Will a $16 Fee to Get Into Thailand Bring Classier Tourists?

Siim Teller, Flickr

Tourists to Thailand may soon be charged an entrance fee of 500 baht. That comes out to about $16, not really overkill for getting into a country that’s full of street markets, pad Thai and full moon parties, now is it?

The proposed entry fee is backed by the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, the Ministry of Public Health and the Royal Thai Police, and the collected fees would of course go back into government initiatives. But it’s not necessarily raking in fee money that has the Thai government behind it. It has to do with who they want and don’t want in the country. And they want better tourists.”Now is the time for us to have quality tourists,” said Public Health Minister Pradit Sintavanarong to the Bangkok Post.

Take that dread locked, sandal wearing, backpackers!

The travel industry however isn’t necessarily excited about the proposed fee. “The plan will affect the tourism industry, both in the short run and the long run, because tourists will feel bad about Thailand and they may feel they are being cheated,” Sitdiwat Cheevarattanaporn, chairman of the Association of Thai Travel Agents said.

Might be time for the Thai government to figure out another way to keep the riff raff out.

How To Deal With The Ridiculous New Airline Change Fees

The big news in the travel industry this week was that United and US Airways raised the cost of changing tickets from $150 to $200. This means that if you need to change your ticket for any reason prior to departure, whether you got stuck in traffic on the way to the airport or your pet goldfish died, you’re going to have to pay a little bit more.

Gouging? Probably. Expected? Definitely. As airline prices continue their slow appreciation over the years decouple from the actual inflation rate, they’re turning to more and more ancillary fees in order to gain revenue. We saw it in baggage fees and in-fight meals and entertainment. Ticketing fees were bound to increase.

Rather than get angry about the fees, let’s focus on moving forward. Change fees only apply when you need to change your ticket, so the first thing that passengers can try to do is book the right ticket. A little-known rule when purchasing tickets is that the airlines have to give passengers 24 hours to cancel or change a reservation. At American Airlines you can put a ticket on hold until midnight the next day. United will let you cancel a reservation at no charge within 24 hours. And online travel agents like Orbitz and Expedia will cancel most reservations within 24 hours if you call their customer support and carefully draw out your complaint.How does holding or canceling a reservation empower a passenger? It lets you find the right ticket, book it, think about your schedule over night and finalize your itinerary. Not a week goes by when I don’t have one or two tickets on hold at AA.com – it’s both a failsafe and a backup if the price changes the next day.

Once booked, it behooves a traveler to know your schedule. We’re in an era of ultra-long security lines, mergers and sequester delays, so plan ahead and get to the airport early. On the flip side of that equation, if the airline is delayed because of bad weather or a mechanical issue, the leverage transfers to the passenger. Take a look at the departures board and try to get on an alternate flight on the same airline. Usually the passenger change fee is waived if the airline is experiencing irregular operations (IRROPS).

In the worst case when you actually do miss your flight, your options are fairly limited, but a little known rule that is still in effect on some airlines might save you some time. Called the flat tire rule, this loophole might let you change your itinerary to a later departing flight at little or no cost – but you have to know how to frame your complaint. Consumer writer Chris Elliott has a series of great articles on the topic, which varies by airline. You can read the thorough reporting here.

As with most changes to ancillary fee pricing, it’s important to note that these changes only apply to everyday travelers on deeply discounted tickets. One could logically get around these fees by purchasing semi flexible or fully refundable fares, or by reaching the top tiers of an airline’s elite program. But 95% of passengers won’t have the time or financial means to make this investment, especially when fully flexible fares are often 2-3 times the cost of an economy ticket.

