What’s Your Total Cost of Travel?

Hipmunk issued an infographic to people on its mailing list today, and I found it interesting. It outlines all the little ways you can get dinged by airlines, hotels, and associated merchants along the way when you travel. I enjoyed it because it highlights how important it is to take a holistic view of travel and look for lots of ways to save money when traveling.

When people ask me where’s a cheap place to visit, I might suggest Bangkok as one idea. Sure it’s expensive to get there, but once you arrive everything is pretty cheap. Contrast this with Las Vegas. You can drive from Southern California, but many of the fancier hotels (and everything is moving upscale there) can cost $200-300 a night on weekends. If you don’t pay attention to¬†all the costs of a particular destination — and how to avoid some of them — you might pass up on a truly great opportunity.

Skip to the bottom and I’ll explain how I avoid some of these costs.


Parking at the airport? I pay under $5 a day. Taxes and fees are about $10 per visit regardless of the length of stay. I don’t think I’ve ever paid $75 for parking.

Books, magazines, food, and water are things I would buy without traveling. But getting an upgrade on a regular basis does provide free food and entertainment.

Baggage is free for me as an elite member at United. I can ship up to three 70-lb bags per person on my flight, and I’ve only gotten close to that threshold once.

I paid for hotel WiFi once when I was young and stupid. Now I get elite status via promotions, hotel stays, or credit cards. Check out this list for major chains.

Resort fees are sometimes discounted if you have elite status, but this is not always advertised. The Hyatt Regency Waikiki waives fees for Diamond members.

If self-parking is full, I can sometimes get a discount when forced to valet park. But it’s a good way for the hotel to add 10-20% to your bill in busy locations.

Finally, who’s complaining about the cost of neck pillows? Most frequent travelers don’t carry them, yet on almost any redeye flight there is an infrequent traveler who brings a full-sized pillow and blanket. This is unnecessary. Please do not follow Hipmunk’s advice and bring your own from home.

Answers to Reader Questions: Recommendations on Award Travel
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  • http://twitter.com/canadiankms Jeff

    $4 for bottled water??!! I’ll go get starbucks and ask for a cup of water after.

  • john

    thats kinda cool. Jeff I take it you dont travel much.. or dont get thirsty at altitude.

    • Adrian

      So what’s wrong with going to Starbucks with your own bottle and asking for water or filling it up from the fountain?

    • http://twitter.com/canadiankms Jeff

      I drink huge amounts of water when I’m onboard. At the airport… not so much.

  • Erica

    having LTE iPad has saved me enormous amounts of wifi fees

  • Adrian

    Personally I bring my own blanket because US carriers love making their cabins cold (and the UA blankets are useless), though then again I rather take a cold cabin over the hot ones found in most Asian carriers.

  • Embla

    Wait, I don’t understand why one shouldn’t bring their own pillow and blanket. I don’t, because I prefer to carry as little as possible, but I don’t see what’s wrong with it. Assuming they’re traveling in economy, airline blankets are thin and pillows aren’t comfortable – and there’s the question of how clean they are.

    • Scottrick

      I just think it adds unnecessary bulk and like I said, those traveling the most often don’t seem to be doing it as often. Clearly some can do without. I suggest wearing a coat.

      My objection isn’t really to people who bring a pillow. That’s fine by itself. My objection is to the people who bring an overstuffed carryon that barely fits in the bin, plus a purse, plus a snack bag and then bring along a king-sized pillow and down comforter. It really happens. These people bring more for an overnight flight than I would pack for a one-week vacation.

      • disqust101

        Amen. That women seems to be on every flight nowadays. And always late, always fiddling with every bag, always a huge PITA – and why it takes so long to push away from the gate. Agents really need to crack down on these carryon bag shenanigans

  • JustSaying

    I don’t share all the expenses as Hipmonks but it is an excellent conversation to have about where are the hidden costs………I depart for Lyon in 24 hours and one of the hidden stresses of planning this trip is the ground transportation from the airport to the hotel in Lyon…….car service wanted $120-$140 and taxi is estimated at $80……..I signed up on Gary’s recommendation for uber service which will also run $70-$80 and can’t be reserved…….have to wait and get internet service on arrival and then “order” the car…………
    Contrast that with my home airport SFO where I am a short 2 mile ride from the Airporter luxury bus service that is $20 each way and is a wonderful non-stressful way to start the trip…….As I read about some of the “stunning” islands in the Pacific and then the additional hour long taxi rides and logistics and fees to get to the resort I think of the easy commutes that Hawaii offers and I think “at what price exotica?”

    • disqust101

      Exactly. Hop on a direct flight to Oahu, Maui, Kauai, stay at some decent mid range hotels (or condos) and you could have 2 or 3 trips for what the cost of going to some exotic destinations – and you get there rested.

  • jason

    I stay at Hotels that offer free wifi and free parking, when I am paying out of my own pocket. Having status is fine if your employer is paying for your stays. And most US 3 star hotels are perfectly all right. Overseas I stay at 4 star hotels. And quite frankly there are better places to get breakfast than your hotel.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paultiffen Paul Tiffen

    Believe it or not the prices for all those things in Sydney is more. Daily rate for onsite parking is 56 per day, books are about 15 and water is 4.5. USD and AUD are about on par

  • disqust101

    Scott, ummm, most of your “free” stuff has big cost. How much does “elite” status cost? For most people, who don’t blog as a profession, and only go on vacation once or twice a year (or once or twice every 10 years), would do better to pay out of pocket.

    • Scottrick

      It doesn’t always have to be a big cost.

      Regarding airline status, if a person travels 25,000 miles a year and spreads it across different carriers, he or she might be able to consolidate with one carrier. Will it cost more than always chasing the cheapest fare? Sometimes. Will the added benefits of elite status outweigh that cost? Maybe. I certainly got good value even as a Silver for several years. In your specific case of someone who travels once out of every 10 years, then out of pocket makes sense.

      As for hotel status, there are many ways to get it for free or more cheaply than paying for things out of pocket, and I explained some of them in another post.

  • http://twitter.com/WanderngAramean Wandering Aramean

    Or just book into hotels which have free wifi. As an added bonus, they are usually cheaper than the “full-service” properties which charge for it. I haven’t paid for wifi in a hotel in a long, long time. It is also not clear how Hipmunk is claiming they can save you $50 for airfare on a consistent basis. And then there is the part where you save $100 for public transportation PLUS $42.50 for super shuttle. Usually I only need one method to get to/from the airport, not two.

    Cute infographic, but questionable data and only marginal recommendations.

    • Scottrick

      I believe the public transit and super shuttle were meant to replace hotel parking and airport parking, respectively.

  • http://www.jeffalytics.com/ Jeffsauer

    Good piece of marketing by Hipmunk.

  • sarahware

    I think this is pretty common sense for anyone that flies more than once a year. When I click onto something like this I expect to learn something new! Come onnn Hipmunk! :

    [I love Hipmunk and use them for all my travel.]