It seems easy enough to make money in the travel business, so why do companies exploit their trusted bands with schemes meant to confuse and mislead their customers?
A few of my pet peeves:
*Dynamic currency conversion: This scheme involves a hotel, rental car company or merchant taking a fee - usually around 3 percent - for converting a credit card charge made in a foreign currency into U.S. dollars. You have the right to refuse this "convenience'' and pay in euros, yen or any other currency IF you are aware this is happening. Visa and MasterCard say they require merchants to offer the option, but many get around this rule by using small print in a contract to dupe you into approving the conversion. Europcar did this with a rental contract my husband and I signed while in Italy. Another way merchants dupe their customers is by requiring them to actively change the "default'' currency from dollars to euros (in effect at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport) when inserting your card into the machine for a purchase.
You might not even realize you are paying extra because the charge is hidden in the currency conversion rate used to calculate the final bill.
|Europcar's extra currency conversion charge|
I didn't notice Europcar's charge until we arrived home, and saw that EuRopcar converted our bill from euros to dollars at a rate of $1.17 instead of the current rate of $1.13, reflecting a 3.25 percent "currency conversion" fee and a charge of$148.51 instead of $144.38. Best advice: Always verbally clarify that charges will be processed in the local currency.
*Advertisements made to look like real content: Search hotel reviews on TripAdvisor.com, click on "Sort by ranking,'' and what pops up first is not the top-ranked hotel, but rather a hotel that paid to be go to the head of the line. The only indication of this is an orange label that says "Sponsored." Wouldn't "Paid advertisement" be more accurate?
|"Sponsored" ads make it to the top on TripAdvisor|
Also annoying is TripAdvisor's habit of defaulting to a list of hotel choices based on your perceived preferences ("Just for You"), forcing you to actively take the extra step of clicking on "Ranking'' to see how they line up in overall popularity.
Airlines search sites have their own methods of steering customers off track. Search for an airfare on Kayak.com, and the result that appears at the top is not the lowest fare, but an airline ad designed to look like a search result complete with a "View Deal'' box to click. The word "Ad'' appears in small, faint, grey letters at the bottom. Forget to uncheck a box marked "Priceline,'' the company that owns Kayak, when you begin your search, and the results will bring you there for booking.
|A paid ad made to look like a fare deal on Kayak.|
*Hidden taxes and fees that hike room prices far beyond the quoted price. Airbnb is a big offender. Its own non-refundable service fee plus cleaning fees charged by some hosts, can boost an initially-quoted price by $100 or more. Example: A three-night stay in studio apartment in Honolulu high-rise, with pool and an ocean view, starts out at $122 a night, but climbs to $156 when you plug in dates, and see a new price reflecting a $52 Airbnb service charge and a $50 cleaning fee.
Cruise companies and hotels do this all the time, of course. Why was I not surprised to see a $219 per night rate at the LA Hotel Downtown in Los Angeles jump to $253 when I hit "price breakdown" in small print to the left of the booking instructions. No mention of the $35-per-day parking.