The Brancatelli File



August 1, 1994 -- Traveling on business is pricey enough without being unpleasantly surprised by an annoying collection of hidden fees and special taxes. Like it or not, however, if you hit the road on business, you're also going to be hit with some or all of these travel surcharges:

HOTEL TAXES If you reserve a hotel room for $125 a night, don't expect to pay only $125. The tax man usually demands a double-digit tribute. Hotel taxes in Atlanta and Dallas are 13 percent per night, inflating the cost of that $125 room to $141.25. Chicago hotel rooms are taxed at 14.9 percent, meaning you pay $143.63 per night for a $125 room. And if you need to do business in New York City, prepare yourself for the Big Apple's big bite: a 19.25 percent hotel tax and a $2 nightly surcharge. That boosts the cost of a $125 room to $151.06 per night.

PASSENGER FACILITY CHARGES When George Bush broke his "no new taxes" pledge in 1990, one of the "user fees" he created was the "passenger facility charge" (PFC). About 200 of the nation's largest airports now charge a PFC of $1-$3 each time you fly to, from or through the facility. PFCs can add as much as $12 to the price of a roundtrip ticket, so make sure to ask your travel agent if the quoted airfare includes applicable PFCs. (Most advertised fares do not include the PFC charges.)

CAR RENTAL EXTRAS Intense competition among rental car firms keeps advertised rental rates extraordinarily low, but those prices never cover anything more than the car rental itself and the mileage you drive. All insurance (including collision and personal liability) is optional, often as much as $15 a day if you buy coverage from the rental firm. Other hidden rental fees include charges for additional drivers (about $5 daily) and "drop charges" if you return the car to a different location. Expect to pay twice the going per-gallon rate if you let the rental company refill the gas tank after you return the car. And beware the "minimum keep" restriction: if you rent a car at a low weekly rate, then only keep the car for four days, for example, some rental firms not only won't honor the weekly rate, they'll charge you a wildly inflated daily rate.

CAR RENTAL TAXES Cash-strapped state and local governments often impose special taxes on car rentals. Renters in Minnesota, for example, pay a $7.50 per rental fee in addition to the state's 6.5 percent sales tax. Cleveland renters pay a $3 rental charge and the 7 percent sales tax. Florida's rental tax is $2 per day in addition to a 7 percent sales tax.

And don't try calling your Congressman from your hotel room to complain about this roster of taxes and hidden costs. Many hotels add a surcharge of as much 50 percent to the price of a telephone call made from their guest rooms.

Once considered the country's best airport hotel when it was operated as the Stouffer Concourse LAX, the 750-room property at 5400 W. Century Blvd. in Los Angeles has changed hands again. The hotel, most recently a Westin, is now the Doubletree Hotel Los Angeles Airport (310-216-5858). ... Travelers pay about $140 in taxes on every $1,000 they spend, according to a survey of the nation's top 50 destinations. ... A federal program called "Essential Air Service" subsidizes airlines to fly to small cities. The largest subsidy, $207.22 per passenger, goes to airlines flying to or from Danville, Illinois. Two California cities in the program are dramatically more efficient. Carriers to Crescent City receive $34.70 per passenger; Santa Maria airlines receive $28.66 per passenger.

This column originally appeared in San Francisco Focus magazine.

Copyright 1993-2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.