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I love to travel, but I absolutely hate the fees and charges that can come up. It’s a bit ridiculous when you think about it. There are more than a few things that are designed to get more money from travellers. It may not seem like a lot at first, but once you start adding them all up, it can easily run you a few hundred dollars.

It’s like you can avoid all of these fees, but if you can reduce the amount that you’re paying, that’s more money you can spend on your trip. Once you know about the fees and charges below, you can take the steps to avoid them. Always take the time to look over your trip details so you’re not paying more than you have to.

travel fees to avoid

Foreign transaction fees 

A lot of travellers don’t realize that they’re likely getting charged 2.5% whenever they use their credit card to make a purchase in a foreign currency. What makes this foreign transaction fee even more annoying is that it can go as high as 3.5% when you use an ATM. Plus, you still need to pay any one-time fees. As you can imagine those

The good thing is that you can avoid this fee if you use a credit card without foreign transaction fees. If you need to get cash, I recommend using STACK, this prepaid card doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees or ATM fees (although some foreign ATM fees may charge a one-time fee). Best of all, if you sign up with my referral link, you’ll get $5 for free! You must click the link via your mobile device for it to work.

Dynamic currency exchange 

Here’s another fee that is hidden in plain sight. Sometimes when using your credit card abroad, you’re given the option to pay in your home currency or the local currency. Always select the local currency since the home currency option (known formally as the dynamic currency exchange) is set by the merchant.

It’s not uncommon to see the dynamic currency exchange set at a higher rate compared to the formal exchange rate set by the credit card issuer (Amex, Visa, Mastercard). Even if you have a credit card without foreign transaction fees, you’ll be charged extra if you select to pay in Canadian dollars (since the fee is baked in already). Keep in mind that quite often the prompt for your home currency or the local currency is in the local language, so don’t let the sales rep just keep pressing OK or continue for you.

Roaming charges 

International data plans have become cheaper over the years, but there are still ways to save. Generally speaking, you should never just roam with your regular plan. You need to purchase an international plan with your home carrier or get a vice and data plan with a different provider such as KnowRoaming.

The best part about KnowRoaming is that they use a sticker that attaches to your home SIM card so you can still take calls from your home number when abroad. Alternatively, they have a SIM card option which might be more convenient for some users. If you’re interested in KnowRoaming, my referral code gets you 50% off the SIM sticker and a $10 credit. The referral code is also good for the SIM card, but you don’t get additional credit.

Checked baggage fees 

Just about every airline now charges for checked baggage when flying within North America so it’s your best interest to pack carry-on luggage only. Packing may seem impossible at first but it’s easier than you think. Remember, you’re technically allowed to carry on 2 items; one standard article, and one personal article, plus there’s nothing stopping you from wearing layers onto the plane. A family of 4 who uses carry-on luggage only can avoid this travel fee and instantly save $200 on their trip.

If you fly WestJet a lot, the WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard gives the primary cardholder and up to 8 additional people on the same itinerary their first bag checked free. Both TD and American Express have announced that their new Aeroplan credit cards will also come with free checked bags on Air Canada flights.

Car rental insurance 

You obviously need auto insurance when renting a car, but you may already have it. If you own a car at home, your standard insurance policy usually carries over to rental cards which means you can decline any insurance that the car rental agency offers you.

Even if you don’t own a car, you might still have car rental insurance. Many of the best travel credit cards in Canada offer travel insurance as a standard benefit, so when you make your reservation, be sure to use a credit card that will cover you in the event of an accident. Keep in mind that to qualify for your credit card insurance, you need to decline any insurance offered by the car rental agency. Don’t forget to read your own car rental insurance policy before you depart just so you know what you’re covered for. For example, it may or may not include third-party liability insurance.

Toll fees 

Tolls aren’t very expensive but if you’re renting a car you really need to be mindful of them. Many highways and bridges no longer have a physical person collecting tolls, instead, a transponder is required, or they’ll take a picture of the license plate and invoice the owner later.

When you can, use the cash fare lanes. It may also be worthwhile to get a rental car that includes a transponder (which may cost extra). Some car rental agencies will allow you to pay for your tolls after you’ve returned your car, but that requires you to keep a detailed log of your travels. If you fail to inform them, you’ll be sent a bill later and you’ll likely have to pay an additional administration fee.

Resort fees

Let’s be clear, the only way to avoid resort fees is to book a property that doesn’t charge them. I’ve only listed resort fees in this article as they are something that can surprise you if you weren’t expecting it.

Quite often the resort fees are charged the day you check out and they can cost you $25 – 50 a day which is no small amount. You can obviously charge it to your credit cards, but imagine you’re ready to go home and then you find out you need to pay $200+ in fees? That would just be annoying so look into them before you make any reservations.

Medical bills 

Once you leave home, the cost of healthcare can be quite expensive. A quick trip to the emergency room in the U.S. could you hundreds, if thousands of dollars, so make sure you have travel medical insurance.

Interestingly enough, there’s a good chance you already have free travel insurance. Some employers offer travel medical insurance as a standard benefit. Alternatively, if you have a travel rewards credit card, make sure you book your holiday on that since it’ll usually have a comprehensive insurance policy which might include trip cancellation/interruption and lost/delayed baggage.

In a worst-case scenario, you can easily purchase travel insurance on your own for just a few dollars a day.

Final thoughts

Travel fees and charges are an absolute pain, heck anytime you need to pay something when it can be avoided sucks. When travelling many people tend to ignore their spending but that’s a huge mistake. Any money you’re able to save can be used towards your next vacation so try your best to avoid these travel charges whenever you can.

