31 costly travel mistakes to avoid

The more frequently you travel, the more equipped you likely are to seek out money-saving deals and travel hacks. Beyond proactively looking to save a few bucks in your trip planning, there are certain rookie mistakes that can immensely add to your vacation cost.

For example, there are common fees associated with air travel, rental cars, lodging — essentially every aspect of travel. So make sure you know what to look for when booking. Click through see the biggest travel mistakes to avoid so you can save money on your next trip.

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Travel mistakes to avoid
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Travel mistakes to avoid

Not Knowing Your Air Carrier’s Baggage Policy

Baggage fees are one of today's most common airline upcharges, with discount carriers like Spirit and Frontier even charging for carry-ons. Even worse, the fee climbs exponentially if you pay at the gate versus paying online ahead of time.

To determine which flight is actually the cheapest, always do a cost comparison of airlines that charge baggage fees versus ones that do not. You might be surprised to learn which carrier is the most affordable to get you and your stuff to your destination. 

Photo credit: Reuters 

Not Understanding What Basic Economy Means

The most barebones of all flight bookings, basic economy tickets are often the cheapest option that comes up when comparing flights. What it means is that you basically have zero control over your in-flight experience.

Airlines like United and Delta have begun putting a premium on services that once came standard, like seat selection and overhead bin space — even drinks onboard, in Spirit's case.

If you're okay with sacrificing comfort for a few hours, this "calculated misery" — as the New Yorker called it — is the most affordable way to travel. But as the saying goes, you get what you pay for

Photo credit: Reuters

Wasting Airline Miles or Rewards Points

Maximizing airline miles and travel reward points is both an art and a science. It's one of the biggest strategies for successful budget travel, but many travelers don't take the time to calculate the dollar value of their points for any given program. Once you know what your points are worth, only then can you determine if booking with miles is worthwhile for any given trip.

You also need to consider what you want to achieve with mileage bookings — for example, taking dream destinations or enjoying travel upgrades — and add the fees associated with redemption. To up your rewards potential, make sure you sign up for as many loyalty programs as possible to diversify your portfolio. 

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Being Inflexible With Dates or Destinations

Sure, sometimes you need to be somewhere on a specific date. But if you just want to plan affordable travel, flexibility is the key to saving money.

For example, you can use travel website Skyscanner to research the cheapest country for airfares on any given date. Conversely, if you know where you want to go but don't care when, you can skip inputting dates to view the calendar for the cheapest days to travel

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Not Checking Multiple Booking Sites for Airfare and Hotels

The internet has made comparison-shopping easier than ever. But at the end of the day, sites like Expedia, Orbitz and Priceline are all middlemen, reselling experiences to you. Called OTAs (online travel agencies), these sites make money on commission or by charging various fees and markups, according to U.S. News and World Report. As a result, the exact same hotel room might be priced differently from one site to another.

As a consumer, it's your responsibility to check all possible booking sources, especially direct, to ensure you're getting the best deal. You never know — one of these sites might even be running an incredible promotion that can help you save on last-minute trips and travel costs

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Overpacking

Overpacking is one of the most common travel mistakes. If your suitcase is heavier than the aircraft's weight limits, you're probably going to have to pay overage fees — and often times, in addition to a fee to check a bag at all.

These can be hefty fines, sometimes up to $200. Learn to get life down to one carry-on. Not only is it cheaper, but also it's emotionally freeing to lug around less stuff. The less you bring from home, the more incentive you have to shop at your destination. Did someone say souvenirs? 

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Paying Airline Change Fees

You saw a really incredible flight deal and jumped on it. Sometimes spontaneity pays off — and sometimes it doesn't.

If you got overly excited and forgot to read the fine print, you might have accidentally booked the wrong day, calculated the time zone conversion wrong or chosen the wrong airport. Mistakes happen, but you can do your best to mitigate them by understanding exactly what your ticket includes, what fare class you paid for and who sold it to you.

Federal law states that you have 24 hours to cancel a flight from the time you book — if it's at least seven days before the departure and if you booked directly from the carrier. If you booked a non-refundable ticket from a third-party site, you'll have to check their specific policies. 

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Paying Full Price for Flight Upgrades

A number of airlines have instituted a bidding policy for flight upgrades to premium economy and business class through a provider called Plusgrade. If you're willing to pay more for a luxury experience, it might be worth trying your luck in the blind auction instead of immediately forking over the list price. If your bid is accepted, you'll be notified 48 to 72 hours prior to your flight. If it's rejected, you can always book the advertised price afterward.

But why pay for flight upgrades if you don't have to? Use these insider tips to snag a free first-class ticket upgrade

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Overpaying for Food or Water at the Airport

Airport food is generally overpriced and unhealthy, and you're going to pay a premium for convenience. It's always a good idea to eat before you fly and pack an empty water bottle.

