Last week I ranted about the ways weddings, funerals, cars and cell phones have a way of latching their leech-like maws onto your wallet and siphoning away unexpected costs. This week yields the epic sequel to that potboiler. Expect thrills, chills and burning dollar bills as I warn you about other seemingly innocuous purchases that fester with hidden fees.
Think back to every vacation you’ve ever planned. Remember how you went into each trip with gusto and excitement over the great deals you had scored? Now recall the way those trips ended: with you slinking back home, battered and bruised from the road, having spent far more than you planned and wondering how it all went wrong.
You fell victim to the system.
The travel industry is built around false hope accompanied by invisible, sneaky charges.
Start with airlines, which advertise tantalizingly low ticket prices, only to bludgeon you with solicitations for upgrades, aisle seats, meals, baggage and early boarding. Sure, you can pay less than twice the sticker price, as long as you are willing to go hungry, leave all your clothes at home, and sit in the back of the plane in a three-inch-wide middle seat. Once you land, expect your hotel bill to mutate with laughable add-ons such as resort fees, crazy parking fees, and “energy surcharges” (if you want clean linens).
And you’re not getting away with anything if you decide to sleep on a boat. Cruises are notorious for sending you out to sea without a life raft, forcing overgenerous gratuities onto your bill, demanding upgrade charges for nicer dining accommodations and shore excursions. Yes, cruises make you pay to get off the boat you paid so much in the first place to board. The best way to get a reasonable idea of what you’ll actually pay on any trip is to read reviews and talk to friends who have already been on similar trips.
Pretty much anything with an “on” button comes with an automatic turnoff — a rogue’s gallery of monthly connection charges, accessories that aren’t included and planned obsolescence that only makes you long for the next version of whatever gadget for which you just overpaid.
Laptops, tablets, game systems and home theater equipment are all guilty of such extortion.
Have you ever heard of the “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” series of children’s books? Your new electronic buddy is just like that annoying mouse, whose demands for cookies are followed by a need for milk, and so on and so on until he’s sleeping in your bed and there’s change missing off the top of your dresser. Your devices con you into clothing them in the finest cases, chargers, cradles and stands.
They guilt you into believing you’re not getting the most out of them unless you spring for overpriced monthly mobile network fees. And worst of all, they have all seemingly been designed with bugs and drawbacks that are just annoying enough to make you spring for the follow-up version, which promises to eliminate those hassles while adding in a host of new annoyances to be fixed by the follow-up’s follow-up. What ends up happening is that you are really, in effect, renting, not buying, devices that you’re upgrading every year. To combat this vicious cycle, force yourself to stick with gadgets you buy for at least a couple years before re-upping.
My family and I got back from Legoland California, and boy is my wrist tired. Not only from having to whip out my credit card every five minutes for some silly, gratuitous purchase, but for making derogatory hand motions whenever one of these crass moneygrabs confronted me.
It started with a parking fee, then the realization that two of the park’s more compelling attractions — its water park and aquarium — are off limits unless you fork over more to upgrade your admission.
Once inside the park, the barrage continued with an in-park miniature golf course that sold its own separate tickets and carnival-style games geared to make my kids badger me for money in order to try to win stuffed animals.
While Legoland was the most egregious offender, it’s hardly alone in the amusement park money-sucking syndicate. From Disneyland, to Sea World to Magic Mountain, they all make you exit rides through gift shops, snap and sell you so-cute-you-can’t-possibly-turn-em-down photos and make it so time-consuming and costly to exit and re-enter the parks that you can’t help but stay on campus to buy their overpriced food.
Such parks are the cheeriest places on the planet not for the attendees, but the executives, who are no doubt giddy as they watch the money roll in as fast as their roller coasters plummet down the tracks. While there’s no efficient way to avoid all these money pits, you can neutralize the fees by setting a budget for extras and sticking to it, rather than letting the parks stick it to you.