If you plan to fly this holiday season, airfare isn't the only significant expense to factor into your travel budget.
While you may have paid close attention to the price of your ticket and even scored a good deal, added costs like baggage carts, parking, and meals at the airport can add to your final tab — and in some cases offset your overall savings, especially if the airport you're departing from is among the nation's most expensive.
"The biggest takeaway for travelers is to not take the flight or hotel rate at face value," says Melanie Lieberman, travel editor at The Points Guy. "This is especially important for travelers who might be looking to save money by flying with a low-cost carrier, or save money by flying out of the first airport that popped up, or even the closest airport."
Even if you have no control over the airport you fly out of for the holidays, you can consider what kinds of costs might pop up before you take off. Here's how to plan ahead and save money in the long run.
If you're planning on taking a car to the airport, make sure to look up your airport's hourly or daily parking rates, or the cost of a ride, so that you can calculate how much you'll pay over the course of your trip.
"For travelers who don't live close to the airport they're flying out of, taking a trip might require them to take an Uber to the airport and back home on the way back, and this could negate the savings of a cheaper flight deal," says Lieberman.
Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), in Newark, New Jersey, is the most expensive airport in the nation, based on the cost of domestic airfare, parking, baggage carts, transportation to the nearest city center, refreshments, and lounge access, according to a 2019 guide on the most affordable and the most expensive airports put together by The Points Guy.
Newark, which serves the greater New York City area, is at the top of the list in part because it can cost upwards of $100 for an Uber or Lyft ride from there to Manhattan. The airport's parking rates are pricey, too: They range from $18-$39 per day. On the opposite end of the spectrum, at McCarran International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas, Nevada, the daily maximum for long-term parking is only $16.
Use a fare estimator to calculate how much a ride-share to the airport would cost. In some cases, it may be cheaper than driving and paying for parking.
Do some research beforehand to see what kinds of other transportation options are available, too. Airports like Orlando International Airport (MCO) provide round-trip shuttle services for under $50, or travelers can take public transportation from several transportation hubs located around the Orlando area, which costs less than $4 per person.
Between having to pay to check bags and for any carts you might need to lug your bags around the airport, baggage fees can bump up your overall travel costs.
At LaGuardia Airport (LGA) in New York City, Smarte Carte rentals cost $6.39, and you'll likely pay around $20-$25 for each checked bag, though this will depend on your airline and the weight of your luggage.
Your best money-saving strategy in this department is to pack light, when possible, and adhere to the rules for carry-on luggage. This will help you save on the cost of checking your bag, and you'll be able to carry your luggage yourself.
"If you have a family, you might need a Smarte Carte," says Lieberman. "It doesn't hurt to stop before you book anything and just say, 'OK, what are all the things that I'm going to need to budget for on this trip, and is this total cost something I'm comfortable with?'"
Airport food is usually marked up because travelers don't have the ability to leave the airport to buy a meal, and there's an added level of security when it comes to transporting food in and out of the airport.
At LaGuardia, for example, a plain hot coffee will cost you $3.10, whereas a New York City Starbucks will charge you closer to $2.95.
Whether you're traveling with your family or going solo, plan ahead and pack snacks to tide you over until you land. Don't forget to factor the cost of feeding everyone in your family into your budget.
Lieberman also suggests looking into priority pass lounges, which may offer complimentary refreshments or dining discounts once you've paid to get in. Lounges may be worth the price if you're feeding a larger group. Some premium credit cards offer complimentary access to priority lounges, so check your card benefits to see if you're eligible.
If your vacation is just around the corner, making a checklist of what you'll need to spend on while traveling can help you anticipate costs and bring them down. "Booking flights and hotels is sometimes the biggest expense, [but] there are so many other factors to consider," says Lieberman.
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