The worst hidden travel fees and how to avoid them

People pass through Salt Lake City International Airport Monday, June 27, 2022, in Salt Lake City. To avoid overpaying for travel, customers should beware of hidden fees that airlines, hotels and vacation rentals can add onto the initial booking price. Travel companies use a method called "drip pricing" to get customers to pay more. Hotel resort fees are one of the most egregious examples that usually aren't shown as part of the nightly rate. Travelers can avoid some fees by skipping or declining fees, like paying to select a seat. Otherwise, they'll have to shop around — instead of choosing the cheapest initial price — and compare the total costs with fees before booking. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

With travel prices soaring, customers might be tempted to pick the cheapest base option they find. But the base price of airfare and hotels represents only a fraction of the total costs. A parade of add-on fees await any traveler trying to navigate the checkout process, ballooning the final price. Experts call it "drip pricing."

"It's called 'drip' because surcharges and fees drip out throughout the shopping process," says Vicki Morwitz, a professor of business and marketing at the Columbia Business School.

Customers tend to overpay when prices are presented this way, according to a study conducted by Morwitz and her colleagues.

"Customers are more likely to select an option that looks cheaper upfront. Even when they later realize it's more expensive than they anticipated, they're more likely to stick with it," she says.