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Travel’s Biggest Rip-Offs

I’m sure you’ve experienced some of travel’s biggest rip-offs.

Traveling is all about making time to relax and enjoy life.  When you say you’re on vacation then really what you’re saying is I don’t want to mess with stupid and complicated crap that can ruin my relaxing vacation in a minute flat. Unfortunately for all of us who travel, there are gotchas everywhere.  Travel’s biggest rip-offs can easily add hundreds of dollars in needless travel expenses and provide little to no upside at all.  So travel smart and don’t forget to learn from your mistakes.

Here are a few of the charges that I look out for:

WiFi Charges

This is an addiction you can choose to feed or not when you travel.  Many friends of mine choose to unplug and not worry about being connected 24×7.  For others, the struggle is real.  They must have a connection to do their constant social media posts, checking of email and seeing who has looked at their profile today.  That’s where it gets expensive.  Basic in-room internet is usually free or cheap, but if you want to connect poolside or on the beach for example, you’ll end up paying a premium charge.


ATMs & Exchanging Currency

If you are using out-of-network ATMs or the currency exchange at the airport you have arrived on the rip-off express.  Normal ATM fees can range between 3 and 8 percent, but if you go outside your network the fees grow scary very quickly.  If you need quick cash in another currency, depending on the ATM service fee, the normal fees could yield a pretty good deal with convenience.  Avoid airport currency kiosks and your local bank for exchanging, I have found their rates to not be competitive.


Purchasing Anything at the Airport

I’m pretty sure I still hold the record of $28 for a simple breakfast sandwich and coffee when I was out of time to make my flight and starving.  I will go so far as to say, plan to buy nothing at the airport.  Make it a game and try to anticipate what you’ll need to survive the airport with a budget of less than $5-10.  Then go down fighting or do without.  In case you are wondering, the duty free stores are the worst.  They are there to make you think you’re getting a great deal, but really you’re not!


Baggage Fees

I know I have blown $20-30 here and there because I showed up at the airport without a plan.  Avoid this huge potential rip-off by knowing what you have and learning ahead of time the leanest, meanest way to get it on the flight.  By reading the rules and asking questions I have trimmed what would have been more than a hundred fifty dollars to less than fifty.  I also recommend doing it with a porter at the airport vs. online, because you’ll get the benefit of their expertise.



How many times have you had everything all worked out and found out it was $50/day+ to park your car at the hotel.  You were driving to save money and now the parking fees are so high you’re not saving anything.  Depending on where you are staying, you might not have a choice.  However, if you are good at research, try to come up with a few other options. Chances are you can avoid your hotel’s greedy parking policy by finding something suitable nearby.


Cellphone and Data Charges

Everyone loves their cellphone when they travel.  However, if you’ve ever returned home to huge and complicated bill, then you know you have to be very careful not to accidentally cause a $100 phone call home just to chit-chat.  The best thing I have found to avoid these huge bills is to call your carrier ahead of time, discuss where you’re going and who/how often you will talk.  Then make an informed decision should you need to update your phone or data plan during your vacation week(s).


More from Samantha Brown:

6 Signs You’re An Experienced Traveler

Things You Must Do When You Travel

Money Can Buy Happiness

Don’t Be One of These Annoying Travelers

This Post Has 37 Comments

  1. Vacation rentals,got scammed out of $5000.00 big ones booking a vacation rental through a reputable website.Google the property owners before you book. the company that lets them advertise on there website does not care about you only the property owner.

  2. I agree travel insurance for smaller, especially domestic trips is overkill. But as someone whose husband just spent 4 days in a Glasgow hospital, and needed a helicopter ride to get there, I highly recommend it for the bigger trips, just like Sam said.

  3. In the past I had purchased the protection plan for cruises, mainly in case we had to cancel our trip. Recently we booked a cruise, bought the protection plan for the cruise, bought our air separately, bought travel insurance for it which we ended up using because my husband fell ill that require have surgery, a 4 day stay at a hospital and then an extra week stay while recovering. All travel insurance I have ever paid was paid in full with this alone.

  4. Personal pet peeve travel rip-off: having to pay a premium so your family can get seats together on the plane. Have learned that being very polite at the airport can sometimes get you rearranged without having to buy exit row or premium seating.

  5. I have one reason to buy a small item or two at an airport overseas: to get some change to use for a taxi to my hotel. If I use an airport in-network ATM to get some foreign currency, or if I bring some from home, typically they are larger bills. Buy an item and get some change in the local currency.

  6. Bring an empty water bottle so you can refill it after you get through security and avoid paying $5+ for the bottles of water that are essentially tap water anyway.

