10 Things You're Paying Too Much for When You Travel (and How to Pay Less)


You may eagerly anticipate a getaway or a weeklong escape, but traveling isn't always a bargain. The cost of airfare, hotels, transportation, food, and entertainment can hit your pocket hard. And if you don't plan well, you can easily overspend in these areas.

Here's a look at 10 things you're probably paying too much for when traveling, plus tips on how to pay less.

1. Airfare

Gas prices aren't getting any cheaper. Typically, the more you pay at the pump, the more you will pay for airline tickets, too. The price of airfare can be the difference between a staycation and a trip away from home. (See also: 10 Ways to Get Free Airline Tickets)

But higher fuel prices doesn't mean you have to pay an exorbitant rate for a plane ticket. You may feel that your options are few, but there are ways to save.

Always book your airfare in advance — perhaps three to six months. A travel website, such as Expedia or Travelocity, can help you find excellent deals. However, these websites may not have the lowest prices for all airlines. Therefore, you should check prices and promotions directly through individual carriers. For example, Southwest and JetBlue frequently have deals as low as $59 one-way to select cities.

You can also use a rewards credit card to accumulate points and miles, and then redeem points when you're ready to book an airline ticket. (See also: Best Travel Reward Credit Cards)

2. Hotels

A nice hotel in a well-known chain will cost at least $100 a night — which adds up quickly.

To pay less for hotels, prepay for your room. This is a nonrefundable purchase, so only prepay if you're absolutely certain that you will arrive on the selected dates.

If you have a AAA membership or belong to another organization, ask the hotel about discounts. You can also compare hotel rates through travel websites. However, you may find cheaper prices booking directly through the hotel.

Always ask if there's a cheaper rate available when you check in.

Then again, maybe you don't care about luxury and simply need a clean place to sleep at night. If you're not overly particular, skip the chain hotel and save money by booking a night at a smaller, privately owned hotel. You might also find great deals booking accommodations through online services like Airbnb. (See also: Is Your Hotel Hiding These 5 Fees?)

3. Food

You have to eat while traveling. Next to airfare and hotels, this is probably your third largest expense. There are, however, ways to reduce how much you spend on food.

Book a room at a suite hotel — which has a small kitchenette in each suite — and prepare all or some of your meals in the room. Likewise, you can save money by only staying in hotels that offer free complimentary breakfast. 

4. Baggage Fees

Not only is there the cost of flying to a destination, many airlines charge a fee for each checked bag. This fee varies by airline, but can run as much as $25–$35 per bag.

To get around this fee, book with airlines that don't charge a baggage fee. Southwest Airlines allows passengers to check up to two bags free, and JetBlue allows one free checked bag.

Many travel reward credit cards will cover baggage fees if you pay for your flight with the card. In addition, if you gain elite status in an airline's frequent flyer program, baggage fees are waived along with other perks such as early boarding.

Additionally, closely monitor the weight of each piece of luggage. There is an additional baggage fee for any checked bag weighing more than 50 pounds.

5. Car Rentals

Car rental companies know that you need their services when traveling, and unfortunately, this service doesn't come cheap. However, rental rates are often lower on the weekends, as many companies promote deals that cater to leisure travelers. Include a weekend day in your reservation and you might save on the rental cost. (See also: Easy Ways to Save on Car Rentals)

You can also knock dollars off your car rental by declining the rental company's insurance (if you have personal auto insurance), and by returning the rental car to the original pick-up location. Some companies charge extra for one-way rentals. Also, don't forget to refill the gas tank prior to returning the car. There's a fee for not replenishing the tank.

6. Transportation

Taxis are a fast way to get around the local area if you don't rent a car, but it'll cost you.

Just to step foot in a taxi can cost around $2.50 (based on location), plus you have to pay a fee per every 1/4 mile and every idle minute.

This is a convenient way to travel if you're in a hurry, but it's more cost-effective to take the subway, a metro train, or the bus. Your hotel's concierge may be able to help you navigate the local transit system.

