The Biggest Travel Ripoffs

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Although I love to travel, one thing I hate are the travel ripoffs that I’ve come across. Quite often these things are tourist traps that are aimed at new travelleres, but often the biggest ripoffs come from airlines or banks who are trying to maximize their profits.

To be fair, I’m sort of “happy” that I’ve been ripped off a few times because it allowed me to learn from experiences. Heck, some of the things you’ll read below are some of my fondest travel memories. That said, at the time, I was not impressed. Avoid the following travel ripoffs and you’ll save yourself some money and potential headaches.

The biggest travel ripoffs

Anything sold at a market

I’ll admit as a tourist, markets are a lot of fun. I love the idea of shopping amount locals and looking for souvenirs to bring home. The problem is, most popular markets are only visited by tourists and there’s typically no listed price. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you could end up paying much more than you have to.

At the night market in Bangkok, I wanted to buy paper lamps. While I was browsing, there were three different prices which were all based on the person’s haggling skills. The person who spent the most paid double of what the lowest person paid. Because I overheard this, I got a good price, but the lamp ended up being of low quality and broke quickly.

When I was in Dubai, I headed to the gold souq with my friend who’s a local. She was looking for something for her daughters so she got a quote from one of the vendors. Right away she knew it was a ripoff since it was 25% more than stores located outside of the souq.

Foreign exchange fees

Changing money at the airport, your hotel, or even your bank can cost you a small fortune. When I was headed to Brazil, I went to my bank to exchange some money, they quoted me a 10% markup! While I was at the airport in Barcelona, the spread was 7.5% above the current exchange rate. As you can imagine, those fees can add up quickly.

I find using ATMs to be the easiest and cheapest way to get cash. The usual cost is 2.5% on top of the spot rate, plus a one-time transaction fee. It’s best to withdraw your daily maximum when using ATMs since it’ll lower your overall transaction fees. Note that the STACK Mastercard doesn’t charge the exchange fee, you only pay the one-time transaction fee.

Alternatively, you can use one of the best credit cards with no foreign transaction fees in Canada. These cards don’t charge the standard 2.5% exchange fee so they’re perfect for travelling. Some even come with extra travel benefits such as lounge access

Hotel mini-fridge and Wi-Fi

I never really understood those who consume food and drink from the hotel mini-fridge.  How lazy are you that you’d rather pay double to triple the price for a can of Pepsi or some nuts? I understand that you’re paying for convenience, but how difficult would it be to go to a convenience or grocery store to load up on snacks when you arrive?

I hate to keep bashing hotels but why do some hotels still not have free Wi-Fi in the room? Admittedly, this is becoming rare. However, to get free Wi-Fi, the major hotel chains usually want you to join their loyalty program first. That’s not such a bad thing since programs such as Marriott Bonvoy are excellent. Smaller and independent hotels typically include free Wi-Fi as a standard benefit. 

Things sold on the street

I remember my first time in New York I saw people selling “designer bags” on a blanket, obviously the bags were fake, so why would you want to but them?

In Florence, I saw the same thing but instead of handbags they were selling tripods. I assumed there was no way there could be fake tripods, so I purchased one. Big mistake, after using it just twice the thing snapped.

When I was in Istanbul, I couldn’t walk 100 meters without being offered a tour of the Bosphorus. I did take a look at one of their tours, but I quickly realized the price was much higher than a similar cruise I could book online or through my hotel.

Carrier surcharge fees

When booking a flight on points/miles, many airlines charge a carrier fee, which is sometimes referred to as fuel surcharges. This is easily one of the biggest travel ripoffs since they’re only charged when you’re redeeming your points. Clearly airlines are doing this to recapture some revenue since you’re not paying for your ticket.

Not every airline charges this fee, and the good news is that the new Aeroplan is eliminating this fee completely. However, some airlines will continue to charge it which is why you should try to avoid those carriers when redeeming your points.

