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The most common travel rip-offs and how to avoid them

Travel is not an exact science – it can be full of surprises, and mistakes are almost inevitable. With so many decisions, and so much organizing, you’re bound to fall short somewhere, but yours won’t be the only boo-boo you’ll encounter. You probably have no idea the airline will add a hefty surcharge if you pay with a credit card, or you’ll be up for $50 to board a budget airline with carry-on luggage weighing more than the limit. You could be faced with car hire excess fees and other surprises when operators ask for their well-hidden charges and you have no choice but to pay up. However, if you’re prepared for these travel rip-offs, you are at least forearmed, so here are some of the most common pitfalls and how to avoid falling foul of dodgy behavior.

Things you must do to avoid travel rip-offs

passport luggage

Before we delve into the mistakes and travel rip-offs from airlines and other operators, there are things you have to do to lessen the chances of errors occurring while you’re overseas. Though it is obvious to seasoned travelers, one of the first things you must do, even if you have the best online savings account, is to notify your bank that you will be making transactions overseas. Can you imagine having your first delicious breakfast in another country, you go to pay the bill, but the bank sees the transaction as ”˜unusual activity’ and puts a stop on the account? Major stuff-up. Before you leave, buy a travel card or traveler’s cheques.

Other tips:

  • Make sure you’ve had your vaccinations and have travel insurance;
  • Don’t overstuff your luggage or your itinerary;
  • Take account of time zones and jet lag;
  • Stick to your budget;
  • Get the proper visas;
  • Do your research so you can be culturally sensitive;
  • Travel with people you get along with;
  • Back up your photographs.

With that being said, let’s see which are some of the most common ways people experience travel rip-offs on vacations.

The vanishing tour operator

train travel europe

There’s nothing worse than booking your accommodation or sightseeing online, getting on a flight, and learning that this company doesn’t exist after arriving. Even though a very basic thing, this can happen to anyone. There are thousands of websites on the internet and unfortunately, some of them are created with one goal; to scam people. That’s why you should always do all of your bookings with reputable companies. This way, you will be protected even if the company you’re booking with actually stops existing for legitimate reasons. Even when booking with less-famous companies/websites, at least check the reviews to make sure everything is alright.

Enjoying this article? Then, you’ll surely like my guide to getting compensated when your flight is delayed.

Extra charges on your debit card

international credit card

Using your credit card abroad always costs more than using your debit card in your home country. Almost all credit cards charge a non-sterling transaction fee (between 2.75% and 2.99%) that the card company/bank charges every time you use your card abroad. This means that you’ll be paying between $102.75 and $102.99 for a $100-dollar transaction. Additionally, some cards also charge a non-sterling purchase fee, in addition to the transaction fee. And it doesn’t end here!

Automatic Teller Machine Withdrawal Fees

Using your usual card at an overseas ATM usually results in your bank hitting you with a $5 fee on top of whatever the local operator will nab for the service and a currency conversion fee. Another option is actually traveler’s cheques rather than travel money cards because with the latter you don’t have to have ID. Yes, cards are more convenient, but If your cheques are lost or stolen, they can be replaced in 24 hours. Cards can take much longer. Traveler’s cheques and instant money can be converted into many different currencies, with no transaction fees, which are paid when you buy the cheques. On the whole, traveler’s cheques are a cheaper option but providing you are careful with your travel card, or you get one with no conversion fee, and you’re aware of the limitations of cheques, you will make the right decision.

Domestic and International Flights Excess Baggage Fees

baggage travel rip offs

Generally, passengers can take one bag and one personal item with them onto the plane, but there are weight restrictions. You can usually take a briefcase or laptop bag, and a handbag providing it fits beneath the cabin seat and one that fits in the overhead locker. Carry-on weights vary between airlines and classes but usually in economy class you can carry five to seven kilos while business and first-class can carry more. Always check with your airline and remember, luggage allowances might be different from domestic flights to international, and you could be caught out by a sneaky operator who includes your carry-on luggage with the rest and charges you an excess baggage fee, so keep an eye out for that. It’s more likely if you opt for a cheaper airline.

Expensive taxi fares

taxi travel rip offs

Whether you’re taking a taxi from the airport or around the city, you can never be too careful. There are a lot of drivers out there that make a living from scamming tourists. Some might try to circle around in order to get more money from you, while others will flat out try to rip you off, counting on your lack of knowledge about the local streets and prices. You should never let this happen. Always be informed about the local living standard, have a rough idea of how much something might cost, try to see what’s the shortest route of getting somewhere, and always know if there are any taxi apps like Uber that you can use. This will always reduce the chance of you being scammed by a cunning local taxi driver.