You have to throw out any liquids larger than 3.4 ounces before security, but paying $5 for a bottle of water at the airport seems like highway robbery. Plus, bringing your own reusable container is better for the environment. You can fill it at a water fountain or sink when you're past security. 

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Assuming You Need a Rental Car

Between traffic and cost, rental cars are often a hassle. Before you book, consider all other transportation options.

Check out everything from public transit to Uber, Lyft, shuttle services and even Zipcar, which lets you borrow cars by the day. If you use Zipcar frequently, it offers a yearly membership plan starting at $7 per month. Some hotels also offer free or discounted airport transportation, so be sure to check if that's an option, too. 

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Relying on Taxis to Get Around

Ridesharing services have disrupted the taxi industry because they're often a cheaper and more reliable way to travel. The best way to save money on transportation costs is to use the ridesharing apps simultaneously and compare the estimated charge before scheduling a ride. Some cities also allow you to split the cost with other riders via Lyft Line or UberPool, which is essentially a modern-day carpool. 

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Purchasing Rental Car Insurance You Don’t Need

It's almost always an awkward dance at the rental car agency when the agent asks if you want additional coverage. Everything associated with rental cars feels like an upsell, from gas charges to GPS devices. But the most common question is whether you actually need supplemental insurance, which can sometimes double your rental price.

The answer varies for each individual and depends on what kind of coverage you already have. Sometimes rental car insurance is included in your primary car insurance or is offered as a perk of a travel credit card. It's your responsibility to understand your personal policies ahead of time.

Even if you have some form of coverage through your primary provider, keep in mind that any claim has the potential to raise your monthly premiums. Only you can decide if that extra cash upfront is worth the long-term risk. 

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Forgetting to Refuel Your Rental Car Before You Return It

Different rental car providers offer different fuel options. But if you're in a hurry to get to your destination, it's easy to misread or skip the fine print.

It's safe to assume your rental agency will charge a convenience fee if you don't return the car with a full tank of gas. Plan to spend a few extra minutes finding a gas station before you jet out of town. If you leave it up to the agency, rates will be significantly higher — sometimes even double — the local fuel rates. 

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Forgetting to Service Your Car Before a Road Trip

Sure, they're fun, but road trips can also destroy your budget — if you're not careful. That's why it's always smart to schedule a vehicle check-up before hitting the road.

Top off your wiper fluid and oil, and look for any potential problems that might leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere. A comprehensive inspection includes tires, brakes, fluids and engine.

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Not Considering Alternative Modes of Transportation

When traveling between countries in Europe, cheap flight providers like EasyJet and Ryanair can often be less expensive than the train or the bus. In countries like Switzerland, France and Spain, air travel can be often more affordable than ground transportation, according to travel search engine GoEuro. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't consider all possible avenues.

You also need to know what your time is worth. If the bus from Milwaukee to Chicago is half the price of the train but adds 30 minutes of travel time, is that savings worth it? Only you can decide that. 

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Paying Outrageous Airport or Hotel Parking Fees

Rental cars are expensive enough before you add parking fees. Thankfully, there are a number of GPS-powered apps and websites like ParkWhiz and SpotHero that identify the cheapest and closest parking lots in any given city. You'll also definitely want to skip the valet to save some dough. 

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Booking Hotels With Exorbitant Resort Fees

Resort fees are one of the most contentious upcharges in the lodging industry, with hotels tacking on anywhere from a few dollars to $100 and up per night extra to use various amenities and facilities you'd assume were included. Generally, these $20 to $30 per night extra fees are not advertised upfront in the booking process, with everything from the pool to the WiFi potentially having a separate line-item charge.

Consumer advocates call it deceptive, but until the Federal Trade Commission steps in, it's not illegal yet, according to Fortune. Pay particular attention for these charges in areas such as Las Vegas, Miami and the Caribbean. And whenever possible, book directly through the hotel — not a third-party site where vague "extra charges may apply" language is common. 

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Not Checking All Possible Lodging Options

It could take nothing more than an email to get a better rate. You never know if you don't ask. Try negotiating a discount for late arrivals or off-season bookings. You should also consider staying at hostels — many have private rooms — and even couchsurfing if you're rarely going to be in the room.

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Raiding the Minibar

Late night snack attacks happen. But that's what hotels are banking on. A hotel's markup can be anywhere from 75 to 300 percent on candy bars, water and booze, according to a 2010 survey by Mint.

It's better to stock up on snacks and alcohol from a local grocery or convenience store before the hunger pangs hit. The supermarket might also offer much more intriguing local foods than the universal Snickers bar. Better yet — find a hotel that offers free amenities, including snacks. 

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Not Knowing All Your Travel Insurance Options

It only takes one terrible travel experience — a missed connection, canceled flight, lost luggage — to show you how important it is to have travel insurance. But not everyone needs the most premium coverage. Sometimes, your credit card or primary insurance provider already offers some form of protection.

