I love to travel. But there’s an aspect to it I absolutely detest: the attempts by so many destinations to lay on me a hearty serving of BOHICA in the form of tourist taxes.
I recall the days when tourist destinations welcomed my visit. After all, I’d be contributing to their economy by spending money at their hotels, restaurants, stores, etc. This is the best kind of money – “new” money from outside the everyday economy. It creates a huge ripple effect.
Nowadays, it seems to me that tourists are looked upon, at one level, as a burden who need to pay their “fair share” of services. But tourists already pay plenty of taxes to cover the cost of services: property taxes in the hotel rate; sales tax on purchases; gas taxes if we rent a car, etc. So I believe tourists are already paying their way.
But at another level, it seems tourists are seen as a source of “free” money for all sorts of things like sports stadiums, performing arts facilities, and just about anything else that the locals don’t want to pay full price on. Just bump up one tourist tax or another to pay for those things.
Never mind that this country arose out of protest over “no taxation without representation” and I’ve never had a chance to vote on a single tourist tax affecting me. And of course the local politicians are quick to point out that by raising one tax or another a significant percentage of it will be paid by tourists. That point may be all that’s needed to gain quick public support: tax “them” – the outsiders!
The word “thug” has its source in the Thugees, a sect in India that preyed upon travelers. The Thugees have returned in a new form, wearing business suits, and they now lurk in many major tourist destinations.
But you don’t have to bend over and meekly submit to BOHICA from today’s Thugees – you can fight back! There are a number of tactics you can employ to protect your travel dollars and spend that money on something much more important – yourself!
BOHICA often begins at the airport car rental counter. This is a favorite Thugee ambush point since locals are normally not renting vehicles at their own airports. So this is a perfect locale to set up a stadium construction “donation” station.
Most online car rental sites will display all the assorted extra fees beyond the base rate. Examine these fees and see what they total. Then compare the bottom line total for renting at an off-airport location. You’ll often find considerable savings by not renting at the airport.
Ah, you’re thinking, but there’s the issue of getting to that off-airport site. Maybe, maybe not.
Maybe you’re staying, or can stay, near such a site. You can map your hotel on the hotel’s website or an online map website and then compare that to off-airport car rental map locations. In some cases this won’t be an issue because there are car rental agencies that want your business enough to pick you up.
For example, many Budget “neighborhood” locations will pick you up anywhere except the airport. Last April, I used this tactic to rent from Budget in Albuquerque. They picked us up at the hotel and we saved $85 on a 12-day rental which was returned to the airport. Enterprise will also often pick you up.
In some cities, you may not need a rental car, but you’ll often need a place to stay. Accordingly, hotels have become another favorite haunt of the modern Thugees and the mugging takes the form of the “bed tax.” Now if this tax was used exclusively for costs benefiting tourists, such as free maps, guides, etc. then I’d not have a problem paying a bed tax. But often, these taxes are used for those stadiums, performing arts centers and other facilities which will be used much more by the locals than by tourists.
Unfortunately, identifying the bed tax is difficult since most hotel websites do not identify anything more than the base rate. So you may have to phone the hotel and inquire about the various taxes.
In some cases, such as Vegas, it’s a moot point. There’s little alternative if you’re going to stay at a hotel. But, you may want to look into non-hotel options, such as condos. The bed tax may or, especially outside the U.S, may not apply to these types of lodging. (Even if a bed tax technically applies, I don’t know how the local government can effectively enforce bed tax collection from unregistered “rooms for rent” advertised exclusively on the Internet.)
In some cities, such D.C. or St. Augustine, you do have options. In D.C., you can stay in D.C., Maryland or Virginia and the bed taxes may differ. In St. Augustine, there’s St. Augustine, Orange Park and south Jacksonville, all in different counties. Of course, you’ll need to factor in any additional transportation costs.
Hotels also have their own forms of BOHICA. One form is the “optional” charge(s) which they hope you’ll not notice when signing the paperwork and/or will forget to cancel at check-out, such as safe charge. I ask about any such charges at check-in and tell them to take the charge(s) off right then so I don’t have to remember at check-out.
Another hotel BOHICA is a “resort’ or similar fee that was never mentioned on the website and only in the fine print of the check-in document. I’ve seen the “resort” fee in some hotels in both Vegas and Orlando. This fee is not optional but you need to know about it to compare rates for the best deal. Now, when I book a hotel in these two cities, I call the hotel and ask whether there are such fees. It may or may not influence my decision about where to stay. A $5 daily fee is $70 over two weeks and that certainly will influence my decision.
Quite apart from BOHICA, with cars, hotels and some airlines (such as Southwest) there’s the “rebooking” tactic for travel savings. Don’t think your travel planning has ended when you make reservations. Keep checking each week, right up to your departure date, for rate changes affecting all your reservations. Especially during a poor economy, travel-related businesses are continually offering promotions to get a share of the remaining travel market.
My Vegas trip for Thanksgiving week has been booked for months but last week I rebooked the Jacksonville airport hotel when the price dropped $20. I doubt I can get a lower rate than the $33 offer I took the Orleans, our favorite hotel, up on. But, I do receive e-mail entreaties from Vegas hotels every week and I’m open to any “value” offer if the price is right. (The Flamingo, on the center Strip, offered me a rate of $45 and that is a great value I‘m considering.) And I recently received a 40% off and double airline credit promotion from Dollar, which we’re using for the drive to Jacksonville and for the first day in Vegas.
In 2007, I was able to rebook a trip involving flights to San Francisco, Vegas and then back to Jacksonville which reduced the airfare by $300. Unlike many other airlines, Southwest’s “non-refundable” fares can be rebooked for equal credit of the original fare towards future travel good for one year from the date of rebooking, so you do not lose any money unless you cannot travel during that one year period. (That $300 paid for one of our tickets to Albuquerque last April.)
Also, always join all the airline, hotel and car frequent customer programs of the companies you’re likely to use. With hotels and cars, there’s minimal paperwork since it is already completed before you arrive based on information in your profile. With cars, there’s also usually a special line.
And, that membership may give you leverage in a gray situation. I’ve had a few encounters where I wasn’t getting satisfaction from the “local” agent but calling the national frequent customer service center brought the desired result. Membership has its privileges!
If you really are a frequent customer, there’s often free upgrades. I’m pretty high up in the Choice (Quality and Comfort hotels) and La Quinta programs and often get a free room upgrade on a “space available” basis. I rent so much from Dollar that I’m usually upgraded there too. So I book at one level lower than the category I want and usually end up in the next higher category. You really can get more for less!
Some folks may think that what I’m suggesting is way too much work. For me, it’s a form of sport. Some folks like to go into the woods and hunt an animal. I like to get online and hunt a travel deal. It’s fun and it’s profitable!
May you travel often and save big!
(Next Sunday: since that evening is the first segment of the final table for the World Series of Poker, I’m going to praise poker, my favorite sport.)