Final thoughts

Whenever you visit any destination that gets a lot of tourists, there are going to be a lot of things that are going to be a ripoff. It’s always best to do your research and never make any quick decisions if you’re looking to buy something. You’ll also want to avoid some travel gear as it’s not nearly as useful as they sound.

About Barry Choi

Barry Choi is a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert who frequently makes media appearances. His blog Money We Have is one of Canada’s most trusted sources when it comes to money and travel. You can find him on Twitter:@barrychoi


  1. Robb Engen on June 9, 2014 at 1:34 PM

    I had a $10 beer at the Calgary airport. Not cool.

    I’m also surprised that customers haven’t demanded that hotels, even the high end ones, offer free wi-fi.

    Isn’t it interesting that the hotel industry started charging for wi-fi immediately (before it became widely available everywhere else) and now is dragging its feet at the thought of losing that revenue stream?

    I wonder what the newspaper landscape would look like today if the online subscription model was started earlier in the cycle, rather than trying to put up paywalls a decade later after everyone was used to it being free?

    • Barry Choi on June 9, 2014 at 1:44 PM


      Beer / Wine in Europe is less than $2 a glass.

      Yeah Wi-Fi is EVERYWHERE these days, I was getting signals from all over the place, don’t get why big chain hotels insist on charging it. I rarely use hotels these days so it’s not a big deal

  2. Cristina on June 9, 2014 at 4:23 PM

    I find famous food is one of the biggest rip offs in Europe. Gelato in Italy and Paella in Spain especially – it’s nearly double the price when you purchase on a main tourist street like La Rambla in Barcelona or at the Spanish Steps in Rome. I cut through the back streets and small alleys, even just 5 mins away you save half the price!

    • Barry Choi on June 9, 2014 at 4:24 PM

      Ha yes I had a Belgian waffle and it cost me 4.50 Euros and it was not a good deal. Famous local goods are also a rip off e.g. cotton in Egypt or carpets in Istanbul.

  3. NotTheActress on June 10, 2014 at 8:23 AM

    Hotel charge crazy money for WiFi and the mini bar because they can get away with it. A lot of them make money on business travelers, and the typical road warrior won’t think twice about spending extra $$ on these things if they aren’t paying (I am also guilty). As for Business class, again Airlines are making money off of business travelers who are not footing the bill themselves (every single Dubai – JFK Emirates flight I have been on are always sold out with paying customers on Business, and this has a $10k USD price tag!) Most of the time, people upgrade themselves to Business on points (if they can afford it) and it is a pretty nice experience.

    • Ed2go (Edwin Weinstein) on October 2, 2020 at 1:36 PM

      For several years I traveled around the world 3-4 times per year making sales calls in 10-15 cities each time. The product I was selling was high priced and I had to be alert to succeed. On my first time I flew economy and was too tired to perform well. The seats didn’t allow someone my size to sleep well. Round-the-World business class tickets proved to be a good buy and I was happy to pay out of my own pocket to arrive better rested and more able to address difficult technical issues in the sales process. Essentially, the extra cost of the airfare was worth it to me because it meant I was more effective on arrival — I didn’t need a day or more to recover.

      • Barry Choi on October 2, 2020 at 3:28 PM


        Fair enough. If the business class ticket meant more productivity for your work, then it was totally worth it.

  4. Barry Choi on June 10, 2014 at 8:40 AM


    Oh for sure if it’s not my money I would be happy to charge it to the company but WiFi and business class is still a huge ripoff compared to the other options. Then again I’ve never been in business class those lie down beds might be worth the extra $4K

  5. My Own Advisor on June 10, 2014 at 10:12 PM

    Don’t forget about hotel parking. Crazy prices, upwards of $50 per night/day.

    I don’t think I’ve ever used the hotel mini-fridge, but it has been tempting.

    Good post man. You’re always thinking aren’t you? 🙂


    • Barry Choi on June 10, 2014 at 10:19 PM


      Funny enough last year I was in LA and the hotel wanted $30 a night yet right across the street it was $11. Guess where I parked?

