You want to see a concert. Or you’ve been saving up for a relaxing week at the beach. Or maybe you just need milk. What do all these things have in common? You could be stuck paying an extra fee on top of the face value of the event ticket, vacation rental or – depending on where you shop for groceries – the milk.
Call them junk fees, sludge or simply a pain in the you-know-what. They include “resort fees” at hotels, airline seat selection upcharges so parents can sit with their child, ‘inconvenience’ fees for events, and basically anything that’s not already baked into the price that offers little or no added value. They are the unwelcome charges that pop up just as you’re poised to pay for something online or (sometimes) in person.
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President Joe Biden recently took aim at these unwanted upcharges calling for a Junk Fee Prevention Act that would eliminate certain fees specifically charged by credit card issuers, financial institutions, hotels and airlines. If approved by Congress, the new rules are projected to reduce typical late fees charged by credit card issuers from roughly $30 to $8, according to the White House, and save people a total of $9 billion a year in late fees related to credit card fees alone.
But of course credit card fees aren’t the only culprit. Here’s a run-down on 10 of the peskiest fees on the planet.
Hotel Resort And Destination Fees
“Resort” and “destination” fees sound like only the most exclusive hotels should be charging them, in exchange for luxurious amenities. We’re talking about places with palm trees and ocean breezes, right? Wrong. Plenty of less-than-exotic locales also tack on resort fees, in case you want to try out the treadmill or enjoy bottled water during your stay.
Lauren Wolfe, who serves as counsel for the non-profit Travelers United, (and also created the website “Kill Resort Fees”) has been working to remove resort fees from hotels since 2016.
“I think those hidden hotel fees are some of the worst fees that exist,” she says. “With some of these junk fees, maybe you could argue that you’re paying them in order to get some service, but [a resort fee] is a total junk fee. The hotel says the resort fees pay for amenities. We at Travelers United think that’s a total lie.”
Wolfe points to places including Detroit, New York, and Boston, which she says are not typical resort destinations – but have hotels that charge resort fees (or “destination amenity” fees) anyway. This is something that’s unique to the U.S., she explains, noting that hotels in other countries don’t typically tack on extra resort charges.
She also points to a tactic that travelers in the U.S. have experienced called drip pricing, or partitioned pricing. That’s where a business advertises one price and then gradually shows you how much more you’ll have to pay as you move through the process of completing your transaction: “This type of drip pricing is illegal in the rest of the world,” says Wolfe. “The EU already does not allow it.”
Research published in 2017 showed resort fees and other charges collected by U.S. hotels totaled $2.47 billion in 2015, when roughly 7% of such hotels charged the fees. Some estimates now place the total closer to $3 billion annually.
While these fees aren’t illegal, Wolfe says you can try to have resort or amenity fees deleted from your hotel bill. “I always recommend just politely asking the front desk to remove the fee and sometimes that works,” she says. “The other thing I really recommend is to reach out to the attorney general (in your state) and file a consumer complaint.” It takes about 60 seconds to fill out an online form, she says, and often they can help you get a refund for that specific part of your bill.
Airline Seat Selection Upcharges
Another annoying fee that Biden and consumer advocates have been working to remove is a “seat selection” fee, where airlines charge passengers to choose their seats on a flight. It’s now standard for many airlines to allow seat selection prior to a flight, though charges are often incurred. Besides the obvious upcharge for business and first-class, window and aisle seats can be priced higher than middle-row seats and those in the far back of a plane.
After the president urged Congress in early February to end fees for parents trying to make sure they have a spot next to their children, United Airlines announced it was removing those charges for families to sit together on a plane, at least for children age 12 and younger.
Airline Reservation Change Fees
Plans change. Life happens. We get it. But airlines, not so much. Most major air carriers in the U.S. typically penalize customers with fees to change or cancel a flight, especially if they bought an economy seat. The change fees, notes research from ValuePenguin, can vary from $75 for a domestic flight to more than $400 on some international flights.
Sometimes, the fee to change flights can be waived for those who paid more for their ticket or belong to the frequent flier program for that carrier. Pro-tip: If you miss a flight (even when it’s not the airline’s fault) and ask a representative nicely, they can change your itinerary and move you to a new flight for no charge, even if you aren’t affiliated with the airline.
Grocery Store Upcharges
Unfortunately, the price you see is not always the price you pay. In some places, supermarket operators advertise food and merchandise prices “at cost plus 10%” in stores. The trouble is, the actual price can be confusing to those who may not understand that what they see marked on the item (on the shelf) will be 10% more expensive when they check out. That’s before tax is added. Some stores include tiny print in advertisements explaining the price difference and scatter small signs throughout physical locations on the policy.
