Fees, fees, fees: 10 annoying charges consumers face
Here are 10 particularly annoying fees, some of which you can't avoid:
Airline Preferred Seat Selection Fee
Airplanes are designed to cram passengers into undersized seats like sardines in order to maximize profits. Savvy (and tall) travelers have long opted for emergency row seats for some precious extra legroom, while others like to be near (or far) from the bathroom. And while the ability to choose a window or aisle seat has traditionally been a standard courtesy while purchasing a ticket, some carriers are now charging for this non-service. According to Expedia, the worst offenders are United Airlines ($14 to $109 for domestic flights, and $89 to $109 for international flights) and Virgin America ($15 to $50), while others, like American and Delta, still let you choose your seat for free, both domestically and internationally. At this rate, pay toilets are probably inevitable. Don't laugh, it's already been proposed by Ireland's Ryanair.
Dealer Preparation Fee
Anyone who's ever purchased a new car has probably noticed a "Dealer Prep Fee" in the sticker, which usually runs anywhere from $500 to $2,000. So what exactly does "dealer prep" cover? Typically, it involves peeling the plastic off the seats and hood, vacuuming the interior, a wash and wax, and maybe topping off the fluids. Most people just pay it, but you can try negotiating or just flatly refusing to pay it, consumer advocates say.
Ticketmaster Service Fees
If you've ever bought a ticket to see a concert, play or sporting event, you've almost certainly dealt with Ticketmaster, which enjoys a near-monopoly on live events in the U.S. Ticketmaster is also notorious for assessing various fees to the price of tickets. For instance, two $90 tickets to a recent Broadway show wound up costing $203.70. That included a facility charge of $1.50 per ticket, a convenience charge of $7.50 per ticket, an order processing fee of $3.20 and perhaps the most egregious one, a "TicketFast" fee of $2.50. "TicketFast" allows you to print your own ticket and save Ticketmaster the cost of printing and mailing them to you.
Auto Repair Environmental Fees
What with global warming, oil spills and deforestation, we're all concerned about helping protect the planet, right? So are those "environmental fees" showing up on your auto repair bills a reflection of government-mandated regulations for the proper disposal of hazardous materials? Not really. It's actually a case of passing along costs to consumers while making the original charge deceptively low. Take auto repair bills, the most common source of these fees. Thanks to "environmental fees," an advertised $19.95 oil change may end up costing $25, or a new set of tires may run you an extra $20.
Airlines Baggage Fees
Passengers traveling with bikes, skis or other cumbersome items are used to paying extra fees to haul them. But some airlines are now beginning to charge passengers for checked luggage. According to Expedia, almost every major U.S. carrier charges between $15 and $25 for the first checked bag, and $25 to $35 for a second piece. JetBlue allows one piece for free -- but charges $30 for a second item. Southwest has built an entire marketing campaign around its two pieces for free policy.This trend has yet to go global, since most international carriers (except American) allow you to check one piece of luggage gratis, while Lufthansa and Frontier allow two pieces.
Hidden Traffic Ticket Fees
California has long been an automotive bellwether state, paving the way for the rest of the nation in everything from emission standards to drive-thru restaurants. But there's a recent automotive trend in California we hope doesn't spread to the rest of the nation: hidden ticket fees used to plug budgetary holes. The CEO of Southern Califonia's AAA explains the base fee for a carpool-lane violation is $100, but nine additional fees, such as a "state court construction fund fee"-- despite the fact that most people don't use the court system to handle traffic tickets -- brings the total to roughly $440. Some cities even charge "crash fees" for fire and police services rendered at the scene of an auto collision, even though general taxes already pay for such services.
We've all been there, desperately in need of cash, and no friendly ATM in sight. While technology should be making transactions increasingly cheaper, the cost of using another bank's ATM continues to rise. According to Bankrate.com, 99.2% of ATMs levy a surcharge, which now average $1.97, up 10% from a year ago. But that's not all, you're getting the shaft from your own bank too, thanks to its fee for using another company's ATM. The average cost of that fee is $1.46, up from $1.25 a year ago. So expect to pay an average of $3.43 for not having enough cash on hand. If there's a supermarket nearby, buy something cheap and opt for some cash back instead.
Airline Fuel Surcharges
Rising fuel costs affect consumers and corporations alike. But while the average Joe can't demand higher pay to cover the extra money spent commuting, airlines are happy to demand increasingly exorbitant "fuel surcharges" to maintain profit margins. These surcharges first kicked in two years ago for international flights, and will increase by an average of $100 per ticket to most European destinations compared to last year, Bestfares.com found. Travel to any German city doubled from $160 in July 2009 to $320 in July 2010. Dublin, which enjoyed bargain-basement fuel surcharges last year of $14, now costs $184 -- and that's still the lowest fuel surcharge to Europe.
Currency Conversion Fees
If you're planning on traveling overseas this summer, pay close attention to your credit card bill when you get home, since you'll undoubtedly find you paid more than you bargained for thanks to a "foreign currency conversion" fee of as much as 3%. One percent of that currency conversion fee is charged by Visa and Mastercard, which is less than the commission you'd typically pay in a foreign exchange office. But Bankrate.com says many credit card issuers and banks are fleecing customers by tacking an additional 2% on top of that fee without providing any additional service. Among the institutions raking in a pure profit at the expense of their customers -- which they rarely bother to disclose -- are Bank of America, Citibank and Chase.
The question is as inevitable as "do you want fries with that?" Every time you rent a car, the clerk invariably asks if you want to purchase collision and supplemental liability insurance, both of which can run anywhere from $15 to $50 a day. But chances are good you won't need either of them, since you're probably covered by your own insurance policy. Some credit cards also offer rental car insurance as well when you use them to rent an automobile. So be sure to check with your insurance and credit card company next time you plan to rent a car. And, depending on where you are, there's a chance you'll get charged fees for such normal overhead as "concession fee," "security fee" or "licensing fee."