Sneaky Add-Ons Fleecing the Road Warrior

It really is a jungle out there, and we who travel for a living are pretty savvy about staying at the top of the food chain. Whether protecting your own little company or watching your employer's budget, you arm yourself with your laptop and a host of travel sites to help you zero in on the best bargains.

Stalking the lowest rates through the tall grass of competing airlines, car companies and myriad hotel chains, you slowly close in for the kill, pulling the trigger at last on that great rate as your credit card number rockets through cyberspace to seal the deal.

Congratulations, you've just been had — again. That $45-per-day rental car is going to cost you $110 per day, and that airline ticket to get to Fernortin Falls is actually $45 more than you were told, and the city fathers of Fernortin Falls have discovered that they can tax the marrow out of your hotel room and add on an additional 20 percent just for the privilege of sleeping in their city.

Yes, it's true: Irritating add-ons and additional taxes have been around for decades. But the practice of adding on add-ons and trying to hide them is accelerating out of control, and the companies you trust to show you the true price of their products and services are increasingly engaged in a conscious attempt to hide or understate that final price, for fear you'll take your business elsewhere or decide not to rent or buy in the first place.

There's a word for that in American jurisprudence, by the way. It's called "fraud."

Editing Out the Add-Ons

What travel sites, rental-car companies and hotels often fail to make clear — that's the most charitable explanation, by the way — is the increasing percentage and type of add-on charges you'll pay with the final bill for the services they're hawking. The additional items are pawned off with obscure titles such as "airport taxes" or "concession charges," and in many cases (especially overseas) they can double or even triple your final bill.

For example this month in Amsterdam: An advertised 26-euro-per-day car rental sounds great, until you add the 47 euros charged for the privilege of renting at the airport in addition to the 19 percent local tax.

This trend has become a worldwide stampede, and to some extent it's a variation of the long-disdained advertising scam called "bait-and-switch," in which potential buyers are enticed with a low price only to be pressured or misled into paying a higher price for a different product.

Actually, the airline industry is the lesser offender in this drive to shove all extra charges to add-on status. To be exact, the average round-trip airline ticket in the United States these days carries around a $45 tax burden. The federal ticket tax is 7.5 percent of the base fare, the federal segment tax is $3.20, the so-called passenger facility charges can be up to $4.50 and the federal security service fee for the Transportation Security Administration is currently $2.50.

Because the base fares for the airlines have dropped almost 40 percent since the early '90s (due to the airlines progressively pricing their product below cost), and with the added taxes after Sept. 11, the overall percentage of your airline ticket price going to taxes has been climbing.

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