A bargain vacation package to your dream destination can often seem too good to be true. While an idyllic, wallet-friendly trip could actually be at your fingertips, booking online sans travel expert requires the foresight to consider additional costs that aren't included in many advertised packages. This process can be tricky, so we've highlighted some commonly overlooked (or outright hidden) costs to consider before shelling out your carefully saved dollars on a vacation deal.
Several years ago, airlines began to compensate for rising fuel costs and plummeting profits by making us pay for, well, everything. Checked bags became one such cost, and now range anywhere from $15 to $50 a piece. And prices are still rising; United recently announced that it will charge $100 for a second checked bag on international flights. Meanwhile, Spirit Airlines is not only charging for carry-ons in general, but (like other carriers) is also incorporating fees for oversized carry-on bags at the gate to discourage passengers from stuffing their luggage onboard. That means an extra $25 charge you may not have anticipated if your luggage is a smidge too big and requires last-minute checking in.
Entrance and Exit Fees
Though some new government regulations better protect consumers by requiring airlines to disclose fees associated with fares, entrance and exit fees can still put you in a bind at the airport. Not only do the monetary costs vary by country, but they can also be required in cash, some even in the local currency. For example, Argentina charges $131 USD to enter and Belize $39 USD to exit (though as of October 2010 all airlines include these fees for Belize). Before you embark on a trip, it's best to find out if those fees are already included in the price of the ticket, and whether they can be paid for by credit card or if you need cash on hand. You can view country-specific requirements on the U.S. Department of State website.
The Single Supplement
Traveling solo? The cost of doing so could cost you double. Travel packages are typically priced according to the notion of a “single supplement.” Roy Ramsey of Travel + Leisure's A-List Betty Maclean Travel says that high-demand itineraries can have single supplements that raise the price of the solo trip up to the cost of a trip for two. On the other hand, last-minute scheduled departures that aren't sold out sometimes result in no single's fee at all. But this cost depends on tour operator, location, and popularity. Some agencies such as Rick Steves' Europe Tours do have rooming policies that allow you to skip paying the fee by staying with a fellow tour member. Checking with the tour operator first will give you the best ballpark of what you kind of cash you'll have to fork over for going it alone. That said, many of the hottest vacation package deals that we see usually require a 2-person booking, so you may want to find a friend to travel with, if only to avail of the best discounts.
Perhaps the biggest travel hiccup is the resort fee, which isn't generally reflected on websites like Orbitz and often leaves travelers unpleasantly surprised. While these fees are disclosed (read: hidden) in the fine print, they can often account for the difference that made the deal attractive in the first place. That's not all: they are sometimes allotted for amenities you don’t even use (shoeshine, anyone?). Remember to read the fine print carefully or call the resort to find out what exactly the fee covers.
If you're bringing your own phone abroad, pesky roaming charges can be a traveler's downfall. Ramsey suggests contacting your cell phone provider to check on the cost of outgoing calls and on the roaming charges imposed by carriers in your destination country. One such mishap – a $2,400 roaming charge in Egypt – taught Ramsey this lesson fast. While he was able to dispute the charge, knowing beforehand will save you the heart attack – and hassle. Ramsey also says renting an international cell phone can be cost effective; you'll pay as little as 24 cents a minute if you go through a travel agent. But if you decide to resign yourself to traveling sans the use of your phone, make sure to either switch it off entirely, or turn off all data, cellular, and roaming options off, just in case.
If you are headed to an exotic locale, chances are you'll need to take some necessary health measures before arriving. Vaccination requirements vary by destination, but can add up depending on the number of countries and specific regions within country that you intend to visit. As Ramsey points out, trip-goers should take into account not only the required and recommended shots needed coming from the United States, but also the requirements of each country thereafter. A multi-country trip to off-the-beaten-path destinations in Peru, Colombia, and Brazil, for example, would potentially involve Hepatitis A, B, and Typhoid vaccinations along with malaria pills from the United States, as well as a required yellow fever shot to enter Brazil from Colombia on the last leg of the trip – totaling as much as $400 altogether. You can look at vaccination requirements from the World Health Organization by country.
Doing your research on any or all of these extraneous costs can make or break a potential vacation. So, the next time you see a jaw-dropping travel deal online, cover your bases so you can finally book that dream vacation with some piece of mind.