To begin assessing your level of risk, think about what kind of traveler you are — adventurous or relaxing — and how long and expensive your trip is. You can use comparison tools, like the one on travel insurance website InsureMyTrip, to determine your best option. It can also help ensure you fully understand what your plan covers for medical emergencies and infectious diseases, terrorism and natural disasters.

If you're a frequent or long-term traveler, you can also look at investing in an annual plan instead of paying per trip, which is generally more affordable. You can find such plans on sites like Allianz.

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Using Credit Cards With Foreign Transaction Fees

A foreign transaction fee is a surcharge that comes with every purchase made on a credit card outside the U.S. Typically tacking on 2 to 3 percent of every sale, these fees can add up quickly.

A number of travel rewards cards offer zero transaction fees as an incentive. Some popular options include Chase Sapphire Preferred, Bank of America Travel Rewards and Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite. Plan ahead by finding the best banks and credit unions for travelers

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Not Getting an International Phone Plan

Most likely, you'll want to use your cellphone abroad. It's helpful for coordinating plans, mapping out locations, and researching restaurants and attractions.

But before you get stuck with hundreds of dollars in data charges, check what plans and options your carrier offers before you travel. For example, if you're a Verizon customer who's traveling to Canada or Mexico, it might be cheaper to change your plan to unlimited for the month than to add the $5 per day international TravelPass.

If you want to rely solely on local WiFi, make sure your phone is in airplane mode for the duration of your trip. If you make this mistake, you could pay hundreds of dollars for overages. You can also look into buying a local SIM card, which might be more or less expensive, depending on where you're going and how long you'll be gone. 

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Not Considering Where to Convert Your Currency

Currency exchange rates are in constant flux. You might look up the conversion before you leave, only to realize it's a few cents different at every currency seller.

To determine which seller really offers the best option, you need to consider the currency exchange rate, the transaction fee and how soon you need the cash. There are many places to convert currency: your home bank, an international airport or a bank or ATM at your destination. 

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Not Signing Up for Deal Alerts

Everyone likes feeling like they got a good deal, which is what sites like Groupon, Scott's Cheap Flights and Travelzoo count on. Often, these discount trackers let you input your favorite cities or airports so the deals are customized to your travel plans. 

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Not Considering Every Discount You Can Get

AAA, AARP, military, loyalty club members and countless others are eligible for a host of travel discounts that are often overlooked. These can include everything from upgrades and perks to a percentage off bookings. These special rates are often not advertised, so the best thing to do is call the hotel and attractions and ask.

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Not Researching Your Destination’s Tipping Policy

America has conditioned us to believe that tipping for service should always be 15 to 20 percent, but this is not true for all nations. Some countries, especially in Europe, have gratuity automatically added or included. Do your homework ahead of time — or use this guide to tipping around the world — so you know the proper etiquette. 

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Not Alerting Your Bank of Your Travel Plans

If you forget to place a travel alert on your credit or debit card before you leave, you're at risk of having your cards frozen for mistakenly fraudulent charges. Having a card declined is embarrassing enough, but it could also be costly to resolve. You might need to have money wired or borrow cash from a friend. Often, your bank has a toll-free number for handling such emergencies 

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Waiting Until Your Passport Expires to Renew It

Many countries around the world require three to six months of validity on your passport, either pre- or post-travel. If you're traveling internationally, plan accordingly. Routine service to get a U.S. passport takes four to six weeks, while expedited service takes two to three weeks and will cost you an additional $60. 

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Eating Near Tourist Traps

A tourist trap is considered anywhere that's near one of the major flagship attractions. Generally, the restaurants there will be more expensive and of lesser quality, meaning you're sacrificing taste for convenience. If you're a foodie, research the restaurant scene ahead of time with websites like Eater. Or, ask your hotel concierge local for recommendations. 

Photo credit: Getty 

Booking Cruises or Tours With a Single Supplement

It might sound mean to be singled out, but some tour companies do in fact charge more if you're traveling solo. This is especially common with cruise lines that charge a 50 to 100 percent markup for solo passengers. Some brands, like Contiki, offer a service to pair singles up with random same-sex roommates if you'd prefer not to pay the extra fee. 

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Getting Pickpocketed

Nothing ruins a vacation faster than realizing your wallet, phone or passport is no longer in your possession. Avoid carrying designer bags or wearing expensive clothing brands, which can make you a target. Store your valuables, some cash and at least one credit card in your hotel room safe. Consider purchasing a money belt or scarf to conceal valuables, and always remain hyper-vigilant in crowded areas.

Up Next: Everyday Vacation Expenses You're Forgetting About 

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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: 31 Costly Travel Mistakes to Avoid

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