Hidden or unexpected travel fees can break your vacation budget

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Travel is expensive — and unless you’re careful, it’s easy to bust your budget. Hidden or unexpected fees can quickly add hundreds of dollars to the tab.

Airlines, hotels and rental car companies have switched to this nickel-and-diming business model to compete in a world where people shop online for travel products and make decisions based on price. By tacking on fees — sometimes mandatory, sometimes optional for upgraded service — these companies can advertise lower prices.

“These companies need to be price competitive in order to get you in the door; then it’s easy to add ancillary fees on top of that,” said professor Chris Anderson, director of the Center for Hospitality at Cornell University’s SC Johnson College of Business. “It works, it generates revenue and it’s been adopted by enough companies that the negative ramifications have been minimized.”

Consumer advocate Charlie Leocha, president and co-founder of Travelers United, says the proliferation of fees makes it “much more difficult to comparison shop” and enables airlines, hotels and rental car companies to “squeeze more money out of the consumer.”

Here are some common travel fees and ways to avoid — or at least budget — for them.

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Mandatory hotel fees

Some hotels add a daily “resort fee” or “destination fee” to their room rate. Hotels claim this mandatory fee, which averages about $27 right now, covers a bundle of amenities such as the gym, pool, WiFi and newspaper — but you pay whether you want them or use them.

The highest resort fees are in Las Vegas and Hawaii. At some hotels in Hawaii, the daily resort fee is now $45-$48, according to a recent survey by Travel-Hawaii.com.

Travel expert Ed Perkins, who writes for SmarterTravel.com, calls this “a hidden fee” and he believes it’s designed to trick people.

“Because this fee is not included in the first price you see posted on the hotel chain’s website or on a travel site — such as TripAdvisor, Expedia or Trivago — the comparison process is really distorted,” Perkins told NBC News BETTER. “It’s a practice that allows a hotel to tell you that a $100 a night room only costs $70, so it’s a scam.”

The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) says only 7 percent of U.S. hotels charge a resort fee and those that do will disclose it well before the end of the booking process. “We support breaking out all fees so consumers can make the most informed decision when planning their vacations. Consumers tell us they prefer this transparency, too,” AHLA said in a statement.

But unless you’re careful to check for added fees, they can be easily missed. This reporter was surprised when checking in at a hotel in midtown Manhattan recently that there was a $25 a night destination fee. I hadn’t noticed that mandatory fee in the small print on my confirmation receipt and didn’t even think of looking for it because I was using rewards points for a free night.