Biggest travel rip-offs

Biggest travel rip-offs

Call us cynical, but the travel industry is genius at getting us to spend money on things we don't want

Travel is a big decision because it can mean big expenditure.

While I'm all for paying an honest price in return for a vacation that makes me hate life a little less, some travel-related charges just don't make sense.

Here are the worst value-for-money travel expenses that need to go away right now.

What do you think is the worst travel rip-off? Let us know in the comments box at the bottom of the page.


Worst vacation hangover: Phone bill shock

PTSD from surprise roaming charges takes a long time to heal.The roaming charge for your mobile phone is probably the greatest travel rip-off of all time.

Our hearts go out to the naive and inexperienced travelers who assume that a quick check-in call to mom won't cost too much.

"It's alright, it'll just be a few minutes." Riiiight.

Think again. A 15-minute call from Hong Kong to Taiwan can cost about HK$100 (US$13). Multiply that a few times and we're close to a phone bill that equals the price of a round-trip Hong Kong-Taipei flight.

The Federal Communications Commission says that one in six mobile phone users in the United States suffers from “bill shock" when they see a sudden and unexpected increase in their monthly mobile phone costs.

One of the major causes is unanticipated roaming and data charges. 

When we see that huge bill, the message we're getting from phone companies is this: "Don't use our service."

Not only are the charges a rip-off, but they're very behind the times. Don't people know that phone calls aren't even fashionable anymore

In the age of free Wi-Fi, WhatsApp and Skype, roaming charges need to accept their place -- which is behind MiniDiscs, just next to newspapers.

You're not welcome: Visas

new york visaWhat tourists will go through just to get a dirty hotdog in New York.This one is the oldest travel rip-off in the book. Visas became an international thing in World War I when nations were really worried about spies.

From this spirit of state paranoia and protectionism, visas have evolved into a necessary evil we've all come to accept.

Travelers, it's time to wake up and smell the dollar bills.

After a country has determined that I'm not a fugitive, terrorist, potential illegal worker, nor am I carrying lethal contagious diseases, the country should let me in. For free.

I've already paid with my dignity by submitting to a background and medical check just so that I can come and spend money.

Unnecessary visa rules -- such as a US$140 visa processing fee that's non-refundable even if the visa is denied -- have been blamed for the United States' slump in tourism dollars in the past 10 years.

Between 2000 and 2010, its share of the international travel market dropped from 17 to 12 percent.

Other outrageous visa rip-offs include US$223 for single-entry visa to Russia for Americans, US$204 for a single-entry visa to Belarus also for Americans, US$79 for a Polish two-day transit visa that allows you to pass through the airport's international zone. 

Don't get me started on Bhutan. While their mandatory US$250 per day minimum spending isn't the official visa fee, it's a condition for visiting the country and an utter rip-off.

Hostage situation: Airport jack-ups 

"Let the fleecing begin!"Airports have the potential to be poetic places. It's where people from around the world converge; it's the beginning of epic journeys and the scene of joyful homecomings. 

Too bad everyone at the airport is trying to rip you off.

It starts at the institutional level with the airport departure tax.

That's a fee we have to pay just for leaving the airport. The money supposedly goes to the maintenance of an airport that we may never use again.

If you don't pay, you can't leave. It works the same way as kidnapping.

Then there's the "no-liquids" rule.

Forcing us to surrender our water in the name of anti-terrorism hasn't actually lessened the threat of terrorism, but it has instigated a boom in liquid sales on the other end of the x-ray conveyor belt, as detailed by water economist David Zetland.

In 2009, a man was able to take a serrated knife through airport security, but not his water.

Bottles of water, food, even currency exchange services are all sold at a higher price inside an airport. There's no reason for this other than shameless extortion by a monopoly.

Travelers are basically hostages of an airport and if we need to eat, drink or get local currency, we'd better cough up the ransom.

Most disappointing: Hotel services

hotel limousinesYes it's cute. But is it worth it?While an airport can confidently rip us off knowing that we have no other alternative, hotels manage to fleece us by bigging-up their superior service and then letting us down.

Room service has long been a perplexingly expensive and unsatisfying exercise. If the food arrives fast, fresh and cooked to perfection, I can see why it's a great idea to pay for the extra bonus of eating in bed.

But usually the fries are soggy, the burger lukewarm and the tardy staff expects a tip.

I should really get out of bed and go down to the street for a better meal at a fraction of a price. Bad room service is purgatory for the slothful.

Expensive hotel laundry service, which can outprice the purchase price of some street clothes, is another swindle.

Nothing, however, is quite as deflating as the hotel airport limousine service.

The car they send is sterile, the driver won't scam me and I can pay by credit card. It's a door-to-door trip in which I won't interact at all with my new location. Where's the fun in that?

And I get stuck in traffic just like everyone else.

Hotels charge a premium for convenience and quality of service, perfect for travelers who don't want to leave their hotel and actually explore the place that they've traveled to.

Get over it: The top of skyscrapers 

Gorgeous view that's missing an essential ingredient.It sounds pretty cool to zip up to the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building.

Fork over US$40 so that you can say to yourself, "Gee, I'm on top of the Empire State Building!" 

But after the initial adrenaline rush of the view, you realize something is missing from the NYC skyline.

The Empire State Building is what's missing. You can't see it, because you're on it.

Buildings. They're all the same once you're in them and the city views are incomplete without them. Funny thing is, they charge us hard-earned bucks to go up these buildings.

What's the one Parisian icon that gets made into key rings and fridge magnets? The Eiffel Tower. If you take a photo of Paris from high up without the Eiffel Tower in it, you're essentially capturing your big head next to a flat city of tiny non-descript houses that could be anywhere. 

But the Eiffel Tower, particularly when it's lit-up at night, is an iconic, even majestic sight to behold. So go somewhere where you can actually see it, free of charge.

Like, somewhere on the street.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of Zoe Li.

After traveling around the world on a fistful of dollars, Zoe returns to Hong Kong, where she grew up, to discover and write about all the inspiring stuff that happens here on a daily basis.

Read more about Zoe Li
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