of $10 for something quite meager. So before you leave, try and eat a good meal to keep you going through the airport and flight.

6. Parking

If you park at the airport, you won't be paying for this until you return. But make sure you budget for it, because it can really add up (especially at a garage parking, which can run over $20 a day). Instead, look at off-airport parking, which is cheaper and can be paid for in advance. These places offer valet, and covered and uncovered parking, with free shuttles to and from the airport. Most offer coupons and discounts as well, so do a little research before you book. You can get your parking down to $5 a day if you're smart.

7. Car Transportation

If you decide to take a taxi to the airport, you will save on parking fees, but you'll replace them with cab fares. An airport run is often a standard fee for most cab companies, and usually comes with the "airport access fee" tacked on. Depending on where you live in relation to the airport, you can easily spend $75 on a one-way trip, and that does not include the tip. Services like Lyft and Uber are cheaper (although watch out for the surge pricing with Uber), and you can also find car services that specialize in airport runs.

8. Currency Exchange

If you're traveling out of the country, you'll want to turn your dollars into cash you can use when you arrive. And that costs money. Depending where and when you do it, the service fee and poor exchange rate could really cost you. Do not exchange your money at the airport. It's the worst place to do it because it's the most convenient. Instead, order the cash from your own bank way ahead of time, or use a reputable online service. If you can, bring a credit card with no foreign transaction fees with you. It'll really help.

9. Visa Fees

Depending on your destination, you will have to purchase visas to enter the country. For instance, right now U.S. passport holders are required to pay a $140 fee per visa to enter China. That's almost $600 for a family of four, which really adds a lot onto the cost of the vacation. You could choose to visit a country that does not require a visa. There are currently 38 countries in the Visa Waiver Program, so if you pick one of those, you don't have to worry about this fee.

10. Carry-On Friendly Items

If you're planning to bring toiletries and similar personal items on the plane with you, get ready to go shopping. The restrictions are quite clear: You can bring a quart-sized bag of essentials, but each liquid, aerosol or gel is restricted to just 3.4 ounces. If you bring expensive perfume or cologne, and it's bigger than 3.4 ounces, it will be confiscated.

What are some other sneaky vacation fees to look out for? Share with us!

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