Ed Perkins On Travel

Seniors on the Go: Worst ripoffs in travel?

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Last month, the folks at BudgetTravel published their list of the 10 Biggest Travel Ripoffs. While it is with some considerable trepidation that I disagree with anything connected to the redoubtable Frommer clan, or with Terry Trippler, the source of many of the story's entries, I take exception to at least some of the list.

BT number 1: Excess baggage charges. I disagree. Yes, airlines' excess charges tend to be high. But anyone who tries to schlep more than the two pieces of baggage they can check at regular rates deserves to be fleeced.

My number 1: Full-fare coach/economy-class air tickets. That's paying top dollar for the airlines' rock-bottom product. I've been saying that for almost 30 years, when we started Consumer Reports Travel Letter, and not much has changed since then. At bottom prices, economy air travel is a good value, but four times the bottom price for the same lousy product is a lousy deal!

BT number 2: Trip insurance. Again, I disagree. Yes, some of it is unnecessary and duplicative, but you don't have to buy that. My take is that any time you have more money at risk in nonrefundables and cancellation penalties than you can afford to walk away from if your plans change, you should consider trip cancellation insurance -- specifically, the "cancel for any reason" type.

My number 2: Car rental companies' collision waiver. You pay something like $30 a day for coverage you can buy from a third-party source for less than $10 and can get free through many credit cards.

BT number 3: Shady taxi drivers. I concur. Watch out for being "taken for a ride" anywhere you go, especially over the Triborough Bridge coming in from LaGuardia and exiting Las Vegas airport through the south exit.

BT number 4: Eating like a tourist. I concur, sort of, but with a different focus. To me, the real ripoffs are those high-priced "trendy" or "hot" places that serve over-ornate, over-tweaked food in minuscule portions at astronomical prices.

BT number 5: Manhattan hotels. I only semi-concur. Yes, Manhattan hotel rates are off-the-scale exorbitant, and unless you pay $400 a night, they can be dismal. The same is true for London, Paris and Rome, where mid-price rooms can be equally dismal. But what you're paying for is, in the old real estate cliche, "location, location, location." And I disagree with BT's remedy: branching out to reputable hotels in other boroughs. When I visit New York, London or Paris, I don't want to spend two or more hours riding subways every day. Instead, my choice is to get a deal through Hotwire or Priceline.

BT number 6: Airport airline clubs. Again, I only partially agree. Yes, the price tag is high, at around $500 a year for most lines, but if you travel a lot -- or can get in through a credit card or some other system -- they're a godsend in what is otherwise any large airport's hostile environment.

BT number 7: Uniformed "guides" at airports. Right on. But add self-appointed guides you encounter (more accurately, that encounter you) around tourist centers purporting to offer guide service but really shilling for some souvenir shop.

BT number 8: Changing money on the black market. I disagree. Yes, you can get fleeced. But black markets are virtually irrelevant these days, with convertible currencies and ATMs for exchange in most of the developed world. You do, however, have to be careful in some developing countries.

My number 8: Exchange booths at airports, where you get terrible rates. On my last trip, I saw euros posted at 1.55 to the dollar at Munich airport, compared with 1.35 wholesale and no worse than 1.39 from an ATM.

BT number 9: Minimum fees at restaurants and clubs. Agreed.

BT number 10: Insanely high booze taxes. Yes, on hard liquor, and especially imported hard liquor. But most places I've visited offer local beer and many have local wine at reasonable prices.

So what are your nominations?

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins@mind.net. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through http://www.mybusinesstravel.com or http://www.amazon.com)
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