Got fee fatigue? Here’s how to avoid hidden shopping charges
Some fees we’ve become begrudgingly accustomed to paying: A $3 surcharge at an out-of-network ATM machine or a $12.95 daily WiFi fee during your hotel stay (which, by the way, isn’t covered by the “resort fee”).
But some lesser-known hidden fees also are lurking on the Internet and are ready to pop up and surprise you at check out, or when you review your credit card statement.
Anybody else feeling the fee fatigue?
Avoid getting nickeled and dimed online with these savvy shopping tips to help you avoid unnecessary fees and other money pits.
Restocking fees: When you’re shopping—especially for electronics, furniture, appliances and mattresses—check with stores to find out whether they charge a restocking fee, should you need to make a return. Retailers often charge these type of fees to recover the costs on their end when they need to return products to the manufacturers. Some stores charge anywhere from 1 percent to more than 30 percent to process your return. While it varies depending on the carrier, cell phone companies typically charge a flat $35 re-stocking fee should you return a phone—and it’s a hard charge to debate. Before buying, do research with a website like Consumer Reports and read online reviews. Also, the Better Business Bureau advises that you save all of your receipts, packaging, tags and manuals if you plan to make a return so that stores have little reason to charge you a restocking fee. One more tip: Try to open packages neatly so that they can be easily repackaged should they be returned.
Final sale: The deep discounts on cold-weather apparel this time of year is enough to make any fashionista’s heart pitter-patter. Super-discounted clearance items may come with a “final sale” tag, however, meaning they can’t be returned or exchanged (i.e. you’re playing for keeps). So, when shopping final sale items online, be sure to check sizing charts against your measurements. Also, check your closet to see what size you wear in different brands. Read other shoppers’ reviews to glean details: Is the sweater you’re swooning over on par with the brand’s fit? Is that poppy orange blouse true to color or is it more neon in real life? How do those trousers do after a wash or two?
Phantom charges: These types of sneaky charges occur when you order a free or discounted item and are automatically enrolled into a service. This is a common practice with credit reports, for example. You order a free report, click a box saying that you agree to terms and conditions and then are automatically enrolled in a credit-monitoring program that costs around $20 per month. Avoid this trap by reading the fine print and questioning why a free service requires you to enter a credit card number. Many times, these services give you the option of not being charged if you cancel within a certain time period—but they are banking on you to forget to do so. Set a reminder on your phone to remind you to cancel before getting hit with a monthly fee.
Review shipping fees: Don’t let shipping fees sucker punch you at checkout! Some stores will charge extra for shipping “over-sized” items or delivering to certain states (typically Alaska and Hawaii have higher shipping fees). Before you hit confirm on any of your purchases, make sure you’re not overpaying for shipping. Start by checking out free shipping offers from ShopAtHome.com at thousands of retailers. If you’re shopping from a retailer that you often buy from, and you know you’ll be buying from again soon, close the gap between what’s in your cart and the free shipping minimum by purchasing a gift card. (I.e. You’ve got $80 worth in your online shopping cart, so instead of buying something you don’t necessarily love to hit the $100 minimum for free shipping, buy a $20 gift card to use later). Also check into loyalty programs at your fave stores. Sephora, for example, offers free shipping to its VIB (Very Important Beauty Insiders) Rouge members.
Consider baggage fees when booking travel: Nobody wants to get sacked with a hefty checked bag fee when traveling. When you’re comparing flight costs online, you’re not necessarily comparing apples to apples since airlines have varying checked bags policies and fees. JetBlue, for example, lets you check one bag without any fees and Southwest gives you two free checked bags on domestic flights. Other airlines may charge up to $75 for a checked bag. Check out AirFare Watch Dog’s chart for a round-up of airline fees. Another solution: Pack light and travel with a carry-on. Again, airlines have varying rules for what can be considered a carry-on, but 22- by 14- by 9-inches is fairly standard. Ebags has a handy chart for airline carry-on restrictions. It pays to know the rules because if you have to check at the gate, some airlines double your checked bag fees. Looking for new luggage? We love eBags TLS Expandable two-piece set that comes with an upright bag and a carry-on bag (which fits the size specs accepted by most airlines). Both have a lifetime warranty.