Getting Smart about Hidden Travel Fees

So you got a great rate on an airfare or hotel. Watch out, there may be hidden fees lurking in the shadows. From baggage fees and extra leg room to late check-out fees and expensive water, ancillary fees from airlines and hotels are an ever-present threat to the frugal traveler.

Here’s how to combat hidden charges and get the most for your travel dollars, courtesy of CNN.com.

Be aware of ancillary airline fees

By one estimate, airlines across the globe brought in almost $60 billion in 2015 from extra fees alone. Charging extra fees began with low-cost carriers, and it’s often why they can charge lower ticket fares.

Full-service airlines have followed suit in this push to charge passengers more whenever possible, including devising more categories of seats, allowing for more a la carte fees.

“What we’re seeing is about five different strata of cabins from first-class downwards,” says George Hobica, president of airfarewatchdog.com, in a CNN.com story. “If you buy one of the super-cheap fares, you’re going to be in the last row by the bathroom.”

“I think one of the worst ones is the change fees,” Hobica adds. “It used to cost nothing to change a ticket or a schedule. Now it’s $200. It doesn’t cost the airline $200 to change the ticket. You actually do it yourself.”

Getting less from loyalty programs

Frequent travelers have long relied on airline and hotel loyalty programs for perks such as free upgrades and checked bags.

But elite status doesn’t buy what it used to. “It used to be that the number one reason to be loyal to a particular airline was the free upgrade.” With airlines selling more of these seats — and some airlines routinely overselling — “it’s almost impossible now to get an upgrade,” Hobica says.

Hotels are doing it, too. Their ancillary fees can include everything from charging for bottled water, to high connection fees for Wi-Fi and the hotel room phone.

Also beware of the “resort fee” — an additional mandatory charge that supposedly covers the upkeep of hotel facilities and can be as much as $30.

Tips on beating charges

To not fall prey to ancillary charges, travelers have to be ever vigilant, especially when booking the flight or hotel.

Don’t assume it’s free. Never make assumptions that something is complimentary — read the fine print of each airline or hotel before you travel, and be careful and proofread what boxes you check when booking online.

Pack carry-on only. An increasingly popular travel option is to pack carry-on only, if possible. Not only will you save on baggage fees, you’ll exit your destination airport a lot faster.

Don’t be afraid to haggle. According to many travel experts, consumers can haggle almost anything, especially in person at a hotel. Depending on how much effort you’re willing to expend, you could get a fee dropped or even an upgrade.

Use helpful travel apps.  We live in a digital, mobile world, and it often pays to download helpful travel apps to book online, find free Wi-Fi hotspots nearby, and sometimes be eligible for special online- or app-only discounts.

Possible fees to come

Airline expert Hobica thinks parents might eventually have to pay for a seat for very young children, even if they spend the trip in an adult’s lap. He also predicts more airlines following the lead of low-cost carriers Ryanair and easyjet by charging for the use of a credit card, as airlines have to pay 2 percent to 4 percent to the credit card company when consumers use a credit card.

Hotels may also start charging for the option to select the room of your choice. Some people prefer to have a room near a fire exit or ice machine, for example.

And now that many hotel chains have apps that allow you to check in and out electronically, without seeing a human, this will likely soon become the default offering. Travel experts predict we’re going to start paying more for human contact and help.

Source: CNN

Are Self-Driving Cars Really Safe?

A recent collision involving a self-driving Volvo SUV run by Uber and a woman driving a Honda CRV in Tempe, Arizona brought to light the potential dangers in self-driving vehicles.

The woman driving the Honda was cited for failing to yield the right of way, but the question remains: are self-driving vehicles inherently dangerous? While self-driving vehicles could improve the mobility of people who don’t or can’t currently drive, there are larger questions to consider. Do we really want vehicles that rely on cameras and advanced GPS systems sharing our roads and highways with us as we commute to work and school every day? And what about the autonomous driving option in our own cars and trucks, which is sure to happen in the coming years. Can we trust ourselves to use this new tech feature safely when many of us already can’t resist the urge to text and drive right now?

Here are some dangers of self-driving vehicles to consider, according to a Yahoo Finance article.

SDV passengers can expect to get more motion sickness.

As much as 37 percent of adult passengers in self-driving vehicles will experience an increase in the frequency and severity of motion sickness, according to a study published by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle of the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. The reasons: People in self-driving vehicles will be reading, texting, watching movies, working or playing video games in the vehicle instead of driving and focusing on the road ahead.

Road safety and accident rates will likely worsen before improving.

When self-driving vehicles start sharing the roads with conventional people-driven vehicles in greater numbers in the years to come, the risk of accidents for conventional vehicles will likely become elevated, according to the Sivak and Schoettle study. They found that SDVs may not be able to avoid crashes that aren’t caused by drivers prompting the authors to write, “It is not a foregone conclusion that a self-driving vehicle would ever perform more safely than an experienced, middle-aged driver.”

Hackers could highjack self-driving vehicles and remotely control them.

As our vehicles become more technologically connected, the possibility of them being hacked and used for criminal purposes increases, according to a report published by British bank Lloyds. For example, hackers could access personal data such as the location of a person, and where they typically drive every day, potentially indicating to a burglar that someone isn’t home. There is also potential for cyber terrorism. For example, a large-scale immobilization of cars on public roads could throw a country into chaos, added Lloyds.

Terrorists could take over SDVs as lethal weapons.

Hackers could also take over self-driving vehicles and use them as lethal weapons, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation warned. In a nightmare scenario, terrorists could program explosive-packed cars to become self-driving bombs, or a self-driving vehicle could be programmed to drive a getaway while criminals in the car could use their free hands to shoot at pursuers.

Majority of people shun self-driving vehicles

According to the second annual survey conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, almost half of motorists shun self-driving cars, with almost half saying they’d rather drive themselves.

Researchers Schoettle and Sivak received 618 responses from licensed drivers 18 or older via Survey Monkey. A similar study done in 2014 found many of the same reservations among consumers.

Given the choice among three levels of automation in a future vehicle — no self-driving, partial self-driving and complete self-driving the percentage of respondents who said they would prefer no self-driving technology actually rose slightly to 46 percent from 44 percent last year. Slightly fewer people this year said they’d be OK with partial autonomy (38.7 percent) than last year (40.6 percent).

Almost all, 94.5 percent are not comfortable being in a car that doesn’t have a steering wheel, brake pedal and accelerator because it is self-driving. Women were slightly more resistant than men to any autonomous features, as 48.4 percent of women said they want no self-driving capability compared with 43.1 percent of men.

Schoettle said he doesn’t expect Uber, Google, Apple or any traditional automakers to slow their efforts to achieve safe, but totally autonomous vehicles, but surveys like this can tell them what features people want or don’t want.

Source: Yahoo finance, University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute