Dear Yanni...How Do I Spot Travel Scams?
tl;dr: In this week's column, Yanni tackles resort fees and the do's and don'ts of taking amenities with you off the plane.
How can I spot travel scams, or surprise fees, before it's too late? What are the signs to look out for?
- Skeptic in Sacramento
Resort fees, facilities fees, convenience fees and so on, are basically a categorical class of “choose your adventure” fees when it comes to hotels. For many of us, this can feel like some sort of scam, but the reality is that fees are hidden in the fine print or several clicks deep into a booking transaction hoping that travelers may not see them or just give in and book once they are vested in a hotel for their stay.
To understand why the resort fees exist, it’s important to analyze the hotel fee structures as well. Many of us are used to booking hotels through third party sites. This means that hotels are giving up commission, so their base room rate is subject to that commission. Second, the advent of homesharing as of late has eroded hotel earnings because of the price competition. Therefore, lowering the room rates gets hotels to stay competitive and lessens the commission burden, however, the solve for the revenue loss is passing the buck to customers through creative direct sales (sans commission and after booking). Ergo fees. In more recent years, the fees have gone as far as charging per person rather than per room, even.
What’s a consumer to do? Well, first, read the policies before making any booking to understand what fees may apply. Second, loyalty does matter, and certain fees won’t apply to members of hotel rewards programs, so know what loyalty statuses get you and then choose a strategy for hotel brands to stay in that could avoid fees. Caveat here is that many prepay rates or discounted rates often aren’t eligible for loyalty, so while you may save $10 on the rate, you could get slammed with more than that in fees that you could have avoided by booking a loyalty-eligible stay. Third, hotels want you to book direct as another way of getting out of fees, but again read the fine print there too as some hotels get away with being more covert on where they put the fees fine print, whereas when you book through your favorite third-party provider, fees will tend to appear in the same part of the hotel descriptions regardless of the brand, location, etc.
Finally, you needn’t accept a resort fee as law. If you book a hotel stay that is fully refundable (meaning you won’t pay any fees to cancel at all during a set timeframe), use it to your advantage and ask a manager to waive fees or you’ll have to cancel in favor of somewhere else. The worst that can happen is they say no, and while you might still end up having to pay the fee, maybe they throw in an extra amenity that you don’t mind paying for. Or maybe just some free good vibes. Until those become a fee.
What am I allowed to take home from the flight? What should I make sure to leave behind? Help!
- Confused in Cleveland
First things first, standard amenities: it’s fairly safe to assume than any single use item is yours to keep. Examples include small amenity kits with socks, a sleeping mask and perhaps a pen or earplugs thrown in. Airlines will not be collecting those items for reuse. Any items that you purchase are also yours to keep. Some airlines have moved away from keeping free pillows and blankets on board, instead charging passengers for them. Take JetBlue as an example. You can purchase a low-allergen pillow and blanket set, but it’s yours to keep. If you leave it behind, it won’t be reused by the airline, nor donated to someone in need, so you might as well keep it. Many folks feel uncomfortable taking the onboard magazine, however, lots of airlines do list it as “free copy” “yours to take,” so if there is an article you want to read later or share, you are welcome to take it. The general practice, however, is for folks to leave them behind since airlines aren’t immediately replenishing the supply and the next passenger could be without a copy.
For premium amenities, this is where it’s a bit trickier. Consider the single use rule of thumb here. If you are traveling in a premium cabin, glass and flatware that is reusable, while sometimes shiny and nice, is not to be brought home with you. However, if you are served an on-board salad with a plastic mini salt and pepper shaker, for example- American Airlines gives these in business class- you are welcome to hang on to these as they won’t be reused. Same goes for those fancy single use olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar bottles you may get in a long haul business cabin. Some airlines have really invested in bespoke duvets for their seats during a turn down service, blankets and pillows. Unfortunately, even though an on board blanket may be just the right sized throw for your new couch, this isn’t a take home item. There are some stepped up take home amenities out there, though. Qantas offers kits designed by Down Under artists including matching sleeping mask and zipper pouch along with their logo pajamas, while JetBlue Mint has Hayward and Hopper pouches along with pairs of socks you can actually wash and reuse. These are certainly yours to keep.
There are a couple of items to consider which are yours to keep, but can be taken away from you. This is particularly the case with duty free shopping. If you are buying items like alcohol or cologne, perfume and cosmetics that exceed the TSA allowance coming in from an international flight and transferring to a domestic, if you aren’t checking those in your bag for onward travel, they will be taken away. So, while you can technically take those from a plane if you purchase them, they may well end up taken away from you if you are transferring to another flight. Keep this in mind before you seek to replenish your bar or supply of expensive cosmetics.