MONEY Travel

How to Cancel Your Flight Reservation Without Getting Gouged

103056440
Dave and Les Jacobs—Getty Images

Familiarize yourself with the 24-hour rule.

Have you ever booked an airline ticket only to see that the fare dropped soon after you made your purchase? Unfortunately, the cheapest airline tickets tend to be non-refundable, so price-sensitive travelers usually end up not profiting from that price drop.

Have you ever had unexpected news pop up right after booking your flight that requires you to change or cancel your flight? You may have to pay fees to change your flight or end up stuck with the ticket you can no longer use if your plans change.

In the first case, you should be able to cancel and re-book your flight at a lower rate if you act within 24 hours of your original purchase thanks to a little known federal rule. If your plans have changed, you could even straight out cancel your flight for a full refund.

How the 24-Hour Cancellation Rule Works

The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) put the 24-hour no-charge cancellation rule into place, but they also stipulate the purchase must be at least a week in advance of the flight departure date in order to qualify.

This consumer-friendly booking rule has been implemented in a few different ways depending on with which airline you choose to fly. Most airlines choose to allow you to cancel your reservation within 24 hours of booking as long as you meet the requirements of the rule. Airlines that follow the rule exactly as written include US Airways, JetBlue and Spirit.

However, some more generous airlines, such as Frontier and United, do not require you to make your purchase at least a week in advance. Delta is more flexible with the cancellation time period and allows you to cancel up until midnight on the day after you book your flight, which will normally give you at least a few more hours to find a lower fare or change your mind should something else pop up.

American Airlines follows the DOT rule in a unique way. It allows you to book your flight by putting it on hold for up to 24 hours, without charging you for the ticket. Once the hold expires, you have to pay for your ticket, pay a fee for an extended hold or let the ticket and pricing expire. This allows the airline to follow the rule without having to worry about the hassle of refunding any money. Once you purchase the ticket after the hold period, the sale is essentially final. To use this option, simply look for the hold option on the review and pay screen when booking a ticket on American Airlines’ website.

The most generous airline, as far as cancellation policies go, is Southwest. Southwest has neither fees for cancellation nor change fees. If you have to make any changes, you will get full credit for the price that you paid for your ticket. If you decide to change to a more expensive flight, simply pay the difference in fares.

Cancelling or Changing Your Flight Outside of 24 Hours

Once the initial 24-hour window passes, cancelling a flight gets a lot trickier. Each airline has its own policies regarding cancellation fees and change fees. Since many airlines have a handful of different fares you can buy, there are many different rules governing cancellation and change fees.If you need to cancel or change your flight outside of the 24-hour window, first check out your carrier’s website to read up on its policies. You might find a special exception that allows you to avoid fees based on your particular circumstance. If you cannot find what you need on the website, call the airline and speak to a customer service representative. It can’t hurt to ask.

Read next: The Absolute Worst Practice of Airlines Today

More From MoneyTips:

What to Do If You Are Bumped From a Flight

Average Domestic Airfare of $391 is the Highest Since 1995

Frequent Flyer Programs Changing

 

TIME

Airline Checked Bag, Reservation Change Fees Just Hit a Record

Old airplanes are stored in the desert in Victorville
© Lucy Nicholson / Reuters—REUTERS

Some fees can reach a whopping $200

The U.S. passenger aviation industry set new records in the first quarter of 2015 for checked bag and reservation change fees, according to the Associated Press.

Airlines made $1.6 billion from those fees, the highest amount for a first quarter since bag fees were introduced in 2008.

Part of the reason for the climb is simply that more people are flying, with 3.2% more seats filled year-over-year, according to the report. Airlines are putting the fees on more passengers, though, and fees are getting higher — the AP notes that some fees can reach a whopping $200.

Over the past 12 months, the airline industry has pulled in $3.6 billion in checked bag fees and $3 billion is reservation change fees, the AP said.

MONEY College

You Won’t Believe How Much Some Commencement Speakers Get Paid

Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey gives the University Of Houston Commencement Address at TDECU Stadium on May 15, 2015 in Houston, Texas.
Bob Levey—Getty Images Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey gives the University Of Houston Commencement Address at TDECU Stadium on May 15, 2015 in Houston, Texas.

Matthew McConaughey got a cool $135,000.

“Alright, alright, alright.”

Yes, Matthew McConaughey used his famed catchphrase while giving the commencement speech at the University of Houston this spring. The Oscar-winning actor also mentioned that while working on the movie that gave birth to the much-repeated phrase—Richard Linklater’s legendary 1993 film Dazed and Confused—he was psyched to be earning $325 a day.

