Escapes: How to fight the newest fake travel fee

Beware fake fees at restaurants in Las Vegas.
(Isaac Brekken / Associated Press)

If someone walked up to you and asked for $5 for no reason, would you hand it over? How about $18? Would you mind terribly leaving that behind?

Welcome to your most recent helping of outrage. My name is Catharine Hamm, and I’m lucky to work with a couple of guys who pinch pennies as hard as I do. Mike Hiller, who spends a lot of time walking the 4.2 miles of the Vegas Strip, came across a mystery fee on a restaurant menu and started asking questions. Staff writer Christopher Reynolds caught wind of a new way to raise revenue in Los Cabos, Mexico, and also started asking questions. Catch up with the infuriating results below.

We also have answers to questions about how (or whether) you should travel to Cuba, where you can best see the full moon and what motivates author Paul Theroux in his new book on Mexico, plus a terrific guide to making sure you have the right plug when you travel abroad. There is also news of a cannabis consumption lounge in Las Vegas, a final farewell to Vegas performing icons and a weekend escape that will help you see the light.

All this to get you in the holiday-travel planning mood (it need not be a bad mood) in the End paper, which, magically, appears at the very end. Hey ho, let’s go.

It’s not a tax; it’s a fake fee

But it’s real enough if you pay it. Mike Hiller, who prowls the Vegas Strip and pokes into the city’s other corners as well, was eating at a Strip restaurant and noticed what he called “an odd charge labeled ‘CNF,’ but since it sounded official, I paid it,” he said in an email. “Then I spotted it again at another restaurant and began to ask questions. The answers all led to a single answer: made-up fees that add up to extra profits for the owners.” Reader Hiller’s piece on fees that can fake you out, and what you can do about them.


It’s not a tax; it’s a donation

When you land in Los Cabos, you’ll have a chance to give away $18 of your hard-earned money. The “donation” goes to improving health care, housing, education and more in Baja California.

Here’s the thing: It’s not an impuesto, or tax, and it’s been incorrectedly reported in trade media as one. You just hand it over or you don’t; the government expects to gather about $25 million from this collection, which you can drop at an airport kiosk.

Should Cuba be on your bucket list?

That’s a tough one to answer. Catherine Watson, formerly travel editor for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, first went to the island nation in 1999 and has been back five more times in the ensuing years. Her piece makes arguments for and against a visit there in a gentle, almost lyrical way. Definitely worth reading.

Then there are the practical aspects of going to Cuba. My On the Spot column looks at the newest changes and challenges in planning a trip there.

Finally, free airfare to Cuba is our deal of the week. InsightCuba is offering free airfare from Miami to Havana for its Cuba tours, which it has been leading since 2000, Mary Forgione writes.

An old Plymouth classic car passes a Cuban flag and Che Guevara mural painted on an eroded wall in Old Havana.
(Merten Snijders / Getty Images)

A new wrinkle in cannabis consumption

You can’t smoke marijuana in public in Nevada; you can smoke it at home. But if you’re visiting, where do you consume legal cannabis? It’s not going to be in your hotel room, because generally, these are not classified as private residences. It’s a bad idea in a rental car, since it could bring a fee. That’s why lounges present an answer, but the state delayed permission to open such places for a couple of years.

Enter the Vegas Tasting Room at NuWu Cannabis Marketplace, where you can try before you buy. And why can this place do this when others cannot? Read Jay Jones’ story to find out.

A light touch in Paso Robles

Terry Gardner took a Weekend Escape to Paso Robles to see Bruce Munro’s “Field of Light,” 58,000 solar flowers that put on quite a show after dark — and before, Gardner writes. For her, it suggests the possibilities of solar power, and for everyone, it is a new way to be mesmerized by California’s landscape.

“Field of Light at Sensorio” is a sculpture that combines nature, art and technology in Paso Robles.
(Serena Munro)

‘Plain of Snakes’ has a bite

At 78, Paul Theroux, who has more than 50 books and novels to his credit, could be playing golf somewhere or sipping his morning coffee while meeting the day. Instead, he’s talking about a new book that grew out of road trips in Chiapas and Oaxaca, Mexico, looking for, as writer Christopher Reynolds said, “grit and grace beyond the usual information Americans get about their southern neighbors.” It’s a fascinating talk with a man who has made a career of taking us to other worlds.

