It’s easy to get excited about going on a trip. There’s plenty to do when planning for a getaway. That includes connecting with old friends or exploring a new country.
One of the first questions I have is, “How much will it cost?”
The answer depends on a wide variety of factors. First class or coach? Fancy hotel or camping? Are you going for a weekend or a week?
For years (OK, decades) I worked in the retail travel business. People would call up and ask agents to price out a trip all the time. These days, since most travelers try and plan trips on their own, it’s more challenging to get a clear picture of that simple question: “How much will it cost?” Spoiler: It’s more expensive than you think.
When it comes to airline tickets, most domestic carriers go out of their way to discourage travelers from buying the cheapest fare.
Between Anchorage and Seattle, the cheapest fare is $157 one-way. There’s a 21-day advance purchase requirement. But that’s the Saver or Basic Economy fare level. At that level, travelers give up quite a bit: Alaska Air limits mileage accrual to 30% of miles flown. Delta will not credit any Skymiles to your account with a Basic Economy ticket. There are few, if any, pre-reserved seats available and Basic Economy travelers are the last to board — so there’s less overhead bin space available.
It’s an extra $30 each way to upgrade to a “main cabin” coach fare. Prepare to pay still more for extra-legroom seats (Premium on Alaska Air or Comfort+ on Delta).
United and Sun Country prohibit travelers from bringing a standard carry-on suitcase aboard without paying extra money if you purchase the cheapest ticket.
At least Delta and Alaska allow local residents two free checked bags, as long as you belong to their loyalty plan (Club 49 or SkyMiles).
Between Alaska and Europe, there are some signs that the basic airfare costs are beginning to come down. Between Anchorage and London, Delta is charging $690 roundtrip, starting Sept. 27. But that’s a Basic Economy price. Travelers won’t earn SkyMiles points, won’t receive seat assignments and are the last to board.
If you want to check a bag to Europe and you have a Basic Economy ticket, be prepared to shell out an extra $150. Or, pay the $150 upcharge, which includes your checked baggage fee, seat selection and all the “main” coach benefits.
Many travelers have saved their frequent flyer miles for a trip to Europe. To fly to London on British Airways at the end of September, it’s 40,000 Alaska Air miles one way, plus $290 in fees. Returning on Oct. 16, it costs another 40,000 miles and $489 in fees. The total fee amount is $778. So much for a free ticket.
If you fly on American, it’s 30,000 Alaska Air miles and $24 between Anchorage and London. Coming back from London to Anchorage cost 22,500 miles and $218 in fees ($242 total).
Other international airlines have the extra-fee game refined to a fine art.
Norse is a new airline flying nonstop from Los Angeles to Oslo. Traveling on Sept. 26, a one-way ticket costs $259. But that’s just the beginning. A small carry-on such as a purse is included. But a regular-sized carry-on (up to 22 pounds) costs $45 each way. A standard checked bag is $75 one-way. To get an assigned seat costs between $25 and $120 one-way. The “main meal” served after take-off costs $30 when ordered in advance. A “light meal” before landing costs $20.
Norse gives you the option of skipping the line at the airport for $20. Then, to get “priority boarding” is another $15 per person. If you just show up at the airport to check in, the cost is an extra $10. Checking in online is free.
Even with the extra charges, Norse’s one-way tickets are cheaper than flights on Delta or United, which range from $573-$636 one-way.
Flights on Jetstar always leap to the top of the page when I’m looking at flights to Australia. Jetstar is owned by Qantas and flies from Honolulu nonstop to both Sydney and Melbourne, Australia.
On Sept. 22, Jetstar has a flight from Honolulu to Sydney for $287 one-way. If you click through to book, Jetstar actually lists the option as a starter fare. One small carry-on (up to 15 pounds) is included. A checked bag of up to 44 pounds costs $39 when booked in advance. To bring an extra bag in the cabin with you costs an extra $43 (both bags may not exceed 30 pounds).
On Jetstar, a standard seat assignment ranges from $7-$25. You don’t have to pick a seat in advance, but you’ll likely end up in the middle somewhere. Meals are additional, but it’s difficult to find out how much they are until you’ve booked your tickets.
Both Hawaiian and Qantas also offer nonstop flights from Honolulu to Sydney. On Sept. 22, Hawaiian charges $602 one-way, while Qantas charges $961 for a one-way flight.
The extra-fee game is not limited to the airlines. The next time you rent a car, take a look at the breakdown of the price. If you’re picking up a car in Phoenix on Sept. 19, the cost for an intermediate car from Budget is $57.81 (booked at Costco Travel). The taxes and fees add an extra 50% to the cost: $28.43. The new total is $86.24 for one day.
When car rental costs are too high, I check out Turo.com, which is like AirBnB for cars. A rental from Turo on the same dates (Sept. 19-20) is advertised on Turo’s site as $34. But once you log in, Turo adds a trip fee of $15, an airport fee of $4.92 and sales tax of $4.23. The total fee of $58.35 is still less than renting from the Budget counter, but it’s much more than $34.
If you want a place to stay, be prepared to pay more than the advertised price. In Phoenix, a room at the iconic Arizona Biltmore is listed as $367 per night, arriving on Sept. 26. But the total cost comes out to $476.40 per night. On top of the base rate, there’s a mandatory charge of $56 per room, per night. The 12.57% tax rate adds another $53.20 per night.
According to Hilton’s website, the mandatory charge covers guest internet, fitness center access and classes, bicycle usage, two bottles of water each day, “lawn games”, access to water slide and an $11 charge to the Historical Preservation Fund.
High hotel costs are one reason travelers choose AirBnB, VRBO or other vacation rental options. For a rental in the Phoenix area with AirBnB, there are lots of options. A Guesthouse by Alicia has a two-night minimum. Listed at $139 per night, for two nights, is $278. But the total is $398. The additional fees include an AirBnB service fee of $44.89, a cleaning fee of $40 and taxes of $35.04.
It’s obvious why travel companies, whether airlines, hotels, or cars, disguise the true cost of their services. It’s because lower prices look better when travelers are comparing their options. But it’s important for travelers to understand that there are very few providers that will display the actual cost before it’s time to press the buy button.
The big print giveth — and the fine print taketh away.