Are Hidden Travel Fees Taking a Bite Out of Your Planning Budget?

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hidden travel fees
photo credit: Apps for Europe @ Flickr

Airfare, room and excursion rates are attractive, if not downright seductive.

But the two-snap confidence and proverbial chin raise acquired after booking your corporate incentive group is soon eclipsed by a sinking feeling once the event ends and the bill arrives. As it turns out, you only paid for a part of the momentous experience and a laundry list of things you didn’t plan on. Your top-performing attendees also footed part of the bill on everything from airline headsets, blankets and flight snacks to a slew of resort ancillary fees as part of their hard-earned reward. They may have even learned about the latest revenue trend in the airline industry—that frequent flyer programs are highly revenue aware and mileage flown is no longer a reliable proxy that represents their value as a customer. In short, hidden travel fees are on the rise from every direction, with recent estimates from IdeaWorks showing a near $68 billion annual profit for global airlines just from ancillary fees.

The hidden fee outcry has been gaining enough momentum (though certainly not a bandwagon by any means) that some hotels and resorts are loosening their quick cash grip and tweaking their loyalty programs to cover things like the $6 bottle of water, scratching housekeeping fees and offering street pricing on minibars. Still, what’s a planner or attendee to do protect their pocketbooks?

Add a Contingency Line

The folks at socialtables recommend adding a contingency line that provides a little padding around your client’s budget. Think of it as sort of a magic circle or shield that deflects hidden fees.

Look to Credit & Rebates

What credits and rebates do you have that can take the heat of another area of your budget or any last-minute surprises that are tacked on?

Public Perks

If WiFi is the trouble maker, look for public WiFi spots ahead of time that you can build into the itinerary. What other public perks are available to attendees?


You can negotiate for just about anything, and with so many suspect fees out there (climbing hotel service charges come to mind) it’s important that you hammer out the expectations before you sign the dotted line. Make sure everything is spelled out and get specific about taxes and related surcharges. Some possible things to consider:

  • What will you get for your buck?
  • Are resort activities (beach umbrellas and fitness courts) and gratuities covered?
  • Does the price change if you move outdoors; check-out late?
  • What is the F&B service charge fee?
  • Are there fees for preferred bed type?
  • Are there any hidden amenity fees for things I don’t want—newspapers, bike rentals, etc.?
  • Can I barter for it? This can apply to hotel fees as well as things like speaker and entertainment fees.
  • Can I ship it for less?

By and large, negotiation is a planner’s best friend. Many hoteliers will waive room fees if a certain number of rooms are booked; likewise, A/V fees, and the latest, energy use fees in meeting spaces, may also be waived based on the size of your event and its duration. The main thing is negotiate, ask questions and get it all in writing before your event begins.

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