  7. “However, if you’ve purchased insurance for every trip in the last ten years and never used it then you might be needlessly adding cost to all your vacations for no net benefit. Add it all up and you’ve paid for a whole another vacation. See what I mean?”

    And of course – the one time that traveler declines insurance is going to be the time they need it. Bad advice telling your readers that insurance isn’t beneficial. Ten years later is ten years older, meaning more potential health issues with the traveler and the travelers loved ones. Buy yourself a good cancel for ANY reason policy to cover your vacation investment and you just bought yourself peace of mind!

  8. Great post, but disagree regarding travel insurance. You never know what can happen and it isn’t always about canceling your trip before you leave. I was on a quick Mexico getaway with a group, not an expensive trip or a big trip. I had travel insurance. One member of the group did not and cut their leg requiring a late night visit to the hospital for stitches. My $45 travel insurance policy would have covered the whole thing for me, but this individual had to pay $800 before the doctor would even start. I see travel insurance the same way I view my homeowners, car and health insurance. Hope I don’t have to use it, but I’m glad it’s there just in case and I don’t regret the $ I spend to have that peace of mind.

    1. I think travel insurance is like car rental insurance. Cases can be made pro/con. But if you don’t take the travel insurance and you are hurt (in the case above with the cut leg requiring an ER), many US private insurances will reimburse you as long as you bring documentation back. Check with your medical insurance carrier before you leave.

  9. Sam (or Sam’s editor!): You totally missed probably the biggest rip off–resort fees.

    That seems to be the most pressing issue among at least two of the most prominent consumer advocates I know.

    1. Yep–biggest ripoff ever. For example, Walt Disney World Swan (actually a Marriott) charges 35 bucks per day on top of the 300-400 rack rate. Really?

  10. I always get travel insurance when I leave the country- It’s not that expensive but worth it – think trip interruption

    I was in France last year and bought a modest smart phone ($160) – unlocked and I buy a SIM card and renew time when I need it. This way I don’t have to deal with the rip off US roaming rates.

    International flights- you don’t have to pay bag fees. Flying domestic- fly Southwest- no bag fees.

    At the airport, just find out how much it costs to get to the city and get just that amount of cash- you can get more in town at a cheaper exchange rate

    1. TMobile allows free use in Europe. Usually one would use more data which I’ve never had a problem as it’s just basic use, not streaming video. WiFi calling can reduce minutes used if you expect to talk a lot. Otherwise, you can just spend $30 for a Sim card and pop it in your current phone. Buying a phone is needless.

  11. Check out local banks before you travel. Bank of America has partner banks in several countries that they don’t charge arm fees at. Also I buy currency here since there is no fee over a certain amount and in the 8 years I have been traveling find it now less expensive than using an out of bank foreign atm. Also use no transaction fee credit reward card and here’s the secret pay it off in full

    1. Sam’s comments seemed to say that trading currency at a local bank was more expensive. Where is the best spot to get foreign currency prior to your trip. Assuming you will charge much of your travel while on the go, that cash should suffice. But if you need more while you are away in a foreign country, where is the best place to get it?

      About the Duty Free shops….maybe I just wasted my money last week, but you don’t pay at VAT tax, so much of what I bought was less than the stores in Paris, plus I didn’t have to carry the items to the airport. I priced a few things at the duty free shop and they seemed to be a deal. Okay maybe I got ripped off on the wine….but the other items were a deal.

      1. It’s usually easiest to just go to an ATM once you get to your destination airport and pull out a day or two’s worth of money. Cab rides usually break the money down to smaller bills to use for tipping etc. Then you can search for a partner bank to possibly reduce atm fees in the future.

  12. Visas are a rip-off! We will be in Sydney, Australia just long enough to get off our cruise ship and transfer to the airport, and we need to buy a visa. China and Russia have expensive visa costs. Also, Tanzania has a $100 visa cost for Americans, whereas all other countries only pay $50!

    I agree about bringing an empty water bottle through security and then re-filling it at a water fountain. However, in some countries, it’s not safe to drink their water, even at the airport. Thus, I paid $4 for a bottle of water.

  13. Never call your phone carrier. That is the biggest ripoff. iPhones, and other smartphones are unlocked. When I travel to Spain I head straight to vodaphone for a Spanish SIM card. €20 and I’m good for data and calls for about 3 weeks (I mostly rely on wifi and FaceTime for calls). Much cheaper than any US carrier.

    As far as airports being rip offs, while I agree I also don’t believe in “roughing it out.” With international flights you have to be there 3 hours ahead. If there are delays you might be waiting more. If I’m hungry, I eat. I don’t go for the most expensive thing but I’m not going to be hungry. The prices are unfortunate but it is what it is.