Fast-forward to 2015, and McConaughey is doing better than merely “alright” in terms of his earning potential for a given day. After hounding the University of Houston to release the terms of the actor’s commencement appearance, the Houston Chronicle reported that McConaughey’s fee was $135,000 plus travel and expenses—money that McConaughey said he was giving to charity.

The University of Houston is hardly the only public university that paid a handsome sum to a high-profile commencement speaker this spring. The Boston Globe just revealed that three state schools in Massachusetts paid $25,000 to $35,000 apiece, “or amounts totaling more than a year’s worth of the tuition and fees they charge students,” for graduation speakers. The University of Massachusetts-Amherst (disclosure: I work there part-time) paid Neil deGrasse Tyson $25,000 for a speech that lasted roughly 15 minutes, plus almost $3,000 extra to cover the celebrity astrophysicist’s expenses and expected taxes. UMass-Lowell paid actor LeVar Burton $35,000 total for three speeches (two commencement events and a fundraiser), while Westfield State University paid $30,000 plus expenses for a 14-minute commencement speech by Brandon Stanton, the photographer and creator of Humans of New York.

These fees may seem exorbitant, but they’re actually on par with what many colleges have paid for commencement speeches in the past. According to InsideHigherEd.com, Katie Couric received $110,000 for the 2006 commencement address at the University of Oklahoma, and High Point University paid Rudy Giuliani $75,000 to be commencement speaker in 2005.

Universities defend such fees as necessary and worthwhile because they raise the profile of their institutions and help attract new students and increase involvement and donations from alumni. Still, it’s been estimated that only about 30% of colleges pay for commencement speakers. That means the majority of speakers offer their commencement addresses for free.

Read next: Great Career Advice from 2015 College Commencement Speeches

MONEY Transportation

4 Tips to Avoid Road Tolls This Summer

Toll Booths and Fastrak signs on gantry over Interstate 80 highway to San Francisco City, California
Ian Shaw—Alamy Toll booths and Fastrak signs on gantry over Interstate 80 highway to San Francisco City, California

We've got a secret the rental car companies would prefer you didn't know.

This won’t come as news to commuters and frequent road trippers, but drivers are encountering more and more toll roads, as well as higher and higher tolls on the existing ones. The latest example is I-10 in Texas, where plans called for the maximum toll during peak travel hours to shoot from $7 to $10 as of May 30. [UPDATE: At the last minute, the planned road toll price hike on I-10 was suspended, though a toll increase could be implemented in the future. For now, the maximum toll remains $7.]

With road trip—and rental car—season squarely upon us, here are a few strategies that’ll help keep tolls and surprise fees from ruining your vacation.

Be mindful of cashless toll roads. Along with more toll roads overall, more of them have become electronic-payment only roads, in which drivers can pay only via EZ-Pass, FasTrak, or a similar system. Those without a transponder will be captured on camera and later billed for payment—often at a higher price and perhaps with a “handling” or “administrative” fee tacked on.

It’s hard to find a definitive, up-to-date list of America’s cashless toll roads and bridges. PlatePass, an electronic tolling solution system that works with rental car operators to lend transponders to rental customers, lists dozens of electronic-payment-only toll roads around the country, but it’s focused only on where its service works and is therefore not comprehensive. If you’re planning a trip on an unfamiliar highway, bridge, or tunnel, look up the toll and payment details on the corresponding website.

Florida is notorious for having an abundance of toll roads with no humans to collect cash payments. Drivers who don’t have SunPass transponders on the Florida Turnpike, for instance, are billed an extra 25¢ on every toll, plus a $2.50 fee once a month. On other roads, like the Miami-Dade Expressway, tolls are doubled for automobiles without SunPass. Northern California’s famous Golden Gate Bridge is also cashless, and drivers without FasTrak tags pay $7, or $1 extra. Oh, if you’re driving a rental car, expect a lot more in the way of fees on cashless toll roads (more on this below).

Get the most cost-effective EZ-Pass account. Though some drivers refuse to get on board with electronic toll payment systems due to concerns about privacy and billing mistakes, or perhaps because they’re “unbanked” or simply prefer cash, the vast majority of car owners are on board. Doing so typically saves money: After a recent (surprise) toll hike, crossing New York City’s Verrazano Bridge costs $16 in the cash lane, but only $11.08 with EZ-Pass.

Note that there is generally no specific requirement to sign up for the EZ-Pass or equivalent local system in the state where your car is registered. Because each state’s program has its own fee structure—the cost of tags, prepaid tolls, and other fees vary widely, including some states with no upfront payments or monthly charges—it’s worth shopping around for the transponder system that gives you the best combination of convenience and value for your household.