That means if you’re standing in a store and trying to figure out how much that jar of peanut butter really is, you’ll need to do some quick math in order to determine the price. At the stores that charge their cost plus 10%, the advertised $4.98 jar of Peter Pan will ring up as $5.47 (give or take a penny) before tax is added. If the tax on food happens to be 10%, which is the case where I live, the $4.98 peanut butter will be about $6.02. Yikes.
Event ‘Inconvenience’ Fees
I was online buying tickets for an upcoming concert a few days ago but stopped in my tracks when the ‘convenience fee’ was added at the end of the transaction. The price to see a popular band from the 1980s was going to be $65.50 per seat. I was buying three tickets for a Saturday night show. After selecting the row and section, I clicked the ‘next’ button to find that in addition to the $196.50 for tickets, my total charge would be $257.95 – more than $60 more.
So I shopped around to see if I could get the tickets cheaper at the box office or another site and found – get this – that another company that was not Ticketmaster was charging even more, selling the cheapest balcony seats – which were about $35 each on the Ticketmaster site – for $99. “We expect prices to rise soon!” a digital note blared from the screen as I moved my cursor up to leave the site. In this case, Ticketmaster had the cheapest tickets for the Toto show, and the lowest ‘inconvenience’ fee at a little more than $20 per ticket. In other words, their plan to become concert-goers’ only option is, unfortunately, working.
Early Termination Fees
Ever wonder why there is sometimes a fee if you pay off a vehicle or home loan ahead of time? It’s because financial institutions issuing the loans want to squeeze every last cent of interest from the borrower, to make the highest profit. Other companies also do this on a smaller, though still pricey, scale.
The Biden White House is asking Congress in 2023 to eliminate what it calls “exorbitant early termination fees” for TV, phone, and internet service. Included in the fine print for many television, cable, internet and mobile phone providers are fees penalizing customers if they want to switch to another provider before the end of their agreement or contract. Also part of the Junk Fee Prevention Act, we’ll have to see how this plays out with federal lawmakers.
New Car Fees
When it comes to buying a new car, you’re probably going to pay a premium before you ever get to the dealer add-ons. One place you shouldn’t have to cough up more cash is when car sellers try to pass on how much they shelled out to advertise the vehicle before you bought it. While some fees are here to stay, Consumer Reports notes, buyers should try to negotiate down on other charges including ‘documentation’ and ‘conveyance’ fees, and try to remove other add-ons altogether including loan fees (a fee to make loan payments!) delivery, inspection and preparation fees. For more car-buying tips, including how not to get ripped off when buying a new car read HerMoney’s guide to purchasing a new vehicle.
Universal Fund Surcharge
Universal fund surcharge sounds made up, right? But there it is printed right on my phone bill every month. Some communications companies charge a few different fees to customers detailed on monthly statements. In my state, there’s a 911 tax of $1.86, followed by a state utility users tax of $2.20, then a federal excise tax of $1.17, followed by the universal fund surcharge of $2.12. That’s a grand total of $7.35 per month in addition to the cost of service.
Early Return Fee
Believe it or not, some rental car companies charge customers an additional fee for returning a vehicle early. That’s right, bring the minivan back ahead of time and you pay more. This seems pretty counterintuitive to us. If this is a concern for you, be sure to read the contract before signing. Look for words such as “rental change fee,” and ask an agent about it ahead of time.
A ‘Host’ of Rental Fees: Service, Property & Administrative
If you’ve searched for a vacation or short-term rental in the last few years, you know that some U.S.-based companies are well acquainted with the price drip method to lure you in with a low price per night when you land on their site. Take Vrbo and Vacasa. When you search the sites, you can see the per-night rate and in smaller print, see a ‘total’ price for a rental, which excludes tax. Click through to see images of rentals in a specific area and you can also click to view a breakdown of fees for the unit, again, not including tax.
For example, a three-bedroom Gulf-front condo is advertised for $200 a night in mid-April on the Vrbo site. Such a deal, right? Stay five nights and the total is $1,000. Then, brace yourself for the fees. Add on $314 for the “host fee,” which includes $30 for parking, $60 for administrative, $59 for property and $165 for cleaning. We aren’t done yet. On top of that, there’s a $137 service fee. What’s that for? Good question. “This helps Vrbo provide a safer and more secure booking experience, coupled with 24/7 customer support throughout your trip,” according to a note on the site. Then, add another $195.68 in taxes, (yes, nearly 20% more) for a grand total of $1,648.10. Still not bad for a five-night stay, but much more than the tantalizing $1,000 that lures you in for a closer look.
In December, Airbnb rolled out what they described as “total price display” giving travelers the option to see the “total price in countries without existing price display requirements.” The total price will include all fees (before taxes) and be shown in search results, notes the site.
“This is truly an issue,” says Wolfe of exorbitant resort fees. “I think people are sick of it.”
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