  14. Prior to traveling across the northwest I opened a checking account at a local Wells Fargo Bank. They have an extensive network across the country so I avoided all atm charges.

  15. Renting a car at the airport is much more expensive as opposed to getting it at the local branch. There are, however, fewer cars to choose from

  16. Might I add resort fees. Just got hit with the double-whammy of resort fees AND parking fee for a total of $54 a night at a hotel I booked yesterday. I was at least aware of the resort fee when I made the booking and had calculated that in to my cost. The parking fee was a total surprise. And this is for a place on a Florida beach. NOT New York City. Ridiculous.

  17. Any seasoned traveler will tell you that most of these ripoffs are either inconsequential or non-existent/moot if planned properly. It’s not unlike leaving your home and getting hit up by the Good Humor man – you know you can get better, cheaper ice cream elsewhere. Secondly looking and acting like a tourist will certainly bring the issues laid out in the article out of the woodwork. Everybody knows the world over that a one-time taxi or gondola ride will set you back more if the proptietots know they won’t be seeing the likes of you again.

    What most (even seasoned) travelers don’t know is that everything is negotiable or available discounted. Of course, you know about airfare and hotels; but did you know that restaurants, Wi-Fi, meals at hotels, taxi rides, train rides, etc. etc. are all discounted as well ? One of my favorite restaurants in the Trastevere section of Rome offers me a 30 to 40% discount every time I come in because he knows I will come back over and over and also recommend this restaurant. Moreover, get a cabbie’s business card from him and ask him to be your driver when you’re in a certain city. Most these guys work seven days a week anyway; you would be surprised how cheap they will work for you even on a door to door basis.

    I’m surprised that Samantha even included currency transfers at this late date. Most everybody knows that ATMs over the world work with almost any currency without exchange fees.

    Bottom line here: just about everything Samantha lays out can be negotiated down solely by asking one or two questions of the proprietor. As I said before, it just comes down to knowing that they know you will come back to them more than once .

  18. Watch Baggage Fees From Non-US Carriers Traveling Abroad – It is very common to hop short flights in Europe from discount carriers like Ryan Air. Be aware that their baggage fees are significantly more restrictive in both weight and size than U.S. based carriers especially is one has status on an airline. A trip to Europe with a quick flight between London and Venice was proof. I had status on Delta and maxed out my baggage allowance with them only to have to pay $650 to Easy Jet for one leg of a flight! Costly lesson! Check all the airlines you expect to fly!

  19. Travel insurance — don’t leave home, etc. Some years ago my husband and I had signed up for a two-week tour to Italy, and we signed up for all-inclusive travel insurance as well. The day before we were to leave, he became ill and was hospitalized. He insisted that I go ahead, and so (with grown children looking after him) I went. It was a great trip. and he was quickly home. The insurance reimbursed us fully for all his travel expenses, and 3 months later my older daughter and I made an excellent 10 day trip (air and all) to Maya sites in Belize and Central America, all covered by the reimbursement. Needless to say, I obtained full insurance coverage for this trip, too.

  20. While traveling to Greece a couple of years ago, my wife and I were assaulted by pickpockets on the train into Athens. Fortunately, they only got my cheap cellphone. It seems most of my travel friends have been hit by these types of thieves all around the world — and in the U.S. of A. I wish there was more security to take down these lowlifes. When my wife and I think back about that beautiful country and the wonderful sights, we’ll still have thoughts about the pickpockets because they literally rip you off. I know this is a bit off-topic but I needed to vent!

  21. My last trip to London (2019) I did get cash at the airport ATM. But didn’t use it that much, all the taxis we used had card readers. I didn’t check my statement after the trip to see what kind of Exchange fee they added. When you make a big over seas trip, don’t worry about some Exchange fees. They aren’t that bad. If you’re going to spend a lot of money on a big trip, a few extra bucks for the fees, don’t add up to that much. Just enjoy the trip.
    If you are worried about taxi cost, consider Uber- we used them also. Very reasonably priced.
    Shout out for Samantha – I have appreciated all your travel knowledge for years. You have had a travel career that no doubt, most of us have envied. Thanks for all the sharing 🙂

  22. Cellphones:
    To avoid all possibility of inflated charges when travelling abroad, I use an unlocked phone and buy a local, prepaid SIM chip – top-up, if necessary, can usually be done at local supermarkets, pharmacies, bodegas, etc. I have the Skype app on my phone for overseas calls (with a balance to be able to call any number), and WhatsApp for calling friends and family – both work using WiFi hotspots, or the local chip data allowance. I have found it is cheap to do this – I now have one month’s data and local voice coverage in Peru for about US$5.

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