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Traveler's Aid: Fee Frenzy (7/12/02)

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And now, we're about to tackle one of travel's great mysteries. Here's the scenario: You spend $200 on a plane ticket -- $152 of that is for airfare. But what's the remaining $48 for? Well, it's for a nebulous entity called taxes and surcharges. What are these taxes and surcharges? This baffling question has become even more critical in recent months because these fees are multiplying! And it's not just the airlines. Hotels, rental car companies, even the State Department -- they're all in on it. Our Travel-Expert-in-Residence, Rudy Maxa, helps us crack the case...

Rudy says that, in general, taxes and fees on a $200 ticket are about 25 percent of the cost. But compare that to cigarettes -- one of the most highly taxed items you can buy -- where you'll pay only 18 percent in taxes for your smokes.

Next, the nitty-gritty:

  • The new federal security surcharge sets you back $2.50 per flight segment
  • Federal ticket tax is 7.5 percent of the base fare
  • Federal flight segment tax: $3
  • Airport passenger facility charge of up to $4.50
  • Fuel surcharges on some routes: up to $25

And what if you want a paper ticket? Well, that'll set you back at least $10 -- $20 on American. And that's not the only new fee. Others include:

  • A third piece of luggage: $50 to $80
  • Travel agent fee: $20 to $40
  • Change fees: $100
  • Cocktails: $4 per drink

OK, so you finally land at the city of your choice and go to pick up your rental car. Are there any fees you can expect there? Sure, says Rudy: airport concession fees, shuttle fees, fuel surcharges, car-washing fees, and pesky arena and stadium fees, which alone can increase car rental and hotel charges by 15 percent.

What about at your hotel? Expect to pay for local phone calls, faxes, energy surcharges, and the odious "resort fee," which ostensibly covers things like the newspaper outside your door and the coffeemaker in your room.

Does it seem like fairly soon there will be a surcharge on the air we breathe? Perhaps...So, why the explosion in fees?

Rudy says that we're in one of the worst travel slumps in decades. U.S. airlines lost $2 billion last year, and demand for car rental is down 10 percent from a year ago. The travel industry is desperately looking for creative ways to generate revenue.

While there are some charges we can do nothing about, like the federal ticket tax, Rudy says there are other things we can avoid paying, such as: don't check your bags curbside; stick with e-tickets; for simple transactions, don't use a travel agent; avoid on-airport car-rental companies; and, as for that ridiculous resort fee, just refuse to pay it.

By the way, speaking of fee increases, passports are going from $60 to $85 August 19th, so if you need one, get crackin'!

If you'd like us to address your travel questions or concerns, send us an email. Or call us at 888-SAV-TRAV.

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