Paying more than you should for visas

visa passport

There are a lot of websites on the internet that claim that they can arrange a visa for a certain country faster than anyone else. Some of these websites ask buyers to pay a sum of money that exceeds the actual visa fee by double or even triple and arranging your visa through such websites might cost you up to $100 more! In most cases, one can easily recognize whether a website is (not) legitimate just by taking a look at it. However, to be sure, always apply through an official government website.

Currency Conversion Traps

You’re in a shop buying the latest duty-free fashion jeans or some fabulous gadget, and the salesperson flashes a big smile and asks if you’d like to pay in dollars. Don’t fall for it. If you pay in dollars, you’ll fall foul of a dodgy exchange rate charge called a Dynamic Currency Conversion fee which could cost you five percent more than you’d pay in the local currency. Another tip, while overseas, don’t buy foreign currency at the airport you’re departing from, or your pocket will suffer (most of the time). You’re better off buying it at your destination where you will get a better rate. Or, get whatever foreign cash you need from an ATM using a travel card with no currency conversion fees.

While you’re abroad

trekking nepal

There are some things you need to be aware of even after arriving at your destination. For example, a lot of tourists are surprised when charged a tourist tax and even more end up being surprised when their hotels asks them to pay a safe deposit box upon check-in, and the biggest travel rip-offs of all are related to additional charges for car rentals, so be careful with this. The best piece of advice I can give you before traveling is…

Be aware when you are most vulnerable

You are most vulnerable when you’re still trying to adjust to a new environment. That’s why a lot of people get scammed by taxi drivers at airports. Similarly, a lot of people end up overpaying for things when using a new currency for the first time. When abroad, you have to train your brain to remember that you’re in a different environment and switching to a different “gear” of thinking can be very helpful. When someone quotes a price, give yourself some time to think whether that’s a reasonable price or not. If you’re traveling with a companion, consult with them before making a purchase and don’t make rash decisions.

Helpful resources for traveling on a budget

For the cheapest flights, check out Qatar Airways’s Discover the World at a low price program. It’s an affiliate link but even I use it to get the best deals on flight bookings.

If you’re looking to save big on travel insurance, check out these SafetyWing special offers.

Want to save on your next car rental? This AutoEurope coupon saves you 15% on all car rentals worldwide.

And last but not least, accommodation; This Booking discount code can save you 15% on bookings worldwide.

Did you ever hear about any of these travel rip-offs? Did you ever experience any of them while traveling? Share your experience in the comments.

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Aditi Sharma

Sunday 6th of October 2019

Great post - these are definitely things that we need to keep in mind to have a more smooth travel experience without ending up paying in excess. I can completely imagine how upsetting it must be for someone to find out their travel plans went haywire since they hadn't booked with reputed and reliable tour operators. Generally, we prefer to book and plan our travels on our own but it's great that you mentioned about the ATOL-protected companies. We always inform our credit card company about our upcoming travel plans to avoid the situation of 'unusual activity' but as you mentioned the credit card transaction fees are definitely something that need to be considered. Those credit card transaction fees and the excess luggage fees can add up to the expense so quickly. Very helpful tips in this post to help plan travels better.

Passport Symphony

Sunday 6th of October 2019

Thanks, Aditi. It is always advisable to know the basic scams before you sail.

Christopher Mitchell

Saturday 5th of October 2019

This is a good list for people who are thinking of getting more into travel, but might not have the confidence just yet. Thanks so much for putting this together!

Passport Symphony

Sunday 6th of October 2019

Thanks, Christopher. I am glad you liked it.

Shane Prather

Friday 4th of October 2019

These things can be such a pain when you're far from home! Especially the money oriented ones. I've had my card skimmed and thousands of dollars taken out of my account while overseas which was the scariest and most frustrating thing. Great precautionary tips to keep safe!

Passport Symphony

Saturday 5th of October 2019

Thanks, Shane. I can fathom how you must have felt, that is indeed the most terrifying thing which could happen to you while being at oversea.


Friday 4th of October 2019

These are the most prevalent rip-offs that we suffer if we miss a single thing on our advance trip planning. I have personally experienced most of these and I can totally relate to tour operating getting disappeared, excess baggage fees, currency conversion, and debit card charges. It is very frustrating and hard on the pocket.

Passport Symphony

Friday 4th of October 2019

I couldn't agree with you more Heena.


Thursday 3rd of October 2019

Excellent tips I keep getting emails for people saying they will sort out my visas and they are changing way more than the price of the visa. Until I started travelling I wasn't even aware of where to get visas but now I always go through our government's website.

Passport Symphony

Friday 4th of October 2019

Thanks, Jenni. That's another way to avoid those scam artists.