By now nearly every traveler has been hit by surprise “resort fees” or overpriced wi-fi fees at hotels. Airlines demand fees for bags, food, and seat assignments. Rental car companies pile on all kinds of extra “concession” fees or hit us with obnoxiously high per-gallon fees when we don’t have time to fill up the car on the way back to the airport.
While paying airline or hotel fees feels rotten, the airlines love them—last year they collected nearly $5 billion in baggage fees alone.
But all fees are not bad. As a matter of fact, I’m happy to pay fees that can truly improve my travel experience– especially when traveling during the crowded and hectic holidays.
Here are five fees I don’t mind paying…and you should consider in the coming weeks as we enter what could be the busiest holiday travel season…ever!
>Roomier seats. Elite level members of airline frequent flyer programs get free access to “more legroom” seats near the front of the cabin and by exit rows. However, non-elite travelers can usually pay a fee for access to these seats. Airlines determine such fees by the length of the flight and demand, and can range from $10 to $100. But on a long flight, a few extra inches can provide enough space to open up a laptop and be productive in flight. It can also make a big difference in comfort if you are tall, so I’ll pay it when I have to. Be on the lookout for these upgrades when you book your flight, and always ask about them at check-in, too. Some airlines, like Alaska Air, allow you to upgrade your legroom at the gate or onboard by paying the flight attendant a fee starting at $15.
>Early boarding. One of the most cherished benefits of elite status with airlines is the ability to board first and lay claim to overhead bin space– which is especially valuable during peak winter season when everyone is carrying heavy coats, gifts, and their luggage. However, I spread my airline business around, and I’m not elite on every carrier I fly. So, for example, I’m happy to pay Southwest a $15-$20 “Early Bird” fee to get me near the front of the boarding line—especially during periods of peak demand when planes are packed and overhead bin space scarce. On American, Delta or United, you can purchase “Priority Boarding” for $15 to jump to near the front of the line. (Note that passengers on the airlines’ cheapest basic economy tickets cannot avail themselves to early boarding or paid seat upgrades.)
>Inflight wi-fi. When inflight wi-fi works well (which seems rare), it’s definitely worth the fee to me, especially on transcontinental flights. It helps pass the time, keeps me productive and eliminates arriving at my destination to a full email box. $20 for a good connection on a five-hour flight? Sure. That’s money well spent to me. If you get a crappy connection, it’s usually pretty easy to get a refund from the airline.
>Airport lounge access. Have you ever been stuck in Chicago or Denver or during a winter storm? Hordes of holiday makers milling around peering out the windows as the flakes or pellets fall, then slumping into boarding area seats to wait it out. That’s the time it is worth the $50-$70 fee for a day pass to airport lounge. But get there early—once the lounges fills up, they are open to members only. Also, be on the lookout for new non-airline, pay-to-play lounges such as The Club at SJC (now with two locations), or others in The Club Lounge network. Or just walk up to the desk agent at a lounge and ask about one-time passes– at SFO and other airports, United Clubs offer one-time passes for $59.
Hotel Club or Concierge Floor. When you know a trip is going to be all business all the time (and you don’t plan to get out much), a hotel club, executive or concierge floor is almost always worth the extra cost. It’s also a very good deal when traveling during the holidays with a family. When you pay the premium, you’ll likely get breakfast, snacks, booze (sometimes) and heavy hors d’oeuvres at night. Rooms on these floors are usually slightly larger and likely to be on upper floors offering better views. Plus, you can sometimes check in and out in the lounge and not have to wait in lines that can form in the hotel lobby. If I’m not planning to get out much, I’m usually happy to pay the premium of 20% or 30%. A rainy or snowy weekend holed up on the club level at a Ritz-Carlton can be awesome!