Put a plug in it

You’ve arrived in a foreign country and you want to recharge — yourself, of course, but also your electronics. But what’s that funny-looking configuration? It’s an outlet but it doesn’t fit any plug you have. Terry Gardner explains what you’ll need to plug in around the world — something to bookmark or print before your next overseas adventure.

What kind of adapter do you need?
(Peter Hoey / For The Times)

Where to see that old devil moon

We are seeing now the second-to-the-last full, or full-ish, moon of the year. (The last one is Dec. 11.) If you want to do something beyond just hanging out in the backyard (and maybe more romantic), Mary Forgione suggests five places to get a better look.

And pretty soon, you won’t see ...

... Donny and Marie. Can you believe it? After 11 years, they’re calling it a day. Their original stint was supposed to be just a few weeks, but they soon become some of the most beloved performers in Vegas. You still have a little time to jump on a plane to see their last show.

Brother and sister Donny and Marie Osmond will take their last bow Saturday after 11 years at the Flamingo in Las Vegas.
(Caesars Entertainment)

What we’re reading

Thanks a lot, Nick Butter. He makes the rest of us look like total slackers. Most of us have never run one marathon, never mind a marathon in every U.N.-recognized country in the world, Jack Guy reports for CNN Travel. OK, so it probably took Butter a couple of decades, right? Nope. He began Jan. 6, 2018, and finished his last challenge in Greece. He burned through 10 passports and often went home to Britain just to get a new visa. Well done, mate.

Here’s something else to feel bad about if you’re a flier: fuel tankering. Writing for Quartz, Natasha Frost explains that it means taking along extra fuel so the airline can save a few pennies. Nothing wrong with that — except that the weight of the extra fuel increased the carbon imprint by almost a million tons a year across Europe, a June report notes.

Now that we are in the age of flight shaming — that is, blaming people for the air travel that helps indulge their passion — will people actually heed the call for restraint? Even KLM, Jessica Baron writes for Forbes, is urging greater responsibility, suggesting taking the train or canceling in-person meetings that really could be done by phone. It’s a fascinating discussion of our willingness to pay for pleasures that imperil the Earth.

What you could be reading

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End paper

Did you know you can take a turkey in your carry-on bag? I didn’t, but this is what I love about my job: I learn new stuff every day. What I haven’t learned: how to ensure your carry-on doesn’t smell like Thanksgiving going forward.

We’ll offer lots of tidbits for your holiday travel toolkit in the Nov. 17 newspaper’s Travel section, and online as well. This year, there have been changes at LAX that will affect your comings and goings, changes in how you might buy a bus ticket, changes in costs. If you don’t fly often and you’re going to travel around the holidays, have a look so you’ll be prepared.

Here’s my hard-won wisdom. You can never be fully prepared for holiday travel. Some things, sure. But …

• Carry some cash, and not just $20 bills. I keep a jar for $1 bills and $5 bills that I gather between trips and scoop them up before leaving home, because no skycap I’ve ever known takes a debit card.

• Also take a credit card. I well remember the call from my stepdaughter and her husband, who had taken a connecting flight to New Jersey to visit his family. They weren’t in New Jersey; they were in Chicago’s O’Hare, and they weren’t getting to New Jersey anytime soon.

Two mistakes here: First, a connecting flight through Chicago in winter (or summer, spring or fall) is rarely a good idea. Second, if weather cancels your flight, you’re on your own. It is not the airline’s responsibility to put you up. If you are carrying a credit card, you won’t have to call your father to ask him to put your hotel on his credit card.

• If you have to hitchhike to the airport because it’s snowing so hard the airport bus isn’t running, chances are good that your flight isn’t going anywhere either. Today, we’d look at an app (FlightStats, Flight Tracker or FlightAware, among them) or just call the airline to find out, but in the dark ages before that, there was … nothing. Because finding a pay phone in a snowstorm isn’t really an option if you’re strolling down the shoulder of an interstate highway.

That was my first year in college, and I was desperate to get home for the holidays — so desperate I took leave of my senses, if, indeed, at 18, I had any. A businessman inching his way along the highway leaned his head out his car window and asked if I wanted a ride. I was freezing, my suitcase was wet and I knew better, but I said yes. I was lucky. He was a nice guy in a city that a little more than a year later would begin seeing the monstrous results of a serial killer who remained at large for more than 30 years.

So go ahead. Take leave and go home or to Grandma’s or to be with the friends who have become your family. Just don’t take leave of your senses. Because we want you to travel safely and well and know that we will be here, having taken no stupid risks, to welcome you home.