Choose your rental car company and options carefully. Most rental car agencies offer electronic toll transponders as an option, alongside insurance, car seats, extra driver charges, and a host of other fees. Getting a transponder with your rental car is a convenience if you’ll be driving often on toll roads. But it can cost a bundle. The Avis e-Toll program, for instance, costs $3.95 per day, for a maximum of $16.95 per month with its rental cars.

What’s gotten many customers up in arms is that Avis and other operators charge the $3.95 “convenience fee” for each day the vehicle is rented—”including any days on which e-Toll is not used,” the fine print states. In other words, even if you use the transponder just once in the course of a weeklong rental, you’ll be charged more than the daily fee. (In this instance, you’d be hit with the monthly maximum.) This isn’t necessarily something customers would know enough to argue about when returning the vehicle, because the charge doesn’t show up on a credit card bill until a few weeks have passed.

Even more egregiously, Dollar and Thrifty were hit with a class action lawsuit last year for allegedly charging customers who didn’t sign up for a transponder an administrative fee of $15 or $25 for each toll, even though the tolls cost a tiny fraction of those amounts. In the past, Hertz and Fox Rent a Car have also been sued for fees related to road tolls incurred by customers.

The consumer travel blog The Points Guy recently rounded up the fees charged for transponders by the major rental companies. Only upscale Silvercar, which rents Audis and has locations in just nine airports, allows customers to use transponders without incurring extra fees. Bottom line: If you don’t want to use a rental car company’s transponder, don’t touch it. Pay tolls in the cash lane whenever possible, and avoid cashless toll roads or expect to see fees from the rental car company pop up on your credit card statement.

Bring your own EZ-Pass when renting. There is one other option for rental car customers who don’t want to pay transponder fees: BYO. Rental car operators aren’t exactly forthcoming in presenting this as an option to customers for obvious reasons (it cuts down on easy profits). But we confirmed that it is indeed OK to bring your own transponder and use it in a rental car. “They just need to be sure the rental car’s transponder box is closed,” a Hertz representative explained via email. “If it’s opened that will cause the EZ-pass transponder to be active when the customer goes through a toll and they will be charged for the EZ-Pass service.”

State transponder programs generally allow this practice as well. “You can use your E-ZPass Tag in any vehicle of the same class,” New York’s program states. To play it safe, though, double-check the rules with your particular transponder account. In some cases, it may be recommended that you register the rental car with your electronic payment account system, which you can do online.

If you don’t have a transponder tag that works in the region you’re traveling, consider buying one for your trip. Signing up for a local account often costs only a few bucks and can be accomplished in minutes once you’re at the destination. Doing so can save money compared with using the system that comes with the rental car.

Skip road tolls all together. The simplest way to avoid big tolls is plot a route that bypasses toll roads. Google Maps and various other online map and navigation systems give drivers the option of getting directions solely on roads, bridges, ferries, and the like with no tolls. On Google Maps, just click “Route Options” and choose according to your preference.

TIME Taxes

Burning Man Is Getting Taxed for the First Time Ever

A man poses at Black Rock City's Burning Man festi
Hector Mata—AFP/Getty Images A man poses at Black Rock City's Burning Man festival in Black Rock City, Nevada 03 September, 1999.

Nevada lawmakers shut down a loophole

Heads up, Burning Man fans: Your tickets to the annual out-of-this-world desert shindig might be about to get more expensive.

Lawmakers eliminated loopholes in Nevada’s live entertainment tax, which previously allowed festivals like Burning Man escape any government-mandated fees, Bloomberg reports. The tax was originally targeted at cabaret performances and burlesque dancing.

A 9% charge will now be added on tickets for festivals like Burning Man and the Electric Daisy Carnival, which both cost about $400 a pop. The tax will also apply to “pickup fees” for escort services, though prostitutes at Nevada’s 24 legal brothels don’t fall under this new levy group.

“There’s no better venue in the world than Southern Nevada to conduct an event like Electric Daisy Carnival and there’s no better place than the desert of Northern Nevada for an event like Burning Man,” State Senator Mark Lipparelli, a Las Vegas Republican who sponsored the bill, told Bloomberg. “We like them as businesses and we want them to keep coming here. We also want to improve education in Nevada.”

The live entertainment tax was expected to generate about 4.3% of the state’s $6.3 billion two-year budget covering 2015 to 2017 before this change. Analysts haven’t run numbers on the yield expected from the updated version, but expect it will be similar.

