Watch Out For 'Hidden' Luggage Fees

I've recently returned from three weeks of R&R, travelling through some of the United States on a family holiday. Despite asking specific questions of my travel agent, I was hit with luggage fees during one leg of the journey. This was an expected slug of US$100 (about $140 once you take into account the exchange rate and credit card fees).

I typically avoid travel agents as most of my travel is fairly simple. But this holiday involved multiple destinations and connections, two parties meeting along the way and a bunch of other logistics. So, being somewhat time-poor, we used a local travel agent. Once before, on a business trip to Seattle, I had been hit at the gate with a fee for checked luggage. So, this time, I very specifically asked the travel agent whether fees were covered in our air-fares.

The agent told us everything was covered.

Despite this, when flying from Honolulu to LAX on Hawaiian Airlines, we were hit with a US$25 per bag fee at check-in. I queried this immediately on landing at LAX with my travel agent who told me it was not possible for them to pre-pay for checked luggage on internal US flights. But I kept my receipt and sent them an email outlining the conversation I'd had with the travel agency's representative as well as a scanned copy of the receipt.

The specific person I'd dealt with resigned from the agency between booking our trip and the holiday. But the person I dealt with said it didn't matter what the conversation said, the fine-print on the invoice said luggage fees may not have been covered.

Cutting to the chase, I politely thanked them and informed the agency that I would be contacting my local Consumer Affairs office to inform them of my issue. From that point, it took just minutes for an email to come saying that "as a gesture of good-will" they would refund the luggage fees.

As a colleague said to me, the phrase as a gesture of good-will" is corporate-speak for "Shit - he knows his rights".

There are a some lessons in this.

  1. Trust, but verify: I took the travel agent's word that the fees were covered and didn't read the fine-print. Regardless of what's promised, always check the documentation thoroughly.
  2. Keep documentation: Keep copies of any receipts relating to potential disputes. This is especially important if you have to make a claim against you travel insurance.
  3. Be firm, but polite: Don't use emotive language in a dispute. Stick the facts and have a plan if things aren't going your way.

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