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Consumer
Avoid pesky fees
NEW YORK (12/11/12)--Before you get slapped with a fee on top of what you thought was a final price, learn what you can do about hidden fees beforehand.  Shouldn't the price of an airline ticket include your luggage? Why should you pay $15 more for the Internet when you're already paying for a room in the hotel? What about those $34 overdraft fees? (MSNMoney Dec. 3)

Here are ways to get around some of the peskiest fees--ones that are unnecessary, give little in return, or are overpriced.

Financial institutions:

  • Overdrafts: If you make the occasional mistake of writing a check for more than you have in your account, your financial institution will charge you to cover the negative balance. To avoid fees or to pay less, check your balance regularly online and link your savings account to your checking account. Better yet, switch to a credit union--overdraft fees are, on average, $20 compared with $35 at a bank.
  • Foreign transactions: If you use your credit card in another country or buy something from a non-U.S. company, you will pay a fee, usually 3% of the transaction. Shop around for a card that doesn't charge this fee. Most credit unions charge no more than the 1% the card company charges them.
  • Other fees: Banks have found a lot of ways to get more money out of customers. Some charge as much as $100 a year simply for having a checking account. Add more fees if you want paper statements and to use an ATM. You'll do better at a credit union. Credit union fees, when they exist at all, typically are lower than bank fees. In addition, you'll pay less for loans and earn better dividends on savings.
Airline fees:

  • Checked baggage: Are you paying $25 to check a suitcase when you fly? Avoid the fees by flying Southwest and JetBlue, the two airlines that don't charge for baggage. Or choose an airline that doesn't charge baggage fees if you use its branded credit card.
  • Carry-ons: Two airlines, Spirit and Allegiant, charge a fee for carry-on bags. If it's not possible to avoid those airlines, look at the cost of shipping your bags--it might be a lot less.
  • Pet or lap fees: You'll be charged to bring kitty in a carrier whether you fly domestic or international. You most likely won't be charged for a baby younger than two in your lap if you stay in this country, but leave the U.S. and your lap fee can be as high as 10% of the price of a full-fare ticket. Shop around.
Rental cars:

  • Collision damage waiver: This expensive coverage can cost from $25 to $40 a day and the protection is limited. Check with your insurance agent and a credit card customer service representative to see what coverage you already have. You might be able to skip the added expense on domestic car rentals.
Hotels:

  • Resort fees: Hidden fees are against the law but some hotels assess them anyway—as much as $30 a night. If you pay to stay at a hotel, don't pay more for amenities such as use of the exercise room or pool, Internet access, or even newspapers. Before you book a room, get the facts on fees from a front-desk decision-maker (not the 800-number) and ask to have fees waived. If it's too late and you're already at the hotel, use any one of the many free apps to help you find the nearest free Wi-Fi hotspot.
For related information, read "Seven Questions to Ask Before Traveling Abroad" and watch the video "Money and Travel" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.
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