Festival promoters for Burning Man — which attracts many of the tech elite every year — and Electric Daisy Carnival weren’t happy about the new fees. Spokespeople for the two events called it “short-sighted” and “detrimental to our industry,” pointing out that the fetes generate huge sums for Nevada’s economy every year.

MONEY Tech

AT&T Knows the Days of 2-Year Contracts Are Numbered

150603_EM_ATT
Richard Drew—AP

Consumers have better options.

The days of consumers being locked into two-year wireless contracts are numbered. We’ve known this for a while, what with the rise of prepaid and no-contract plans that charge no fees when a customer cancels the service. Why worry about having to pay an early termination fee of $100 to $350 for dumping a locked-in contract when there are other, less onerous plans with service that’s just as good?

This week AT&T, a pioneer in locked-in wireless plans, took a big step toward their extinction. On Monday, the wireless giant eliminated two-year contracts through partner retailers Apple and Best Buy. “I think it is one of those options that is going to go away slowly,” Ralph de la Vega, AT&T CEO of mobile and business solutions, explained to Re/code. The policy change is coming “not because we insist on it but because customers will choose it less often.”

The disappearance of two-year contracts and their outsized early termination fees is great for consumers. But the traditional tradeoff for being locked into a two-year contract—cheaper, subsidized prices for smartphones—is disappearing as well. Some consumers probably think of this as a negative, but in reality it is not.

When you run the numbers, it becomes apparent that a subsidized cellphone with a contract costs more in the long run compared to pretty much any other option out there today. Sure, the subsidized option initially costs less out-of-pocket. But the tradeoff for that cheaper upfront price is higher monthly bills. Virtually every analysis comparing contract vs. non-contract plans points out that when you look at total costs over two years or more, it almost always makes financial sense to skip the contract.

So feel free to rejoice that the era of two-year contracts is coming to an end.

MONEY hedge funds

Mind-Blowing Tool Used by Hedge Funds Costs Just $10

532029221
Colin Anderson—Getty Images/Blend Images

It's a total game-changer

If you’re a hedge fund looking to crunch massive quantities of data, it’s generally cheaper to pay for space a la carte on Amazon’s cloud than invest in million-dollar hardware.

That’s the premise behind a spate of new finance-focused data shops turning out software that runs on the cloud. Ufora, a company profiled in Bloomberg Business, designs software that can process a trillion data points in minutes for the cost of a sandwich.

The technology is complex and involves a type of machine learning, or artificial intelligence, but computing power has become cheap enough that Ufora founder Braxton McKee can analyze a big market data model using only $10 worth of capacity on Amazon Web Services.

Ufora’s hedge fund clients—like all hedge funds today—have good cause to want to keep costs low.

These privately-offered investments, which typically court only those who can invest at least $1 million, are having a tough time holding investors’ interest these days.

That’s partly because their high fees have become harder to justify given that recent returns have actually trailed those of cheap index fund-based portfolios, and performance is increasingly in step with that of benchmarks, meaning that mangers aren’t adding as much value or diversification.

Read more: Why Should I Invest?
Investment Advice From a Nobel Prize-Winning Economist

MONEY fees

These Are the Most Hated Fees in America

150520_EM_HatedFees
Ryan J. Lane—iStock

They've managed to narrow the list down to "only" 31 fees.

The website GoBankingRates.com has compiled a rogue’s gallery of the “most expensive, egregious, unexpected and just downright unreasonable charges” confronting American consumers today.

No fewer than 11 of the worst fees named on the list are related to banking. That’s not surprising considering each year we drop $7 billion on basic bank charges for things like failing to meet minimum balance requirements and monthly account maintenance. That figure is tiny compared to the roughly $32 billion consumers pay annually for overdrafts—which, of course, is another hated fee featured on the list.

Behind banking, travel is the category with the second-most hated fees—a total of 10 in all. Common fees for things like changing airline tickets, checking or carrying baggage on flights, renting a car, and flying with your pet are named on the list. Arguably worse are the fees travelers incur through no choice of their own, without any extra service provided, such as the vague “resort fees” added to bills at some hotels and resorts, and the mandatory gratuities charged by many resorts and cruise lines.

On the other hand, some of the fees in the roundup seem easier to accept because there’s clearly some service and value provided. What’s more, while the price of these fees may not be entirely reasonable, it’s easy enough for people to be well aware of them before signing on board. We’re talking about things like homeowner’s association fees and charges for belonging to sororities and fraternities in college.

What fee is the worst of the worst? GoBankingRates doesn’t rank them. Besides, it’s a matter of personal opinion. Obviously, the fees you hate the most are the ones you pay, without much in the way of choice, while getting little to nothing in return.