Travel Fees and Charges to Avoid
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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

18 Comments

  1. Avatar seattlegirluw on August 13, 2015 at 3:21 PM

    The other option (I believe) to avoiding exchange fees is to do traveler’s checks. I could be misremembering. At the very least, you’ll know your money is safe, I suppose.

    And depending on your status with the airline and/or the credit card you have, you can often get one bag checked free. I think it’s usually just if you have an airline rewards card but… worth checking.

    I agree that car rental insurance is insane. If you get a really good rate, the insurance can cost you more than the base rental cost. The chances of your getting into an accident are slim, and like you said, your current policy probably covers you.

    • Avatar Barry Choi on August 13, 2015 at 3:26 PM

      Seattlegirluw,

      Travellers cheques aren’t really that common anymore so that presents a different problem.

      Most Canadian airlines now charge for baggage for domestic flights, regardless of your status with them, but that’s a smart way to save for Americans.

  2. Avatar Virna on August 14, 2015 at 7:46 PM

    I can’t believe how most airlines now charge for checked in luggage. I will be travelling to Mexico at the end of the month and I will definitely be packing a carry on luggage.

    • Avatar Barry Choi on August 14, 2015 at 8:42 PM

      Virna,

      Yes paying for checked luggage sucks. When travelling within North America I try to stick to cary on only.

  3. Avatar Joe on August 15, 2015 at 2:08 PM

    Hey great post Barry. It could not have come at a better time. I’m currently working a 6 month contract in Warsaw, Poland. Every now and then we’re offered the option to pay in local currency or CAD when we swipe our credit cards. I had no idea they were roping us for that much! I’ll be selecting local currency from now on.

    • Avatar Barry Choi on August 15, 2015 at 2:13 PM

      Joe,

      They’re definitely making a few extra dollars (possibly) every time you select CAD. Stick to the local currency everytime, even if your credit card charges you a 2.5% exchange, it’s probably still cheaper.

  4. Avatar Supersaver on August 16, 2015 at 7:31 AM

    When renting a vehicle out of province my auto insurance doesn’t cover rentals but I can purchase supplemental rental insurance from the same agency far cheaper than I can direct all from the rental company.

    I’m not sure seattlegirls comment about the probability of having an accident is slim is relevant though. Insurance is there to safeguard precisely against those albeit slim but potentially catastrophic events. To forego insurance to save a few bucks for an unlikely event is foolhardy. On the balance of probabilities most will come out unscathed unless you are the unlucky one.

    • Avatar Barry Choi on August 16, 2015 at 12:55 PM

      Supersaver,

      Solid points. People should remember to check the fine print of all their insurance policies so they know exactly what they’re covered for and if they need to purchase additional insurance.

  5. Avatar Daniel @ SaveWithDan.ca on September 9, 2015 at 2:57 PM

    Air companies created another problem by charging for every checked bad: oversized and overweighted “hand” luggage, but this is another history…
    Nice post, Barry.

    • Avatar Barry Choi on September 9, 2015 at 3:23 PM

      Daniel,

      ha yeah the fees airlines charge are certainly getting out of hand.

  6. Avatar Gwen Nielsen on May 7, 2018 at 11:36 AM

    Opened a Scotia Bank account specifically for their 40 country affiliated banks….
    “Scotiabank is a founding member of the Global ATM Alliance. When you’re travelling, you can use the ABMs of the international banks in the Alliance, and you’ll skip the surcharge and save on access fees.”
    Have used in 5 country (so far) and never had any problems. Between my no FTX fee credit card and my Scotia Account all is good!!!

    • Avatar Barry Choi on May 7, 2018 at 12:02 PM

      Gwen,

      Great strategy! I also find that some banks don’t charge those one time fees. I’ve never been charged by HSBC regardless of what country I’m in and I don’t even have an account with them. I’m in Amsterdam right now and ING didn’t charge me any fees to withdraw money.

    • Avatar Mike on February 20, 2019 at 11:28 AM

      Hi Gwen. If I may ask, what no FTX fee credit card do you use? If it’s the Scotia Passport Visa Infinite, could you please comment on the ease/difficulty/value of redeeming your points as well? I’m very interested in switching to that card but would like to confirm the “glossy brochure” understanding of their points system. Thanks!!

      • Avatar Gwen Nielsen on February 22, 2019 at 12:46 PM

        Yes it is the Scotia Passport Visa. I only use it when travelling abroad and have had no issues at all of redeeming online for my travel purchases. Wouldnt hesitate to recommend.

  7. Avatar Gwen Nielsen on May 7, 2018 at 2:35 PM

    Will definitely have to check them out !! Thanks

  8. Avatar Mike on February 20, 2019 at 11:25 AM

    Great story Barry, in particular the advice about the fees, taxes and surcharges!! Dovetails well with my recent comments about the futility of redeeming travel points for flights with extortionate fees/surcharges. I’d love to see you or someone else you know in the personal finance space do a piece on these fees and where they are the worst (probably Canada to Europe based on my recent experience) and where there is still reasonable pricing (I’ve found domestic Canada, some Canada to US and Canada to Latin America often – not always – still have low fees/surcharges). In addition to helping the budget-constrained traveller, it might also shine some unwanted light on the airlines who are adopting these value-eroding fees.

    • Avatar Barry Choi on February 20, 2019 at 12:29 PM

      There is definitely more value than others when it comes to countries. For example, Korea has laws against excessive charges so if you were to redeem an Aeroplan flight to Seoul from Toronto, you’d only pay $120ish in fees whereas the taxes to Paris are closer to $700

  9. Avatar Samantha on October 30, 2020 at 3:38 PM

    I solved my currency conversion fees problem by getting US Dollar Visa for Business from RBC. If you use it regularly it actually makes sense, as you can buy USD at favourable rate once in a while and use it pay off the card monthly.

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