Book at hotels that offer free shuttles to and from the airport. And if you're staying in the city or at the beach, look into daily bike rentals. This is a fast, cheap way to get around. (See also: Get Your Travel Rewards on the Ground)

7. Credit Card Fees/Currency Fees

It might be easier to use a credit card when traveling abroad, but if your credit card features a foreign transaction fee, you'll pay as much as 3% per every transaction.

There is a simple solution: if you're traveling to another country, bring a credit card that doesn't charge a foreign transaction fee. And since the US dollar is commonly accepted in some foreign countries, such as Costa Rica and certain Canadian cities, you might be able to use cash and not worry about currency exchange

If you need to exchange money in a foreign country, airports and hotels offer currency exchange. This is convenient while traveling, but you may pay a higher transaction fee. Banks and ATMs typically have cheaper exchange rates. Always check rates before exchanging money. (See also: Credit Cards With No Foreign Fees)

8. Tours

Understandably, you want to see as much of the local area as possible, and you may feel more comfortable traveling with a tour company. Just know that some tour companies will take advantage of your excitement and charge inflated tour prices.

To save money, compare prices among different tour companies before booking an excursion. If you're traveling with a group, ask the tour companies about group discounts. Also, check sites like Groupon and Living Social. These websites may have deals on local tours and other entertainment. (See also: How to Live Like a Local When Traveling)

Online marketplaces like Fiverr may have ads from locals who give inexpensive walking tours. If you have a smartphone, download a self-guided walking tour app. There are city-specific apps for Charleston, Savannah, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City — just to name a few. All you need are comfortable shoes and your headphones.

9. Internet Service

An Internet connection lets you conduct business, stream movies, and stay connected while traveling. However, some hotels charge a daily fee for Internet service. To save money, look for hotels that offer free Wi-Fi, or book a hotel near locations that offer free Internet connection — bookstores, libraries, coffeehouses, or fast food restaurants. (See also: How to Get Free Internet Access)

You can also bring your own Wi-Fi. Call your cellphone provider and see if you can use your smartphone as a personal hotspot, for an extra fee. Or purchase a 4G MiFi (mobile hotspot) and enjoy pay-as-you-go Internet service.

10. Souvenirs

Whether you're buying T-shirts, mugs, or keychains, souvenir purchases can cut into your travel budget. A local attraction or theme park will likely have an onsite gift shop — the seemingly perfect place to pick up a few items for yourself or family. However, if you exit an attraction and drive a little ways, you may find a slew of cheaper souvenir shops in the touristy areas.

For something a bit more interesting or region-specific, skip the usual gifts and look for inexpensive alternatives. Maybe a hand fan or a traditional umbrella from Japan, or perhaps assorted French candy if you visit Paris. Other inexpensive options include wearable jewelry, hair combs or barrettes, Christmas ornaments, teas, and spices. And good ol' postcards are hard to beat both in terms of price and kitsch

Do you have other travel traps to avoid that you'd like to share? Let me know in the comments below.

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Guest's picture

Not sure if anyone has used Priceline.com's Express Deals, but when my family travels we use it and save a lot of cash. We also use their credit card and we rack up 5% cash back we use towards hotels stays.

Yep, great point about finding hotels that offer the free breakfast. For lunch and dinner we take a cooler and stock it with grocery store finds. It is amazing how one can travel on a smaller budget if you take some of these steps mentioned in the article.

Thanks for the tips!

Guest's picture

I can't bring myself to pay for a hotel room. After all, I'm only there to sleep.

A private room in a hostel can cost less than $40. And you'll meet fascinating people.

Guest's picture

Regarding the point # 3, Food -

I personally feel that travelers don't like to spend too much time in preparing their food and exploring items locally. Instead, you can make a list of good and affordable restaurants by checking local websites of the place you're visiting. This will reduce food expenses a lot and you too can taste a wide range of food items.

Guest's picture

For souvenirs, try a local hardware store or grocery. I picked up wonderful French sponges, salt, mustard and candies. Fun and affordable!

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