Attention travelers! Beware of pre-checked boxes when booking online

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There's nothing wrong with a company offering travel insurance when you're booking a trip. But what about when it's automatically added to your bill, whether you want it or not?

All booking sites try to get travelers to spend more money. That's how business is done. But while some websites merely offer extras like car rentals, hotels, airport parking, and travel protection (a.k.a. travel insurance) that can be ignored without incident, other sites use a more aggressive strategy. Specifically, rather than ask travelers if they want to purchase insurance, they pre-check a box so that the extra expense is automatically added to the traveler's bill. The only way a traveler can avoid the charge is if he or she notices it and decides to opt out.

When booking a flight at Travelocity, for example, if you're paying close attention you'll encounter a pre-checked item that reads "Yes! I want the Travel Guard Travel Protection Plan for only $19.95 per person." If you breeze past this section without taking a moment to read it and make up your own mind, you'll be charged an extra $20 whether you really wanted the protection plan or not. (And the truth is that the vast majority of travelers who are booking a simple flight do not think travel insurance is worth the cost.) If you'd rather skip the insurance, the onus is on you to click on "No thanks."

By contrast, travel companies like Orbitz, Priceline, and Royal Caribbean Cruises all offer various "Ticket Protector" or "Trip Protection" plans during the booking process, and while these insurance policies are often presented as highly recommended, there are no pre-checked boxes, and travelers are never charged extra for doing nothing.

Travelocity is hardly the only booking site that automatically adds travel insurance to customer bills. Rail Europe is another operator that does so: A Rail Protection Plan, which "provides compensation to you in the case of exchanges or cancellations due to illness, railroad strikes, and in the case of loss or theft in Europe," is pre-checked during the booking process. Unless you notice it and decide to check the "No" box, you'll pay, for example, an additional $9 on a simple one-way $73 train ticket, or an extra $18 on a $398 rail pass.

This is not to say that you should never buy travel insurance. Sometimes insurance is one of the smartest purchases you can make. But it doesn't seem like too much to ask for that companies ask you flatly and openly whether you want it or not, rather than adding it automatically to your tab.

What do you think? Have you encountered other examples of pre-checked extras while booking trips? Does it bother you when travel protection plans are automatically pre-selected and added to your bill, or is it not that big a deal?

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