Unfortunately, your best bet to avoid change fees lies in carefully planning your itinerary and executing on the day of departure. In the worst case, you’ll get to the airport a couple of hours early and will need to visit the pretzel counter at Auntie Annies.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user dykstranet]

Sneaky And Insane International Air Fees To Avoid

international airSure, no one likes to pay luggage fees. But $800 for an oversize bag? That’s the international air fee from Lufthansa for a checked bag that weighs in between 73 and 100 pounds. Over 62 inches? Those jumbo bags are $800 too. Lufthansa ranks at the top of the list for fees on international flights, but they are in no way the only airline standing by with sky-high fees.

“The flying experience has definitely changed over the last few years,” says Alicia Jao, Vice President of TravelNerd, a website dedicated to saving us money. Taking another look at fees charged by airlines, TraveNerd came up with some surprising numbers.

How about €70 ($91) for printing a boarding pass at the airport? That’s the fee at RyanAir, the discount airline that allows just one small carry-on bag. Want to bring a cello, guitar, violin or viola? RyanAir travelers can do that, if a seat for it has been reserved and the appropriate fare paid.”While some international carriers are still known for great customer service, there are numerous regional budget carriers that have strongly adopted the fee model,” says Jao.

A recent TravelNerd study found that international carriers commonly have baggage fees on international flights that are even higher than those on domestic flights. While individual airline fees vary, the study found that booking online is almost always less expensive than calling an airline to make a reservation.

Here are some other fees being charged right now by airlines for international flights from the TravelNerd study.

[Photo/graphic credit – Flickr user carinasuyin/TravelNerd]

Fees And Penalties Waived By Travel Companies: Nice Or Strategic Move?

fees and penalties

Frequent travelers know that fees and penalties happen when we change plans. Booked elements of a travel plan, especially when discounted, often carry heavy charges to prevent changes. But when major disruptive events happen – situations beyond our control that force plans to be modified – travel companies often waive those fees. It seems like a logical, good business move to make. But sometimes they need a little encouragement to do so.

Weather events, like a hurricane, a massive winter snowstorm or even disasters far away like an earthquake in Japan can throw off air schedules, empty or fill hotel rooms and make normal operations nearly impossible. When that happens, airlines, hotels, car rental companies, cruise lines and more adjust quickly to do the best job they can under the circumstances. Commonly waiving cancellation or change fees for these situations out of our control, it’s a show of good will by travel service providers. They don’t have to do that.

But it’s also a strategic move since the rescheduling is going to be done anyway, putting a severe strain on reservations systems and personnel. It’s kind of like the boss that is mad when someone calls in for work vs. the understanding employer who wishes them well and hopes they get better soon. Either way, the worker is not coming in today but the understanding employer gains good will with his workers. The mad boss? Not so much.As Hurricane Sandy caused aircraft to be grounded or moved out of harms way, United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson told USA Today, “We will likely suspend operations scheduled for tonight and tomorrow at several airports in the region. Conditions are likely to keep us from operating with an acceptable margin of safety.” Delta went on to suspend change and cancellation fees, as did most major airlines, asking passengers to consider departing earlier, postponing or re-routing their travel. At the time of Hurricane Sandy, it made sense.

After the storm passed and normal operations resumed, back came the fees and charges. But on the ground, the lives of those affected where far from back to normal. Homes left standing were still without power in many areas, forcing residents to live in hotels, scramble to find a rental car and change plans well into the future. For a while, it looked like airlines were going to hit passengers with fees again until Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) stepped in to lobby airlines on their behalf. As a result, airlines reevaluated their policies and made the right move.

“JetBlue and Delta have stepped up to the plate for those teachers and families with students whose travel plans have been ruined by Superstorm Sandy – now other airlines and cruise lines should follow suit ASAP,” said Schumer on his website. “Having to cancel a long planned vacation because of the storm is bad, but being forced to shell out hundreds or thousands in cancellation or change fees is worse.”

Whether it is nice to do in order to earn or keep our good will, or a strategic move that should make resuming normal operations more efficient, we’re always happy when fees we don’t think are justified are removed, regardless or what (or who) caused them to happen in the first place.