  6. TuGo Travel Insurance on June 12, 2014 at 5:12 PM

    Ghetto Santa Claus? That’s hilarious! Great post here. You’ve outlined everything travelers need to watch out for. Exchanging money at hotels, and eating out of those mini fridges are travelling 101 no-no’s! And yes, Wi-Fi NEEDS to be free. It’s just cruel to charge for Wi-Fi when guests are paying for expensive hotel rates as it is.

    • Barry Choi on June 13, 2014 at 1:41 AM

      TuGo Travel Insurance,

      I don’t think people realize how much extra hotel or even regular currency exchanges charge. It’s crazy how high the spreads can be. With hotels Wi-Fi should totally be free considering you’re already paying a premium to stay there

  7. Neil on June 17, 2014 at 9:44 AM

    At the end of the day if you’re happy to be the gullible traveller, expect to be fleeced for everything in your wallet; provided you’re not pick-pocketed first at one of the local tourist traps!!

    Wi-Fi should be included in hotels, point made and I agree; however it should also be free in major international airports. Why can YYZ, YVR and others in Canada offer it yet when you get to MIA they charge?!? For Canadians travelling and using their mobile device there are massive roaming fees associated and when you’re stuck in an airport it could be the difference in letting friends/family know if you’re delayed, missed a flight, etc. so why not make it free?!?

    If you don’t want to be ripped off abroad, try to reduce your ‘tourist attitude’ and don’t be afraid to say ‘NO’ to pushy merchants in the markets and on the streets.

    One of the biggest rip offs (depending on the city) is the cost to enter a museum or otherwise public tourist attraction. Why do they charge so much to go up the CN Tower yet to visit the Eiffel Tower its a fraction of the cost?!? Guess which one i’d prefer to visit?!? I live 10 minutes walk from the CN Tower and I’ve never been in it because I refuse to be ripped off!!

    • Barry Choi on June 17, 2014 at 9:49 AM


      Great way of looking at things. For sure when I’m buying things at markets I’m usually satisfied with the price but in the back of my head I know I’m still totally getting ripped off.

      Yikes had no idea MIA charged for WiFi, might as well not offer it at all. Then again I remember paying to use for the internet at Heathrow many years ago at a physical terminal.

      Museums can be expensive at times. Recently in Amsterdam I thought EUR 15 was expensive to get into the Van Gogh Museum but then I remembered in Toronto to get into the zoo it costs $30!!

      Remind me to never go up the CN Tower again =D

  8. mia on June 18, 2014 at 11:23 PM

    One more thing that annoys me big time is the high fares for traveling within Canada, why o why can I get to Florida for half the fare to get to Vancouver, or I can even get to Amsterdam (a different continent) for less money. I am a new Canadian and would really like to get to see more of Canada, but for now I will be exploring the Ontario cottage country 🙂

    • Barry Choi on June 19, 2014 at 12:42 AM

      I totally agree. I have found cheaper tickets to London and Amsterdam compared to Vancouver. I also happen to have family in both those locations so it’s no wonder why I haven’t been to the west coast.

      Even last year when I flew to Seattle and returned from LA, the airfare was pretty much the same as flying to Europe.

    • T Bricker on September 10, 2020 at 11:26 AM

      Although we’re Canadian we seldom vacation in our own country. It’s just too expensive. Flights and accommodations and meals are much cheaper just about anywhere else. We travel a fair amount and our kids have been all over the world but they’ve only been in a few Canadian provinces. Sad

      • Barry.Choi on September 10, 2020 at 5:32 PM

        T Bricker,

        It can be ridiculous. I have found cheaper flights flying from Toronto to Vancouver via a U.S. airline as long as I take a stopover in the U.S.

  9. jay on June 9, 2016 at 10:56 AM

    YVR to YYZ is total ripoff….

    • Barry Choi on June 9, 2016 at 11:00 AM


      Agreed. I’ve flown to LHR from YYZ for cheaper than a flight to YVR

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