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Take a "fee" ride

Gail Todd (Chicago Daily Herald) -- When Karen Goldman cruised the Internet for a flight to Mexico, she thought she had found a great price, but that was before she found the hidden fees that sunk the deal.

"The price didn't include taxes or departure and landing fees," said Karen. "By the time I added all the extras, it wasn't all that much of a bargain. Trying to get the bottom line for travel costs is like playing a cat and mouse game. Why can't they just be up front about costs?"

The airlines have become masters at playing the game, and they rarely lose. But their rules are hard to follow.

Last summer an 84-year-old woman traveling from Arizona to Wisconsin suffered a panic attack on the connecting flight out of Chicago. Apparently, the small regional plane frightened her. Rather than go through the same scene on the return trip, someone agreed to drive her to O'Hare so she could avoid traveling on the small aircraft. The lady called the airline to let them know she wouldn't need the seat on the first leg of the trip. She didn't want a refund. She wanted to let them know so they could go ahead and rebook it and make an extra sale.

The airline returned her kindness by charging a fare differential fee of $75, which was certainly generous. After all, she changed the booking and the airline could have socked her with a last-minute, drop-dead price of $800 or more.

It isn't just the airlines who play hide-and-seek. When Bob Clark booked an "all-inclusive" cruise to the Caribbean, he thought he had planned it down to the penny; however, when he was presented his extra charges at the end of the trip, he wasn't so sure his ship had come in.

"They socked me with an extra bar tab of $200," said Bob. "Apparently, only the food consumed at scheduled meal times was included. I even got charged extra for a milkshake my son ordered, because of the brand of ice cream he requested."

As Bob discovered, "all-inclusive" might only mean the bare bones. Shore excursions, air fare, tipping, laundry, photographs and port charges may all be add-ons.

Boutique items, such as cruise-line T-shirts, are often displayed on the deck and can appear as part of the package, but they're rarely included. Ship doctors are often introduced as part of the crew, but often operate alone, as Marilyn, an interior decorator, discovered. She suffered food poisoning after a shore excursion. It wasn't anything like the headache she suffered when she got her bill.

"The good doctor spent five minutes with me and gave me some pills," said Marilyn. "When the trip ended I had an added charge for medical attention that looked more like a week in the hospital."

If you're tired of being "it" while the travel industry plays games with your money, you can level the playing field. Read the small print and challenge the rules before you agree to play.

(c) 2001 Chicago Daily Herald

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