Trip rip-offs are too many to tally

March 31, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

Naming rotten deals in the world of travel is like eating potato chips. Once you get started

"It's tough to say one thing, since travelers get ripped off in so many ways," said Gary Stoller, investigative editor of Conde Nast Traveler magazine.

The conversation was prompted by Travel Holiday magazine, which recently asked its readers to name "the biggest rip-off in travel." In flooded the letters. An Indiana reader deplored the added costs that afflict people who travel alone. A Chicago man singled out foreign airport departure taxes. A California woman cited one-way air fares, which often run higher than round-trip fares involving the same city-pairs.

Mr. Stoller let loose half a dozen denunciations, starting with collision-damage waiver insurance, an "outrageous" and costly option that rental-car companies push on customers who don't realize that they've probably already got coverage. Mr. Stoller moved on to rental-car surcharges, particularly the $2.98-a-day facilities surcharge imposed on all who rent at Denver International Airport.

From there, Mr. Stoller turned to the airline business, decrying the cost of first-class tickets on short-haul flights, and hotel rates, which many local governments have inflated by imposing bed taxes of 15 percent or more.

The next call was to Ed Perkins, editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter. He said quickly, "Our No. 1 choice for the worst deal in travel has been a full-fare [unrestricted] coach ticket on any major airline. I would also have to say that business class to Europe [on major carriers] is also grossly overpriced."

Now Mr. Perkins, too, was rolling. Paying rack rate -- the rate printed on brochures, with no discount for holding an Entertainment card or showing a business card or belonging to a group such as an auto club or arriving during a slow spell -- "is like paying sticker price for a car," Mr. Perkins said.

Two more things: "I think the one that generates more resentment per dollar than anything I know is telephone charges at hotels," Mr. Perkins said. And another "absolute worst buy," he said, "is any insurance that you buy from a car-rental company."

Further complaint came from Tony Wheeler, co-creator of the globally popular Lonely Planet guidebook series. He asserted that every airport in its "arrivals" area should have a big sign posted saying "Taxi fare to downtown should be about $X to $Y." magazine, blames the U.S. government for allowing his most-loathed travel practice: airline advertisements that make one-way air fares look cheaper than they are. The ads say, for instance, Los Angeles-New York, $180, in large print. But in the small print, one finds that they're really selling $360 round-trips, and there is no $180 one-way fare.

Pub Date: 3/31/96

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