Last updated on February 1st, 2024
No matter how well you plan your trip abroad, it’s easy to get caught out by hidden travel fees. Planning everything down to the last detail certainly takes the spontaneity out of travel, but it’s definitely one way to help make sure there are no nasty surprises.
Hidden travel fees can creep up anywhere. Some of the main areas to watch out for are: when making payments, arranging transportation, getting your final hotel or phone bill, and claiming back insurance. What is true one year, might not be the next.
Costs can vary greatly between countries and visits as new laws and regulations, such as tourist taxes or airport visa fees, come into force. A little research in advance goes a long way in making sure you’re aware of the big things. But how do you avoid the more hidden travel fees? Let me tell you.
MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE RIGHT COVER BEFORE YOU GET ON THAT FLIGHT, AND NOT AFTER THAT MINOR SKI ACCIDENT.
Many credit card and health insurance providers include travel insurance, with exclusions. For general travel, you’re most likely already covered. However, if you plan on undertaking any kind of winter or water sports, cruises, or potentially dangerous adventure activities (rafting, hiking, skydiving, etc.) you’ll need to check your policy carefully.
Getting from the airport to your destination
ALWAYS KNOW IN ADVANCE HOW YOU’RE GOING TO GET FROM THE AIRPORT TO WHERE YOU NEED TO GO BY COMPARING THE FASTEST, CHEAPEST AND SAFEST WAYS TO TRAVEL.
Remember, a taxi isn’t always the fastest. Many cities are better connected to airports via trains than by car. Trains aren’t always the cheapest, either. Sharing a taxi can work out cheaper than a train if you’re a group of 2/3 or more. Also, taxis aren’t always the safest. Make sure you know the difference between registered and unregistered taxis. While in some countries, it’s better to book a private chauffeur through your hotel than step into a local cab.
HOTELS CAN BE FULL OF HIDDEN CHARGES. ALWAYS READ THE FINE PRINT! WHILE IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO PREDICT THEM ALL, HERE ARE A FEW OF THE MOST COMMON:
Daily resort fees: Typical at big hotels with swimming pools. It’s often a mandatory charge in addition to your room fee that you have to pay even if you don’t step foot in any of the facilities.
Parking/valet charges: Often you can self-park, at an included or extra fee. Valet parking will always cost more and at extra cost. But be careful of valet-only hotels, where you’ll be charged a daily valet rate regardless of whether you take out your car or not.
Local and tourist taxes: These are common and vary greatly but are easy to find out. Just call up your hotel and be aware of what they are before making a non-refundable booking.
Additional guests: The price for your double hotel room might be higher if you are two people and not one. If you’re looking to avoid surprises, make sure you book for the right number of people.
Tipping: Tip culture is an important hidden cost to factor in. From no-tipping policies to 20% tipping expectations, it’s good to know in advance and be ready.
Currency fluctuations: Some hotels will only ask for payment at check-out. But be careful. Exchange rate fluctuations could affect the price of your trip, for better or for worse. Keeping some reserve cash can help mitigate a bad exchange rate on the day.
Late check-out: Most hotels charge a late check-out fee for up to a full night’s stay. Be on time or arrange a late check-out in advance.
Water: Most hotels now offer water for free, but it’s another thing worth checking, especially in hot countries.
Smoking: If you have a non-smoking room, this is not a hidden charge. It will clearly state “do not smoke” or you’ll be charged $200 or similar.
Paying by card
CURRENCY EXCHANGE RATES ARE A CLASSIC EXAMPLE OF HIDDEN TRAVEL FEES THAT MANY PEOPLE UNDERESTIMATE.
While I understand the argument for putting everything on your credit card to build points, it’s really not worth the 3% transaction fee. If you’re thinking, “but what choice do I have? I can’t carry everything in cash,” then you haven’t heard of Monzo.
Monzo is literally the cheapest and most convenient way to make payments abroad for anyone with a smartphone and Wi-Fi access. It’s the best pre-paid currency card product on the market right now. (I’m an actual fan, this is not a sponsored post) I’ve tried it personally and while there are a few restrictions, such as a limit of £1000 per transaction and £5000 maximum spend per month, your hotel won’t mind taking two payments for a £2000 bill.
Here’s how it’s different from similar products: the card works together with an app, where you can top it up in real time. Yes, instantly. They don’t charge any fees, and they offer the best daily exchange rate.
Paying in cash
FOR FREQUENT TRAVELLERS, IT’S A GOOD IDEA TO WATCH EXCHANGE RATE FLUCTUATIONS AND PICK UP SOME DOLLARS, EUROS, OR POUNDS WHEN THE RATE IS GOOD.
Keeping a small stash of these currencies in cash can really help avoid getting a bad rate at the time of travel.
But if you need more cash, you can withdraw at an ATM using that magic Monzo card at zero fees. Again, here your credit card provider will likely charge a non-sterling transaction fee on top of the 3% or £3 fee, while Monzo will charge you nothing.
Unfortunately, Monzo has since begun discussing implementing a fee for cash withdrawals only. Even if they introduce a 1% or 1.5% fee, they will still be the cheapest way to withdraw money abroad.
KNOW YOUR ROAMING PLAN AND KEEP TRACK OF DATA USAGE.
It’s incredible how far roaming charges have come down. But they still exist, especially when it comes to using data on your phone. Not keeping track of your data usage while roaming can result in a very unpleasant phone bill.
Many phone providers offer fixed plans, such as Vodafone’s £3 a day Euro Traveller or £5 World Traveller, charging £3 or £5 daily regardless of how many calls or data you use within your existing allowance. For other providers or countries where these options are unavailable, you could still be charged per minute or megabyte.
As far as possible, keep your mobile data turned off unless you need it, and don’t open data-heavy apps like your email unless you’re connected to wifi. Use your Google Maps without the internet. Insert your desired destination while you are connected, and track where you are along your route without needing any wifi or 3G.