Top 10 Travel Rorts To Avoid

Top 10 Travel Rorts To Avoid

This week is Consumer Power Weekon Lifehacker. Every day we’ll be highlighting tips and strategies to save you money and avoid rip-offs. We’re kicking off with a top 10 list of travel expenses that are easy to avoid.

Picture by Kristina Hoeppner

The ability to search and compare online means you can get better travel bargains than ever before. However, it’s easy to get caught out with minor details that mount up and increase your costs. Here are 10 to watch out for.

10. Credit card booking fees

Airlines are often guilty of charging a per-passenger fee to book on your credit card, which can substantially increase the cost of flights. Check to see if there are alternatives such as paying via BPAY or other inter-bank systems. Not only will that eliminate the fee, it ensures you’re not spending money on credit.

9. Hotel card imprints

Most hotels will demand an imprint from your credit card when you check in to cover incidentals or damage, and it can often be a week or more before that money is refunded after you check out. That can be a nuisance if you’re travelling and relying on your card. You can’t avoid the charge, but consider paying a bond in cash instead. You get that back immediately.

8. Airport parking charges

Top 10 Travel Rorts To Avoid

Parking at the airport is expensive. Consider taking a taxi instead, or use public transport for the cheapest option. Picture by Ross Land/Getty Images

7. Hotel room breakfast charges

European hotels often include breakfast as standard, but in Australia and the US it’s often an additional charge. If the price is under $10, it can be a cheap and convenient way to start the day. However, paying $25 for the hotel buffet and only having a bowl of muesli is lousy value. Unless you stuff yourself silly and skip lunch, heading out to a cafe or takeaway joint will save you money.

6. Airport currency conversion fees

Exchange rates at airports are generally the worst you’ll find (those expensive airport rents don’t pay for themselves). The more organised you are, the better you’ll do. Our preferred solution is to organise a prepaid multi-currency travel money card and change money when the rates are favourable — you don’t need to carry large amounts of cash that way. But if you do want physical currency, check your financial institution; the rates are generally much better.

5. Site booking fees

Comparison sites for air fares often include a range of airlines, but then slap on a separate booking fee. Once you’ve identified a fare that looks promising, check the airline site directly. If you can get the same fare there, you’ll save plenty.

4. Hotel room phone charges

These are invariably insanely expensive; who wants to pay $1 for a local call? In Australia, use your mobile. Overseas, head to the lobby and try to locate a pay phone, rather than making a drunk call home and getting a $500 bill (yep, I’m guilty). If you’ve paid for hotel Wi-Fi (or it’s on offer for free), Skype and similar services are a much cheaper way to make calls.

3. Overseas ATMs

It can be useful in emergencies to withdraw cash from the nearest ATM, but you’ll often pay a very high charge for doing so. Not only will there be an ATM access fee, the exchange rate is unlikely to be favourable. (You’ll do better paying on a credit card if that’s an option.

2. Airport baggage charges

Top 10 Travel Rorts To Avoid

A cheap airfare can turn into a very expensive proposition if you end up packing too much luggage and have to pay exorbitant rates at the airport. Our complete guide identifies the worst domestic offender, but whoever you fly with, the principle is clear: work out how much luggage you’ll need and pay for it in advance. Picture by Hamish Blair/Getty Images [clear]

1.Global roaming charges

Sure, it’s convenient to be able to keep using your phone when you’re overseas, but there’s nothing convenient about a $1000+ phone bill when you get home. Check our comprehensive guide to avoid the traps.

Any other travel rip-offs you’re keen to avoid? Tell us about them in the comments.

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman loves a good Scandinavian breakfast. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


  • If you do find yourself up for excess baggage, a good alternative is to send the excess as unaccompanied baggage instead. You’ll need a little extra time at the airport, as you’ll have to go somewhere outside the terminal to arrange it, but it is as little as 10% of the cost of excess baggage. There is no guarantee it will arrive at the same time you do, although in my experience it usually does, but even if you have to go back to the airport the next day it could save you hundreds.

    If breakfast isn’t included in my room rate, I’ll often buy a few things at a convenience store and keep them in the mini-bar fridge. If the room has a bowl of fresh fruit, you can get a cheap breakfast by eating that, making yourself an instant coffee and grabbing an orange juice from the mini-bar.

  • When I phoned the airport to discuss motorcycle long term parking, the bloke advised me to just drive around the boom-gate. If you have no luggage, riding the airport is a great idea! (Provided you are going to a cold climate and can wear your jacket, etc.)

  • I was going to put getting a NAB VISA Gold Debit card instead of a travel card but they no longer offer that account. It was a $10 monthly account with no other charges. Not even overseas withdrawal or currency exchange fees. It was such a good deal they’ve withdrawn it.

    • +1.
      Best for credit purchases wherever you are (including online purchases from overseas in another currency – sometime’s you’ll get a better bargain buying in USD even if the site offers AUD).

      However, be careful if withdrawing cash (here or overseas) using the card, as the interest rate on cash withdrawals is quite high and applies immediately (rather than for credit charges, in which case interest is only charged after the end of the payment cycle on any outstanding unpaid balance)

      • +2.
        Re: Molokov’s 2nd point – transfer cash onto your 28 Degrees card before you leave so it acts like a debit card. Works best when travelling with someone; do this for one card and leave the other as a credit card. Then you have a choice of paying with “debit” or credit.

