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6 Travel Agents On the Biggest Financial Travel Mistakes Most People Make

Lindsay Tigar  |  November 18, 2020

From not preparing for out-of-country mobile roaming to forgetting to read the fine print, don’t make these mistakes.

Travel, while more accessible than ever, always comes at a price. While some of us can afford five-star hotels, multi-week excursions to far-away places and reservations at Michelin-star restaurants — the rest of us have to keep our wanderlust budget-friendly. This only becomes more essential when we go from a party of two to a family of three, four, five and so on.

The solution, of course, is making strategic — and savvy! — financial decisions when planning our trips. However, the best advice isn’t to blindly book the cheapest hotel room or lowest-price airfare ticket and hope for the best, according to travel agents. Here, industry pros share the most common mistakes that can cause us to go over budget, fast:

Skipping travel insurance

You’re on the last page of booking and the travel site asks if you’d like to add insurance. After spending money on the flight and lodging, it’s hard to part with yet another $20 to $100. However, family travel adviser for Elite Travel International, Nadine Jolie Courtney, argues it could end up costing you much more if you skip it. “Life — and illness — happens, and especially for those longer vacations you’ve been saving, planning and dreaming about for ages, not getting even basic travel insurance is playing roulette with your trip,” she says. 

As has been recently underscored, unexpected surprises like a virus outbreak or man-made or mother nature-caused disaster, can completely derail an adventure. When this happens, having a fee-free opportunity to get our money back and reschedule is priceless. “The last thing you need during a vacation is to feel like you can’t afford to cancel, while spending the trip itself stressed out that you’re going to get sick or hurt,” Courtney says.

Not reading the fine print

Remember those wise words of wisdom passed down from grandma to mom, and now to us: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. The next time you’re researching digitally for a trip and find what feels like a one-in-a-lifetime price, travel agent Nick Sadleir of Steadfast Africa recommends taking a breath — and reading the fine print. He says there are far too many companies that appear cheap online but come with very expensive strings attached. The read-the-fine-print rule is true for car rentals, visa applications when necessary, hotel bookings, tours and so on. In addition to understanding the true cost, look specifically for late fee disclosures, refunds and other need-to-know info that could impact your bottom line. “I once returned a car an hour late and was charged an extra three days rental in Italy, because that was in the small print that was too long to read,” Sadleir says. 

One of the best ways to avoid these hidden surcharges? Use comparison sites — like Priceline, Orbtiz, etc. — to find the deal, but then book your reservation directly through the brand. Sadleir learned his lesson the hard way: “If I had booked direct with the rental car company, they would have let me off or charged me one day,” he says. 

Overlooking hotel amenities/valuable upgrades  

Part of scrolling through that fine print is protecting yourself from sneaky costs. But another part is well, protecting ourselves from… ourselves. Travel agent Annie Davis of Palm Beach Travel says sometimes travelers will find a super-affordable room rate and book it instantly, even if the price difference is only a few dollars from an upgrade. This is a mistake because hotels will often offer amenities that, in the end, will put more money back in your pocket. “You may see a room rate for $169. It looks good so you book it without looking at other options. The rate right below it may be $179 but include a $75 resort fee and complimentary daily breakfast for two,” she explains. “It is important to look at all rate options and packages available. This could save you a lot of money while traveling.”

Not considering the benefit of a professional

Though it’s important to note that travel agents may be a biased source when they recommend using their services, there tend to be many misconceptions on how they work. As Courtney explains, by and large, their services are free for travelers, while the destinations they specialize in will pay them a commission for booking trips. If your price range is anywhere between a Radisson to a Ritz-Carlton, Courtney says a specialist can help snag deals and discounts that are otherwise unavailable. “Your travel advisor can hook you up with things like free Wi-Fi, free parking, free daily breakfast, and even spa or dining credits. All without a fee for you!,” she adds.

When booking an appointment, however, it’s important to double-check the agent is trustworthy by reading reviews and ensuring they don’t charge an upfront fee. It’s also perfectly acceptable to ask about their payment structure  

Forgetting about your mobile device

For a true fright, try making calls, sending emails and responding to texts during a long weekend in another country. Your next cell bill will be the scariest you ever get. Forgetting to look into international data coverage and fees is common among travelers new to venturing out of the country, according to Sadleir. Not checking in with your mobile carrier before takeoff can end up costing hundreds — if not thousands — in roaming fees. While some plans, like T-Mobile, have an extensive offering, others, like Verizon, charge upwards of $15 per day for usage. Another option is unlocking our phones and buying a local SIM card to insert in your device to use the country’s carrier service. Either way — have a phone gameplan before your flight touches down.

Blindly booking the cheapest flight

In an effort to improve their financial reports, many airlines are finding each-and-every nook-and-cranny they can find to charge more. That’s why sometimes, an airline ticket seems unreasonably low, when in reality, it’s discounted because it covers nothing. As Davis explains, the ticket may be appealing but the most basic of economies usually charge for bringing a carry-on or choosing your seat. “Everyone loves hidden fees nowadays,” she continues. “Your $99 ticket may end up costing you over $200 when you add your seat assignments, baggage fees, priority boarding.”

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