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Notes from the road: musings on the nickels and dimes of travel

I’ve been on the road for Dollars & Sense for a week and a half now, and it’s made me realize a few things about the costs of travel. Not the grand environmental and social costs, which would be fodder for a Dollars & Sense article, but more nitty gritty, blog-worthy stuff.

First: differential hotel pricing. High-end conference hotels have a captive audience, and they know it—and charge accordingly. While in Chicago for the Allied Social Sciences Associations conference, I stayed at the Chicago Hilton Towers. (The re-named Conrad Hilton, where the Chicago police made such a sorry spectacle of themselves by attacking protesters during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.) The Hilton: high prices, haute gauche décor, host to the Labor and Employment Research Association’s meetings—and determined to nickel and dime their guests (or their guests’ expense accounts) as much as possible. The guest rooms have wireless—available for $3.50 an hour. The package room can receive shipments—for $25 per package. Luggage carts are available—under the supervision of a bellman, who must be tipped.

Cut to Memphis a week later, where I’m attending the National Conference for Media Reform and sharing a cut-rate Comfort Inn room with three other people. It lacks the history of the Chicago Hilton, certainly, but I can’t say that the furnishings are any tackier. And its guest rooms offer high-speed internet—wired, but free. Luggage carts are available—for use without a bellman. And there’s the free breakfast…

Second: someone is profiting from airport security. I don’t mean in a grand corruption sense—though I don’t doubt that—but again, by nickels and dimes. The most obvious example: in-flight meals used to be free; now there’s a charge. Or, one was once allowed to take drinks through security; now one must buy them in the terminal. And the one that prompted this post: Curbside baggage check used to be free; then it was too dangerous to be allowed; now, American Airlines charges $2 a bag for the service.

Not to mention that not allowing coach passengers use the first class toilets is now considered a security issue, according to onboard announcements. I always did suspect that class was a matter of national security.

And speaking of toilets, I’ve also had plenty of opportunity to ponder how much water, electricity, and paper public restrooms waste. Auto-flush toilets, push-start and motion-sensing sinks, motion-sensing paper towel dispensers, electric blow dryers… I suspect that the motion-sensing devices are supposed to protect us from germs by allowing us not to touch fixtures, but it just seems like such a waste of resources. (Okay, I guess that was one remark about the environmental costs of travel. Just don’t get me started on how I’ve been eating out all the time.)

Crankily yours,
Esther

Comments

  1. More profiteering off of airline travel – I’ve yet to find shaving cream/lotion in a 3oz or less container, and even though my last tube of shaving cream was all but empty, the ever-alert small-town airport security thought fit to stop me, lecture me at length about trying to “hide” the “liquid” (at what level of solidity is a cream not a liquid??), they informed me that while it was less than 3oz of goop, they had to confiscate it because the container said 4.5oz. Having already gotten extra special treatment (the joys of having long hair in small-town-Texas airports), I failed to ask them why they didn’t confiscate my (empty) 12oz coffee cup by the same logic.Also, I’ve seen huge tables of small pocket/keychain knives appearing at outdoor markets in DC. Wonder where they came from?

  2. Speaking of nickels and dimes…

    Look at the breakdown of fees and costs on your airline ticket. A good chunk of the cost doesn’t go to the airline – it goes to the government. On average, add 10% of the cost of your ticket for “security” fees. My last ticket of $469 had an extra $47 tacked on just for that reason.

    It’s a cold comfort that I was able to experience this extra “security” firsthand. Of the past 6 flights I’ve taken there have been nice little notes left in my luggage by the TSA telling me that for my own safety and security they saw fit to rummage through my bags behind the scenes. The second time around they also lightened my suitcase of the spare change I keep in the inside pocket for the toll road home. How nice of them to protect me…

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