How I Negotiated $675 of Travel Fees With Two Phone Calls

Travel fees will kill any travel budget. Baggage fees, flight change fees, and rental car alternate location drop-off fees, hotel reservation cancellation fees, etc…All these fees add up quickly and make travel more expensive than it should be.

But sometimes your travel plans change and these fees just cannot be avoided. And what was supposed to be an enjoyable trip soon becomes a very expensive one. So what can you do so that travel fees don’t take up a huge chunk of your travel budget?

Start by making phone calls to the airline, hotel, and/or car rental company so that you can speak with someone directly about your unnecessary fees.

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I recently saved myself $675 in travel fees with two phone calls that lasted no more than thirty minutes in total. Here’s how I did it:

Phone Call #1 with Airline Company

Situation: I needed to cancel the return flight for our family’s trip to Hawaii. The cancellation fee was $200 per ticket. For all four of us, that would be a cancellation fee of $800 to get the travel credit, which was approximately $1000. So, it would cost us $800 to get $1000 of travel credit (which makes absolutely no sense!).

Phone Call #2 with Car Rental Company

Situation: I needed to drop-off my rental car at the airport, instead of the neighborhood location where I picked the car up, because the neighborhood rental office didn’t open until two hours before my flight was scheduled to depart. Thus, I didn’t want to cut it too close to drop the car off, then take a taxi to the airport (roughly $30), and check-in. It would be a lot easier for me to drop the car off directly at the airport. The alternate location drop-off fee was $100.

Here’s the process I went through with both companies to get a total savings of $675:

  1. I called their customer service lines and explained my situations. They both proceeded to tell me it was their company policy to charge their respective fees, which would have been a total of $900 for me.
  2. I then asked to speak to their managers regarding my situation. The airline company allowed me to speak to the manager directly, while the representative at the car rental company checked with the manager on my behalf.
  3. Both came back with offers of cutting my fees in half. The original airline change fees (not including potential difference in value of tickets) of $800 were offered at $400 in total for all four of our tickets. The car rental company’s offer was $50 instead of $100 for the drop-off charge.
  4. I thanked both of them for their offers, but explained to them that even with the fees cut in half, the financial burden was too much for me to bear. I also explained how I’ve been a loyal, paying customer for both of their companies over the years. Finally, I asked them for more flexibility by waiving all the fees in its entirety.
  5. Both of them showed understanding and expressed gratitude to me for being their loyal customer, but both stood firm in their offers saying that it was all they were allowed to give to me and could not offer me any more.
  6. In both situations, I again thanked them for the flexibility and asked that they be a bit more flexible with my situation. I specifically asked them to meet me halfway on their offers. Thus, what was $800 in flight change fees, offered at $400, became $200. And $100 in drop off fees, offered at $50, became $25.
  7. They both accepted my offers. Total change fees incurred = $225. Total savings created = $675.

What might have been a negative aspect about our trip, quickly turned into a positive one. We were still going to be hit with $225 of fees, but that was significantly less than the $900 of fees that we were supposed to pay.

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Negotiation lessons learned:

  • You’ll never get something until you ask for it. Most companies have policies for people who want fees decreased. They don’t advertise it, of course. The only way you can benefit from their flexibility is by asking for it.
  • Always talk to the manager or supervisor. The person who picks up the phone is usually not the person who can make decisions on special situations. Talk to the person in charge to get real results.
  • Keep a cool head and tone throughout the discussion. Nobody will negotiate with an angry, screaming customer. Treat the person you’re speaking with respect, just the way you’d want to be treated.
  • Your future business is more important to the company than your current business. The cost of acquiring you as a customer far exceeds the cost of retaining you as a customer. Companies will be as flexible as they can with you to keep you as their customer.
  • Aim for the fences. Settle for the triple. Ask to have everything waived, especially if it’s a unique situation or circumstance. Then have the company make you an offer and counter with an offer that is at least half of that.

Don’t let excessive travel fees eat into your precious budget. Use the negotiation tactics outlined in my examples with the airline and car rental companies and you’ll be able to create significant savings. And with more savings and less fees, you can use your money where it should be spent while traveling—for memorable experiences and delicious food wherever you are.

Cliff Hsia is a writer, husband, and father, who is determined to live a better than normal life by traveling the world, slowly and purposefully, with his wife and two young daughters. His writing has been featured on MSN, TODAY, The Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, and other publications. He writes about travel, parenting, and lifestyle design.

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  • Leah Kim

    i like this! great advice!