        • +3

          The prepaid travel cards such as the OzForex one being advertised by lifehacker is almost as much of a rort as changing money at Travelex in the airport. Just checked their website: they are currently offering 1AUD=0.997USD which is a rort considering the current rate is 1AUD=1.038USD.

          I use the 28 degrees card, and cash advances whilst they do attract the full interest rate, the interest ends up being bugger all if you are only going away for a short period, or you can just pay it as you go if you really want to penny pinch.

          I just did a 2 week trip to the US, and paid for things using the credit facility where possible. I cash advanced myself $600 in $200 blocks. The ATM charged an extra $3 per transaction. It only ended up costing me $3 worth of interest, which is negligible. For everything on the trip I averaged a 1AUD=1.049USD exchange rate, the rate was about 1AUD=1.055USD at the time.

          tl;dr 28 Degrees Card is by far the cheapest way of taking money overseas, providing you go somewhere where Mastercard is accepted.

  • Australia Post offers currency conversion from AUD (provided by American Express) and generally has better rates than the major banks (and American Express – go figure) as they don’t charge any fees (it’s all included in the rate).

    Keep in mind that it takes two days for the currency to arrive at the branch once you have paid for it – and you can’t buy it with a credit card.

  • I would use tip #10 with discretion. Typically credit cards wihich offer free travel insurance require you to book your trip on the credit card. The surchage charged by the airline should hopefully be lesser than buying Travel insurance outright, especially when travelling abroad.

  • Regarding taxis to get to the airport from home: generally if only going away for a week or so, we find the airport private parking services best value. You drive your own car to their lockup undercover impound, then they take you the rest of the way to the airport in their mini bus. It beats paying airport parking fees, and definitely beats taking a stinky taxi.

  • Re: No.10 Credit Card Booking Fees. If you’ve got the right credit card, paying the additional fees isn’t that big a deal as you can get built in travel insurance cover when you pay for the airfare with your credit card. Pretty good, particularly if you’re just travelling in Australia and don’t need bells and whistles on your travel cover.

  • There are a heap of things to consider when travelling (in addition to those tips provided).
    Here are my suggestions:
    1). Phones. If you are going to be in a country for a few weeks, look at a prepaid sim card. I did this in the US earlier in the year and I got unlimited calls and sms, 2gb data and 200 mins of calls to an AU land line for $59.00. PLUS.. you get a local cell number. (Europe is trickier tho if you are travelling between countries).

    2) Cash Withdrawals. Check with your bank if they are part of an alliance. I am with Westpac and they have alliances with US and Euro banks where I can withdraw cash without the ATM fee. Well worth checking out.

    3) Accomodation. I have decided that for longer term stays in cities (more than 4 or 5 days) I now stay in apartments. You have kitchen facilities and more often than not things like wifi and clothes washing facilities are available on site (and no charge). We rarely eat out for breakfast any more because its cheaper and better for you.

    4) In some countries, having your washing done is actually very cost effective. On a few occasions, we have had all of our washing done on the last day of our trip so we dont have to do any when we get home. They also tend to fold and pack it really well so it packs really nicely into your suitcase.

    5) Finally… Depending on which credit card you have, check the travel insurance that may be available on your card. After some lengthy PDS research, i found that the credit card insurance was more than competitive and I no longer purchase additional insurance. The main rule here is that you are only covered for what you have purchased on your card. The higher cost for the cards annual fee was more than offset by the savings on insurance alone.

    So… they are just some of my travel tips.

  • I got some cash for a trip to Korea at a large bank in Australia (maybe you’ve heard Which Bank it is). I gave them $200 cash, they gave me 191,000 KRW. Exchange rate of 1043 won to one AUD. After their $8 fee! In Korea, even at the airports I got 1140~ won to one AUD. Mastercard (I took over a prepaid card from the same Bank), gave me a 1160~ exchange rate plus 2% conversion fee. But I pay that even buying online from overseas site. Approximate figures as I recall them.

  • Cant believe people are still using 28 degrees credit card. Best is the Citibank Plus Visa Debit. No account fees, no overseas ATM fees, no forex conversion fees and better forex rates than 28 degrees. No brainer.

  • “You can’t avoid the charge, but consider paying a bond in cash instead.”

    Yes, but for the love of god please call the hotel first and ask if they accept cash bonds. Not all hotels do – and it’s really unfair on the front desk staff when they cop abuse because travellers decide they want to give cash bonds. If a policy is set by head office, they can’t override that.

    What a lot of places don’t mention is that ANY hotel can send a fax off to the bank to cancel the bond and that normally gets it released within 3-4 hours. International travel is different, obviously, but travel within Australia and the bond can be cancelled from any bank with a faxed request to cancel pre-authorsation.

  • If you have wifi available, look at getting a VoIP account with your ISP (if they provide it).

    You will access the VoIP servers from your ISP so there will be a bit of lag but you can talk for as long as you want.

    I utilised Internode’s Nodephone service with a Softphone such as Phonerlite and when calling home I paid for a local call.

  • For Number 6, use Australia Post travellers cheques.

    Using these and then exchanging physical currency overseas is by far and away the cheapest way to go – especially in countries like Thailand where there is a government imposed fee on all credit card transactions, and the exchange rates (particularly with street vendors) are always better when using travellers cheques or cash.

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