How to avoid those surprising travel fees

As we too often find out when traveling these days, the cost of the trip is not necessarily the cost of the trip. Little fees, taxes, charges and surcharges pop up along the way, sometimes so often that before you’re even at your destination, your budget has been all but blown.

Keep your eyes peeled for these expensive travel fees. With a little extra effort, you may be able to avoid them.

The rental car fee: From convention center expansions in San Diego to sports stadiums in Houston and Seattle, cities are increasingly finding the airport rental car counter a swell place to pick up some quick cash to fund construction projects. At Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, you’ll pay $8 per day, on top of substantial taxes and fees, so the city can build a new rental car center at the airport. In Charlotte, N.C., travelers helped build the NASCAR Sports Hall of Fame. Often, these fees show up as undecipherable line items on your final bill.

How to avoid: In many destinations, you’ll find that the overall tax burden is lighter when you rent a car at an off-airport agency location. Anyone headed to a destination that has reasonable public transit links might consider picking up the car a few stops away. You may be able to pick up a car at an in-town location and return it to the airport without an additional charge.

Britain’s departure tax: The government calls it an “Air Passenger Duty,” and it’s supposed to end global warming. Flying London to New York? As of April, those flying coach will pay about $100. Everyone else will pay just over $200. You’ll pay it even if you’re using frequent-flier miles.

How to avoid: Flying home from London by way of another destination lowers the cost of the fee; just check that it doesn’t increase the cost of the ticket, thus negating your savings. Irish airfare taxes, for instance, are much lower.

The human being fee: Looking for the best deal on your next flight? Resist the urge to pick up the phone. Many airlines will charge you a fee for tickets booked with a live human. Again, $25 (that’s what you pay for United and American, among others) may not sound like much on its own, but these things add up.

How to avoid: Book your ticket and make any changes to that ticket online. Or find out what the best fare is by talking to an agent, then hang up and book online.

Overpriced hotel parking: Overnight parking fees are the newest profit center at far too many hotels. Even city hotels are taking the explosion of overnight parking fees as a sign that it’s cool for them to drive their existing rates into the stratosphere.

How to avoid: Read the fine print before you book — particularly in cramped destinations such as San Francisco, where we’ve seen overnight parking fees hit nearly $70. Rent a car for one day at a time from a location near your hotel and return it to the rental agency at the end of the day (let them take care of the parking). Or stay in the suburbs and use public transportation. Or stay in the city and do the same.

The change fee: United and American are charging $200 to change a domestic flight and even more for international trips. If you’re looking to change an upcoming itinerary and you booked through a third-party website, brace yourself, because the site may also want to charge a change fee as well. Say you booked a flight on United from New York to Orlando, Fla., and it cost you $280. You booked it through a third-party site, say, CheapTickets. You have to change the flight because you’re needed back home a day early. The cost of the change is now almost greater than the cost of the original ticket.

How to avoid: Southwest does not charge change fees plus you have to book directly with Southwest, so there’s no issue of third-party fees. If there’s a good chance you’ll make changes, consider buying one of American Airlines’ Choice Essential fares. For a bit more, there’s no change fee, you get a checked bag round trip and priority boarding.

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