The Many Hidden Costs of Travel

My wife and I just recently got back from a trip to Toronto where I was reminded of all the little extras that can add hundreds of dollars to a flight.

You’ll go through them from the time you walk into the airport to when you get off your flight at your destination.  Some are mild annoyances while others can cost you a substantial sum.

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Here are eight hidden costs of travel:

Seat selection

Before you even walk into the airport, some airlines may charge around $10 to select your own seat as part of the ticket purchase process.

For those who are quite tall, this may be money well spent to get the few economy seats with extra leg room.

Upgrading your seat

Right when you check in, airline staff have the opportunity to up-sell you on a bigger seat.  This may be called something like club class, premium economy or something similar.

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The upgrade will be positioned as a bargain, though the cost will vary by the length of flight.  Let’s say for the sake of argument that an upgrade costs $199 or more.  This is a cost which is completely unnecessary.

If you opted to buy an economy ticket in the first place, upgrading sort of defeats the purpose of buying a cheap seat!

Airport lounge access

The airport lounge, a nice to have but not a necessity for leisure travellers.  Some airlines charge to use their lounge ($25 or $50, Air Canada), others may give you free access but charge you for food and drinks.

Free access sounds like a good idea however the airline is using this as a loss leader.  They figure that you’ll end up consuming enough food and drink to make up for the cost of the lounge.

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Given that the mark-up on alcohol is easily over 300%, this is a great way to increase profits.  Buy a few drinks in the airport lounge and you’ll be out of pocket $20 or more.

Additional baggage fees

It seems like every airline has different luggage weight allowances, so be sure to check what these are before packing up and leaving for the airport.  Having an overweight bag could cost over $70.

Rather than getting caught off guard and having to pay the fee for an overweight or second bag, use your scale at home or buy one specifically for weighing luggage.

Duty free round one

Now that you’ve checked in, you’ll inevitably have to walk through the duty free section.  All those bottles of alcohol, cartons of cigarettes, souvenirs, chocolates and candy call out to us.

Spend too much time here and you’ll easily end up spending $75 or more.  Your waistline may also suffer!

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Comfort kits

Once the plane has finally taken off to your chosen destination the flight attendants will come around with some mixture of ear phones, blankets, eye shades, socks, slippers, etc.  These kits cost between $3 and $10 per person.

In flight food & alcohol

While flights with higher end air carriers will usually include food and drinks, discount airlines may not.  Expect to pay $7 to $15 for a meal and a drink.

Alcohol of course will be extra.  Though I’m not a big drinker, I will definitely have a one on a flight where I want to get some sleep!

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Duty free round two

If you didn’t buy something in the airport, the airlines give you another chance on board the flight.  Expensive watches, alcohol and bizarre gadgets are all available in the glossy in-flight magazine.

I hardly ever see anyone buying these items but they must sell or the airlines wouldn’t carry them!

Flying is expensive enough, it gets worse with all of the products and services that are made available to us throughout the experience.  The best way to combat additional flight costs is to be prepared and don’t get lured in!

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Bring your own earphones, sweater and sandwich and be content with your choice of seat.  Avoid duty free and you’ll not only save money but you’ll also improve your health by staying away from alcohol, sugary snacks and cigarettes.

By keeping these hidden costs of travel in mind you can easily save hundreds of dollars every time you fly.  For those with families, remember that these costs really add up!

Andrew is a Canadian personal finance and investing blogger who recently moved to London, England.  He has a background in technology and a passion for travel.  His blog, She Thinks I’m Cheap aims to help Canadians build wealth by sharing facts, stories and advice.

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  1. Steve @ Grocery Alerts on May 16, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    Seat selection is such a rip-off – in saying that I love getting upgraded to First Class.

  2. Tushar @ Everything Finance on May 16, 2013 at 10:14 pm

    I was so surprised the first time I saw that airlines started to charge for baggage. It used to be one bag for free under a certain weight, but not anymore. I’ll also never spend money on in-flight food – it’s far too much!

    • Andrew @ She Thinks I'm Cheap on May 17, 2013 at 4:30 pm

      Not only is the food expensive but it usually tastes like cardboard! The markup on airplane food is just as bad as a movie theater.

  3. Yuen Tuck Siew on May 17, 2013 at 3:57 am

    Here’s another one, a trap I’ve often fallen into: Don’t take a cab on arrival!

    In most cities there’ll be a decent train or shuttlebus link into the centre of town. I know, you might be tired after a long flight but in cities like Hong Kong, London, Beijing and Paris you can easily save 40% of the cost by opting for public transport.

    If you’ve booked a hotel – check and see whether they have a free (or discounted) airport car/limo service/

    • John on August 30, 2013 at 3:49 pm

      This is so very true

  4. Rosemary Wells on May 17, 2013 at 5:51 am

    Two more for you.
    In Europe, many flights are first come first serve seating – not assigned. You can pay a fee to get on a flight in a fast lane which gives you the best seating options. Good for business travelers who want to sit at the front. I think it was equivalent to about $25.00

    Another fee (in the US) was paying for use of the individual seat TV. You pay one price if your flight is under 2 hours and a higher ate for flights over 4 hours. I think the rates were something like $4.95 ans $9.00.

  5. Bryan Jaskolka on May 17, 2013 at 9:51 am

    Watch out too for all the headphones, pillows, blankets on board too that they charge for. These too were once free, and now I either have to remember my own travel pillow, or arrive with a crick in my neck.

  6. LoonieLover on May 17, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    I would much rather pay a single, higher price than be nickel-and-dimed to death. It’s bad business, too, because the consumer leaves feeling cheated for having needed to get his wallet out so many times.

    One good step in this direction recently: In December 2012, the Canadian government FINALLY required airlines to include all mandatory charges in the ticket price. Note, though, that this only applies to flights originating in Canada, and that “extras” (as mentioned in this article) are still fair game for airlines to charge extra fees.

    • Andrew @ She Thinks I'm Cheap on May 19, 2013 at 3:35 am

      Same here LL, I would much rather pay one fee all at once. It’s much easier to plan and budget for something when all the costs are known and you don’t feel like you are being deceived!

      • LoonieLover on May 21, 2013 at 8:25 pm


        “…and you don’t feel like you are being deceived!”

        That’s the crux of right there, isn’t it?

  7. Shafi on May 18, 2013 at 8:02 am

    A couple of years ago, we went to Disney World. We stayed at a nice hotel for a week. The rent was less than $30. Continental breakfast was included.

  8. Joe on May 18, 2013 at 11:16 am

    So true. Sure, the tickets are expensive, but it’s getting nickeled-and-dimed that results in a huge, unexpected credit card bill after-the-fact.

  9. Gerard on June 7, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    Personally, I’d rather be nickel and dimed! This pricing structure lets knowledgeable travellers avoid paying for things they don’t need. And, of course, very frequent travellers get many of these things for free anyway, as part of their elite status. Basically the airlines are saying that seat selection, lounge access, priority boarding, and big luggage allowances are perks for regular customers, while at the same time others can have a little luxury (at a price), or save a little money (by forgoing luxury).

  10. Fran on August 30, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    I can only wish seat selection was $10. For those of us too tall to fit into economy seats and can’t afford 1st class, the only option are exit seats, which can cost (on overseas flights) almost 1/2 of the ticket price. I don’t mind the cost as we could not travel otherwise, however, every airline has their own policies and procedures, and most of the time we cannot request those seats until after we have paid for the ticket. It is a scary way to travel since if the exit seats are not available we are then stuck with unusable and usually non-cancellable tickets. Any suggestions?

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