What is the strangest travel fee that you've encountered?
The single biggest news story in 2010 has been about all of the extra fees that airlines are charging as a way to supplement flagging revenues. In the second quarter alone, the airline industry picked up $2.1 billion in extra fees and charges.
In our October Readers' Choice issue, on stands now, we reported the somewhat unsurprising news that among all the many clever new fees, your absolute least favorite charge was the dreaded baggage fee. (Fortunately, with some planning and the right bag it is possible to get by with a carry-on and avoid the checked-bag fee.)
Consumers and travel industry professionals are starting to rally together. A collective of groups submitted a petition with thousands of signatures yesterday via the web site, MadAsHellAboutHiddenFees.com, to the Department of Transportation. The goal? To force the airline industry to create greater transparency about fees during the booking process. (Look for the final ruling in Spring 2011.)
While baggage fees (and airlines in general) are getting most of our attention, I'm curious to hear about other weirdo charges you've noticed on a bill recently, whether on a cruise, at a hotel, or at the rental car checkout counter.
What are some new and bizarre—and perhaps patently unfair—fees you've been stuck with in your travels?
Take a free ride: Your guide to free public transit in U.S. cities
Yes, it is possible to get around certain cities -- or at least certain parts of certain cities -- on buses, trains, and ferries without paying a dime. A PCMag.com post recently highlighted the free public transportation possibilities in cities such as Portland (Oregon), Seattle, Pittsburgh, Boston, Dallas, and New York City, along with college towns like Chapel Hill, N.C., mountain towns such as Vail, Colo., and a few beach towns in Florida. While any freebie is a welcomed freebie, some cities have free options that are quite limited, especially in Boston (free rides between the two main train stations, Back Bay and South Station) and New York (Staten Island Ferry, where the scenery is worth paying for -- even though you don't have to pay for it). The most impressive and useful free transit offerings in the U.S. have got to be these three: Pittsburgh's Free Fare Zone, which includes most of downtown, and where riders can board buses and light-rail trains at no cost seven days a week Portland's Free Rail Zone, formerly known as the "Fareless Square," in which passengers can ride light rail trains and street cars nearly everywhere downtown for free, all day, every day Seattle's Ride Free Area, which allows passengers to, well, ride free from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Metro buses within the downtown area most popular with tourists
Bed bugs: How to cut your risk
Ordinarily, I'm proud to see my hometown earn a top spot in a ranking. But when the pest control firm Terminix released a list this week of the 15 most bedbug-infested cities, and I saw New York at spot number one, all I could do was shiver. And itch. Ew. To make matters worse, three cities from Ohio, the state where I was born (and where my heart still resides) made the top 10. On the bright side, I suppose, when my mom visits this weekend from Dayton, she can brag about upgrading from an 8th-place ranked city to the number one hot spot. Or not. Double ew. This naturally got me to thinking (i.e. worrying!) about what I could do to protect myself from being exposed to the blood suckers. I started to look into the matter, and it turns out, Budget Travel already has me covered. In our February 2005 issue, we published a handy guide to protecting yourself from the pests in hotels when you travel. Tips include checking the bed sheets closely for tiny blood spots—the true "calling card" of bed bugs, according to the article, and avoiding putting luggage on the bed, where they can crawl into your suitcase—and then make the trip home with you. Here, then, I turn the matter over to you: Have you encountered bed bugs at any hotels or popular tourist attractions lately? Have bed bugs driven you insane? Do you have any creative tips for avoiding picking them up? (And have you enlisted your beagle for help?) Let's learn from each other on this one and, hopefully, avoid taking home any pesky, unwanted souvenirs on our next trip.
Around the world...baggage-free
Nothing gets travelers more fired up these days than baggage fees, and our online community here at Budget Travel is no exception. Over the last year, as airlines have ratcheted up checked luggage and carry-on costs, we've been privy to your rants, your anecdotes, and your tips on the topic. We thought we'd heard it all. But then along comes writer Rolf Potts with, perhaps, the most extreme solution to avoiding those fees: Ditch the baggage altogether. "The more I've traveled, the more I've wondered if luggage is really necessary, or if it just sort of gets in the way of your travels," Potts said. "Without baggage, there won't be anything to get in the way of the enjoyment of the trip and the people you meet along the way." So starting this week, he's putting that theory to the test—in the most extreme way possible. He's traveling around the world for six weeks, "without a single piece of luggage," he says, "not even a man purse or a fanny pack." The only creature comforts he'll bring from home—including a toothbrush, iPod, lip balm, and a spare pair of underwear—will be those he can fit within the pockets of his clothing. Potts' trip will take him on a whirlwind loop from New York to London, through France and Spain, and then on to Morocco, Egypt, South Africa, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Los Angeles, and then back to New York. Extreme? Certainly. But Potts is no stranger to pushing his personal travels to the limits—and showing his readers what's possible in the process. Over the past ten years, he's traveled to and reported from more than sixty countries. He lived and worked in Southeast Asia for seven years. He drove a Land Rover from California to the southern tip of South America. He walked across Israel. He cycled across Burma. He piloted a boat down the Mekong. And most importantly, he picked up a thing or two about solo travel on a dime along the way and shared those lessons with the rest of us in what many consider to be the Bible of independent travel, his book Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel. It's safe to guess he'll pick up similar bits of wisdom during his "No Baggage Challenge," and I, for one, know I'll stay tuned to his online page to find out. PREVIOUSLY Interview with Rolf Potts on the "tourist" versus "traveler" debate
London: Bike rentals made easy
This past weekend saw the launch of London Mayor Boris Johnson's much vaunted bike rental plan (known as a "cycle hire scheme" to locals). About 6,000 bicycles are now available to rent. They've been distributed around town at about 400 docking stations, similar to Paris's program (which we tested out in a recent video report). Soon American visitors will be able to join Londoners in renting bikes to tool around town. The annual membership plan just announced by the mayor is aimed at residents, while vacationing Americans will only want the occasional usage plan—set to launch in late August or September. Occasional usage will cost $1.55 per trip. London is one of the best cities in Europe for cyclists. Hills are few and generally shallow and there are none at all downtown where you'll find most of the major sights. For instance, it's only a 10-minute ride between the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace. And it's about 30 minutes from the Houses of Parliament to the Tower of London (where the Crown Jewels are displayed)—all of ride along a designated river bank walking and cycling path. It's easy to rent a bike. The cost depends on the duration of your trip. Journeys of half an hour or less are free. For the first few weeks at least, you'll need to sign up online with a credit card before you can use the bikes. On top of membership and the occasional use fee is a bicycle usage fee based on the amount of time you spend cycling. The first thirty minutes cycling are free. An hour costs $1.55, a 90-minute trip costs $6 and costs climb in increments from there to a steep $78 for 24 hours. You will rarely be cycling for more than an hour though, as you'll drop off the bike when you reach your destination. So renting a bike in London is far cheaper than taking the subway or bus on a one-time, one way basis. The bikes are kept at docks, most of which are near subway stations. Look for the blue and white circular "cycle hire" symbols. If there's a red light above any given bike, it means the bike is not available—probably because it is in need of a repair. Here is how you get the bike out of the dock: Insert your credit card into the credit card reader. An amber light will illuminate while your membership account or verification code (given to occasional users after they enter their credit card) is being verified. A green light flashes, and then you can unlock your bike and head off. When you return your two-wheeler, make sure you get a green light and clicking sound. Otherwise, you will continue to be charged after you've walked away. There's a video showing you how the scheme works on www.tfl.gov.uk/BarclaysCycleHire MORE Budget Travel's full blog coverage of London