For what it’s worth, the checked baggage fee was named by our readers as the Most Hated Fee in a vote-off conducted a few years back.

MONEY 401(k)

How the Supreme Court Just Improved Your Retirement

The Supreme Court just ruled on an obscure aspect of ERISA. It could be great news for your retirement nest egg.

The Supreme Court just handed millions of retirement savers a helping hand.

You many not know much about ERISA, the body of rules that governs retirement accounts. But chances are you have a 401(k). That means Monday’s Supreme Court decision could indirectly lower investment fees you’re paying. And that’s great news.

On Monday the Supreme Court made it easier for 401(k) investors to sue employers over needlessly costly 401(k) investments. The actual point of contention in the case, known as Tibble vs. Edison, was pretty obscure. It involved how the statute of limitations should be applied to a breach of fiduciary duty.

But because ERISA law is so complicated, companies almost always choose to fight such suits on technical grounds. This time around, the typically business friendly U.S. Supreme Court decided in favor of investors, unanimously overruling the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. As a result, employers will be forced to think a little harder about whether similar arguments are likely to prevail in the future.

But the fact is, employers have grown increasingly proactive about regulating plan fees. The reason: Tibble vs. Edison is just a high-profile example of a series of lawsuits launched in the past decade over employers’ failure to police exorbitant retirement plan fees. And many large employers have already reacted to the threat by urging investment firms to lower fees for their employees. As a result, 401(k) plan fees have come down, and investors have had greater access to low-cost options like index funds.

With the Supreme Court weighing in on investors’ side, you can expect that trend to continue.

 

MONEY financial advisers

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do…With Your Financial Adviser

broken $ candy heart
Sarina Finkelstein (photo illustration)—Ashley Jouhar/Getty Images

Firing a financial adviser can be uncomfortable, but certain circumstances make it necessary.

Ending a relationship is never easy. You nurture it, get comfortable with it, and you learn what to expect. Sometimes you think about walking away because you’re just not sure it’s what you want. You wonder if breaking up is worth the hassle — and you decide to stick it out, telling yourself that next year will be better. But will it? Maybe not.

Should I stay or should I go? It’s a question people regularly ask, not just about their significant other but also about their hair stylist, their personal trainer, and, yes, their financial adviser.

The idea of leaving your financial adviser — and having to find a replacement — can be daunting. It involves a lot of research, paperwork, meetings, and time. Lots of time. All that and still no guarantee that this new adviser will be any better than the old one.

But things are changing. Consumers with money to save and invest now have more affordable, higher-quality investment options to choose from. As a result, more and more people are rethinking their long-term relationships with their financial advisers.

Four percent to six percent of U.S. investors change financial advisers in a given year, according to a 2014 survey by Spectrem Group, a firm that researches investors. The reasons for these break-ups vary, but ranking high on the list are a lack of communication, frustration with complex or hidden fees, and major life events such as death, divorce, or inheritance.

It was the death of a parent that started the ball rolling for one of my clients. A smart, savvy, and accomplished woman in her mid-30s, she juggles a demanding career, marriage and motherhood. When her father, a successful real estate developer, passed away unexpectedly, she and her sisters inherited money and securities. They also inherited his long-time financial adviser.

For years, her father had trusted this adviser to work in the family’s best financial interests, and she had no plans to end the relationship. The emotional loyalty factor made it hard to jump ship. Besides, she was only paying the typical 1% fee for decent portfolio growth.

Then she did a little digging and some comparison-shopping, just for her own education, and discovered she was wrong. In fact, her adviser had invested her in an actively managed fund with significant fees. He also had recommended a new fund for her — one with a front-end load that took 5% off the top. When all was said and done, she was paying 2.3% in annual fees, not the typical 1%.

Not only was she surprised, she was furious. She felt like a trust had been broken, which is understandable. As she told me, if the financial adviser had disclosed all of the funds and fees up front, she might have reacted differently. But he didn’t, and that made it much easier for her to leave and take her retirement account with her.

So if you’re re-evaluating your adviser’s performance, consider what’s important to you and your financial goals. Do you want better communication, a lower risk factor, lower fees? Or is it just time to shake off the inertia? Whatever your reasons, if the relationship isn’t working for you, don’t be afraid to kiss it goodbye.

———-

Sally Brandon is vice president of client services for Rebalance IRA, a retirement-focused investment advisory firm with almost $250 million of assets under management. In this role, she manages a wide range of retirement investing needs for over 350 clients. Sally earned her BA from UCLA and an MBA from USC.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com