12 Mandatory Fees That Outrage Travelers

November 19, 2015, 11:43 AM UTC
Inside Reagan National Airport As Winter Storm Cato Disrupts Thanksgiving Travel
Travelers pull luggage through Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. A storm dropping rain and snow on the U.S. East Coast on the eve of Thanksgiving Day is causing headaches both for holiday travelers and forecasters trying to determine how bad it will be. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by Andrew Harrer — Bloomberg via Getty Images

Travelers loathe fees that they have no choice but to pay, including charges to connect to the Internet, check a bag on their flight, and connect to a cellular network abroad. That’s according to a new national survey of fee-paying U.S. travelers commissioned by MileCards.com.

Among the findings:

  • More than 7 in 10 travelers said they hate fees for connecting to a wireless network. These charges are common on planes, in hotels, airports and convention centers. In an “always-on” society, being connected is no longer an option for many travelers.
  • Some 65% said they loathe luggage fees. Charges for bags are counterintuitive, rising even when the price of jet fuel drops and increasing by multiples as you check more bags. What’s more, most travelers say they have no choice but to check at least one bag.
  • Almost the same number of travelers (63%) said they strongly dislike cell phone roaming fees. Charges for phone calls and data when you’re out of your network can easily double your wireless bill. Many travelers simply turn off their phones rather than face the prospect of a higher bill.

Among other unpopular fees: out-of-network ATM fees, advance seat assignment fees on flights, and resort fees.

“The number-one reason travelers hate fees is the lack of choice to pay them,” says Brian Karimzad, director of MileCards.com. “That’s why Wi-Fi and resort fees are so hated. If you’re doing work, you have no choice but to pay up for Wi-Fi. And if you’re staying at a hotel with a resort fee, there’s nothing optional about it. These are things that should be bundled into the sticker price of your stay.”

Airlines are the worst

The survey found airlines have the most unreasonable fees. Four out of ten travelers identified the airline industry as having the worst surcharges, well ahead of banks and car rental companies (10% each), and phone carriers and hotel chains (9% each).

It is easy to see why airlines won by a wide margin. Six of the worst fees were airline-specific, with air carriers raking in extras for everything from phone reservations to seats with a reasonable amount of legroom. And they can add significantly to the cost of your trip. A recent study estimated North American airlines will collect almost $11 billion in fees this year.

Indeed, travelers complained that they paid airline fees more often than any other, with baggage charges leading the pack (41%) followed by ATM fees (33%), Wi-Fi (24%) and cell phone data roaming (22%). All told, airlines raked in $3.5 billion in baggage fees last year, up from $3.3 billion a year before.

A mixed outlook for 2016

There’s good news and bad news for travelers who hate fees, says Karimzad.

“The good news is more and more hotels and airports are moving away from charging for basic Wi-Fi access,” he says.

But airline fees are here to stay, as are other unpopular surcharges.

“Resort fees seem as prevalent as ever,” says Karimzad. “I’ve even paid resort fees at some urban properties that are questionable resorts.”

Resort fees are problematic, because they are mandatory fees added to a hotel rate, whether you use an amenity or not. Often, hotels wait until the final booking screen to reveal the fees, and some hotels don’t inform their guests until checkout.

Some hotels add mandatory resort fees that exceed $100 per day.

A coalition of consumer advocates are pressuring the Federal Trade Commission to force hotels to include all mandatory fees in the initial rate quote, and some industry-watchers predict they could succeed in 2016.

If you want to stay away from fees, you could always rent a car. The MileCards.com survey found car rental customers had the least animosity toward the companies, when it came to fees. “Rental car fees are among the least hated,” adds Karimzad, noting that less than 40% of travelers who paid rental car insurance or refueling fees felt they were “very unreasonable.”

“This could be because they are among the longest standing travel fees, and well ingrained in habits, or because consumers have more options to avoid paying them via credit card or other coverage,” he says. “Paying feels more like a choice than a requirement.”