Fifteen bucks a day for hotel Wi-Fi or 20 bucks for a theme park T-shirt might not seem like much on their own, but little extras here and there can add up to some serious cash you may not think to include in your vacation budget. Here's a look at strategies for identifying and (where possible) minimizing pesky travel costs.
1. Hotel parking. If you're parking a car at a big-city hotel, expect to pay big bucks. In some cases, valet parking may be your only option. "There's no such thing as free valet parking because you've got to tip the guy when [your car] comes out," points out Laura Daily, a consumer travel savings expert and executive editor of livingonthecheap.com. If the hotel's parking rate gives you serious sticker shock, she suggests seeking alternate parking options nearby. If the cheapest option is outdoors, "look and see if this is a neighborhood that you don't mind walking during the day," she adds. Sometimes joining the hotel's loyalty program could score you discounted parking, or it might make more sense to rent a car just for the time you need it rather than the entire trip.
2. Departure taxes. Some destinations like Costa Rica charge visitors a departure tax, which is unavoidable if you're set on that destination. If you're booking through a travel agent, he or she should warn you about departure taxes or visa requirements. "I always make sure to ask them, 'Are you a U.S. citizen? Are you on a green card?'" says Kristy Hall, vacation consultant and family travel specialist with The Tropical Travelers, a travel concierge service. "That's the kind of thing we try to give people a heads up on." If you're booking on your own, do some research so you won't get blindsided by the $26 cash-only departure tax when you fly back from Costa Rica.
3. Hotel or in-flight Wi-Fi. Choosing a slightly more expensive hotel with wireless Internet and other amenities included may be cheaper than a lower base price with extras tacked on, says Carrie Hayward, editor of disneytravelbabble.com. "We could stay at a much nicer place for less money just because they didn't nickel and dime us," she says. Sometimes hotels give free or discounted Wi-Fi to members of their loyalty programs, according to Daily. Alternately, instead of paying for hotel or in-flight Wi-Fi, preload your tablet or smartphone with plenty of videos, games and reading material you can enjoy offline.
4. Snacks on the plane. Meals on a plane or snacks during a long layover can eat into your vacation budget. Hall figured out that her rewards credit card will cover up to $200 a year in luggage fees, snacks or TV on the plane, since they travel a lot. If you don't have a card that credits for snacks, consider packing your own.
5. Checked bag fees. Before trying to check that 100-pound suitcase, check your airline's luggage fees and restrictions so you can pack and budget accordingly. "If you're a frequent flier, often they'll waive the checked bag fees," Hall says. You might also find certain deals. For example, Spirit Airlines charges passengers for carry-on bags but offers a discount if you pay for your bags during online booking rather than at the gate.
6. Airline help fees. If you're booking a complicated airline ticket with multiple legs, you might get charged $25 or more for booking through the airline's customer service. Instead, Daily suggests asking for the website help desk. "When you get one of the techs, explain what you are trying to do and ask them to walk you through the booking process," she says. "I always say, 'Would you mind staying on the line with me to make sure I don't goof it up?' Nine times out of 10, they will. I still get the complicated ticket I want but don't pay those pesky help fees for talking to a live person."
7. International roaming charges. Using your U.S.-based cellphone overseas can lead to some hefty roaming charges, so consider turning off data roaming while traveling internationally and using your smartphone's Wi-Fi instead. If you need to make calls, "buy a cheap cellphone in that country if you're traveling internationally," Daily says. "Quite often, you can get throwaway phones."
8. Souvenirs. Bring children to a theme park and just try escaping without buying any mouse ears, action figures or other souvenirs. Unfortunately, these branded mementos don't come cheap. "One trick I see a lot is parents will go to the 99 cent store and buy their souvenirs before they leave," Hayward says, "and then dole those out over the trip."
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