How To Avoid Paying 15 Annoying Travel Fees

Table of Contents Travel is expensive enough without all the fees and add-ons airlines, rental

Table of Contents

Welcome to cheapskate land.

Travel is expensive enough without all the fees and add-ons airlines, rental car agencies, airports, and lodging companies try to pin on you.

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In the travel world, there is always a hidden cost, necessary add-on, or lurking fee you have to pay. And while most people just pay it and move on, there’s usually a way around these travel annoyances — it just takes a little research, leg work, and know-how to get around them.

In order to outsmart the system, you have to think like a cheapskate (and put in a little added work).

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And when it comes to travel, I am the ultimate cheapskate. Hello, and happy travels.


Don’t pigeon-hole yourself with a particular destination. Instead, keep an eye on cheap flights to that region, and then research how to get to your destination of choice from there.

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Sign up for flight alerts from a company like Scott’s Cheap Flights, and when you spot a deal from your airport (or one nearby) to the region you want to visit, book it. From there, you can research how to get to your actual destination, be it on a cheap local flight, train, or rental car.

For example, if you live in New York and dream of visiting Prague, broaden your search to include cheap flights to Europe. I once booked a super-cheap fare from Denver to Amsterdam, enjoyed a few days in Holland, and then booked a 60-euro flight on EasyJet to Prague (my preferred destination).


If you’re traveling with someone, avoid paying more for your plane tickets by comparing the cost of booking two tickets at once with the cost of booking two tickets separately.

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In the past, when prices would jump after I plugged in two travelers, I chalked it up to an ill-timed fare increase, but apparently booking two tickets at once really can be more expensive than booking one ticket at a time. 

According to Scott’s Cheap Flights, airlines have “fare buckets” that determine your cabin type and privileges (like if you have to pay to choose a seat). If there is only one ticket left in the cheapest fare bucket and you request two tickets, both tickets will get bumped up into the next fare bucket (which is more expensive). 

To outsmart the system, you’ll need to move fast — booking one ticket at the lower-tier fare bucket and the second at the more expensive rate. It’s a little extra work, but you might save big on the price of that first ticket.


Rather than paying to choose a seat, get to the airport early, and ask the check-in desk and gate agents if they can move you.

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I always book the cheapest fare available, which means I’m usually on a non-refundable ticket that requires me to pay extra to choose my seat. For some reason, this gets me super riled up. 

Rather than paying to choose my seat, I make a point to get to the airport a little early and then ask at both the check-in desk and the gate (usually at least one can help you) if they can move me. While not guaranteed, I’d say it works 70%–80% of the time.


Avoid the checked bag fee (and lost baggage drama) by bringing a carry-on suitcase and personal item.

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IMO, checked bags cause nothing but trouble. They almost always cost you extra and have a penchant for getting lost and causing a headache. In most cases (or I’d argue, all cases), you’ll be fine with a carry-on suitcase and a backpack.


Skip the pricey airport lunch and bring your own grub.

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While nowhere near as fun, packing your own food can save you a nice little sum. I always bring along an energy bar and nuts, but if you’re traveling over mealtime and know you won’t get food on the plane, you might want to pack along a sammie or a container of leftover pasta salad (put it in a container you can throw away after).


If you have to park at the airport for a long period of time, consider booking a night at an airport hotel and parking for free.

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Of course, taking the train or getting a ride is ideal (and free), but sometimes airport parking is unavoidable. When you’re destined to be an airport parker, check the daily rates and compare it with the cost of booking a night at an airport hotel where you can park your car for free and take the shuttle to the airport. (Just make sure to ask the hotel if free parking is included before you commit.)

For example, if a hotel is $89 a night and you’ll be gone for 10 days, paying $89 up front (and sleeping in before your flight) beats paying $17 a day to park your car ($170).


Instead of picking up your rental car at the airport, look at car rental locations around the city.

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Everyone wants to hop off the plane and into their rental car, so car rental companies almost always charge extra for an airport pickup. But what many people don’t realize is that by taking a 15-minute Uber or train ride to another location, you can rent a car (from the same company) for much less. 

The trick is to plug in the city, not the airport, when searching for a car rental. That way, you’ll see all the various locations and can pick the one with the lowest prices.


Before you say “yes” to car rental insurance, check your credit card benefits.

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Rental car rates are almost always reasonably priced until you start signing up for all sorts of add-ons and various insurance coverages.

Here’s the reality: Most credit cards offer some sort of collision-damage and loss-damage waiver coverage, so as long as you use a credit card with that benefit to book your car, you’ll be covered. It just takes a little pre-pickup research in order to comfortably say “no” to all those additional (and in most cases, duplicate) coverages that rental car companies offer.


Avoid high nightly rates on Airbnb by booking a month-long stay.

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This trick won’t work for every trip, but if you’re staying somewhere long enough, it may pay to book a full month on Airbnb rather than a couple weeks. Why? Because once you hit the 30-day mark, Airbnb hosts cut rates big time — I’ve seen discounts up to 60%.

Even if you’re not staying the full 30 days, it might save you some cash to book the full month at the lower, flat rate and cut out early.


Rather than adding international data to your US phone plan, buy a SIM card or rely on Wi-Fi.

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Accessing data while abroad can cost you upward of $10 a day (🧐), or you could buy a SIM card and a couple weeks of data for around $20 total (that’s what I usually pay in France). The trick is to wait until you’re outside the airport to buy the SIM card, as airports love to amp up prices.

Another option? Rely on Wi-Fi and enjoy not being connected 24/7. 


Instead of taking taxis, walk, bike, or take public transportation.

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In the era of Uber, it can be hard to break yourself of this little habit, but your wallet will thank you. Walk when you can, and when you can’t, take a bus, train, or city bike. 


Rather than eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner out, eat two of your daily meals at your hotel or Airbnb.

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Foodies may balk, but when I travel, I make a point to eat two meals a day at “home.” Usually cereal for breakfast and either a PB&J lunch or a stir-fry dinner. While boring, this little move can save you a TON of money.


And when you do eat out, stick to grab ‘n’ go and counter service restaurants.

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I’m clearly not a five-star type of traveler, but I honestly believe ordering a falafel off the street in Paris (check out L’As du Fallafel) beats a Michelin-starred meal. My absolute favorite thing to do is grab food, post up in the park, and people watch.


Instead of paying an additional 1%–3% on everything you buy abroad, get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.

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I’m honestly shocked that this is still a thing, but credit cards will actually charge you an additional 1%–3% when you pay for something overseas. The good news is that there are plenty of credit cards with no foreign transaction fees and great travel perks, including the cards I use: Chase Sapphire Reserve and United MileagePlus


Finally, rather than stressing about ATM fees (or trying to forget that they’re a thing), find a bank that reimburses you for any and all ATM fees that you’re charged.

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It sounds like a tall order, but it exists, and it could save you $3–$5 every time you use an ATM (either in the US or internationally). I moved all my banking to Charles Schwab for this very reason — at the end of every month, they reimburse me for any ATM fees I was charged (with no limits). 

What travel add-ons drive you crazy? Have you discovered a way around them? Please share, wise one.

For more money tips and tricks, check out the rest of our personal finance posts.

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