Want to know more about how to avoid fees? See this video that tells us fees are big business for airlines, between 3 – 4% of their income:


[Photo Credit: Flickr user swanksalot]

Budget Justice: How To Survive On Spirit Airlines

Like many others, I operate on a shoestring budget, more often than not, out of stubbornness. I prefer to call it budget justice, a principle of savings that guides people like me to needlessly circle the block for a free parking space only to miss the event that got me into my car in the first place, or, worse yet, to time and time again book flights on Spirit Airlines, the ultra low-cost carrier known for luring in customers with absurdly low air fare and then assaulting them with excessive fees, uncomfortable cabins and culturally offensive advertising.

When faced with the choice of true comfort or the perceived value from Spirit, I will always choose Spirit. Fortunately, my experience has prepared me with some survival techniques for the ultimate budget justice. Here’s my advice.

Book without bait

Spirit is almost always running a promotion to get you to the site in hopes that as you book you’ll concede to one of their many aggressive offers before checkout. When enticed with low fares, it always helps to first double check for promo codes on Retail Me Not. If I missed a promo by a few days, I zoom over to Orbitz, where the deal might still be alive; there, I’ll have a higher chance of finding the best fare.

While booking, read each page carefully, and just say no! Decline to choose your seat, decline to check your bag, decline to carry on, decline to rent a car, a hotel, just about everything. You’ll be glad you didn’t take the bait to extend your relationship with Spirit any further than you had to.Perfect the personal item
A shoestring traveler already knows that to avoid fees, checked luggage is off limits. But Spirit often surprises passengers by charging for carry-on bags as well. A non-member can pay online in advance $35 each way for their carry-on bag, or get gouged at the airport kiosk and pay $50. Worse yet, if you bypass pre-paying for your carry-on luggage, you can be stopped at the boarding gate and charged a $100 fee. Suddenly, that $99 round-trip flight is starting to look more like a $300 nightmare.

To fight for your budget justice, perfect the personal item – a purse, briefcase or backpack that you can carry on and stow under the seat for free. A backpack meeting the required dimensions of 16 x 14 x 12 inches is much larger than you think. I often load up my personal item with a MacBook, and four days of clothes. I’ve even traveled with friends who have gone as far as to wear a comical amount of layers in order to skirt the charges.

Side-step the seat selection
When flying budget airlines, sometimes the only comfort you can count on is traveling with a partner, but let’s be realistic – just how memorable is your flight together? I’d wager about as memorable as sitting in a doctor’s waiting room. You’ll get where you’re going regardless of where you are seated, and the worst-case scenario is you are separated from your party for a few terrible hours.
Still, there are ways to increase your chances of sitting together without paying, and it’s based on a system of trusting that everyone else is just as stubborn as you are.

When Spirit asks you to choose your seat ahead of time ($12-$199 each way), simply decline. Each time I purchased two seats on the same transaction, I was able to sit with my partner for free. I simply checked in online early, selected that I would like a random seating arrangement, and the computer put us together.

Recently, when traveling with a group of friends on Spirit, we had all purchased tickets separately and were still able to sit together without paying the price (though we accrued some small fees). Instead of checking in online, we arrived early at the check-in counter ($1 per customer, $5 per boarding pass printout). Even though we had separate confirmation numbers, we approached the counter together and the attendant kindly seated us together as one party. Granted, you may be at the mercy of an airline employee’s mood; it’s still worth a shot.

Fight for free “water”

On a recent flight I sat near an elderly veteran. When the Spirit flight attendant passed by to collect credit cards for pricey drink and snack orders, the gentleman kindly asked, “Do you have free ice water?” With a big smile simulating the pleasant demeanor reserved for a 4 year old, the attendant responded, “I can give you ice. That turns into water.” The veteran accepted his cups of free ice and waited patiently for them to melt. I couldn’t help but admire him for many reasons, not excluding his tenacity for a deal!

[Photo credit: Flickr user theskinnyailurophile]