MS KATHY Wong thought she was seeing double when she booked Jetstar Asia tickets to Bangkok earlier this month.
The sum she paid for a return air ticket was actually up to $30 lower than the $128 for extra charges- in this case, airport tax levied at both Changi and Bangkok airports and the airline's fuel surcharge.
"It's very strange when you have to pay as much or more for extra charges, compared to the cost of the air ticket itself," laments the 40-year-old administrator.
She is not alone in feeling the pinch from such costs which have gone up in the last six years.
Take the import-export company that Ms Sarah Chua works for. Its owner spent $30,000 on airfares flying within South-east Asia last year, and another $6,000 on fees like fuel surcharges and airport taxes.
"I've noticed that the extra costs have really increased over the last few years, especially fuel surcharges and airport taxes," says the 40-year-old accountant who books the flights.
Industry sources say that after the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001, airports imposed new fees virtually overnight to pay for boosted security, suchas Changi Airport's $6 passenger security fee (bringing total departure tax to $21), and Singapore Airlines' $8 insurance surcharge.
Not only have these charges remained in place six years later, but they are set to get heftier.
From next month, airlines flying to and out ofAustralia have to pay a security charge, from A$3.71 (S$5) for Brisbane Airport to A$5 at Sydney International airport. Right now, there is no such charge being levied.It remains to be seen if the cost will be passed on to passengers.
"This is not revenue to Brisbane Airport Corporation.
Security is conducted on behalf of the Australian Federal Government and is a cost-recovery charge," Mr Ben James, air development manager for Brisbane Airport Corporation, tells Life!.
A return trip on SIA from Singapore to Sydney will now include about $323 in surcharges. This is the breakdown - $21 and $50 for Singapore and Australia departure taxes respectively, $56 for Sydney Airport's charges, and SIA's $179 fuel surcharge and $17 insurance surcharge.
Multiply this for a family of four, and it adds up to $1,292, on top of the return economy airfare of $4,800.
Political uncertainties, especially in the Middle East, have meanwhile led to a spike in jet-fuel prices,from about US$30 per barrel at the start of 2004to almost US$90 (S$138) last month, according to the International Air Transport Association.
SIA has upped its fuel surcharges eight times since 2004, from a flat fee of US$5 per sector to the current US$20 for regional flights and US$89 for destinations in the United States and Canada.
A sector is defined as a journey for which a passenger holds a ticket.
Mr Stephen Forshaw, SIA's vice-president of public affairs, says the fuel surcharge "recovers about 50 to 60 per cent" of the additional cost of jetfuel.
Other airlines are also raising fees. Just two weeks ago, British Airways announced a £5 (S$15.30) fuel surcharge hike for long-haul flights,bringing it to £38 for flights less than nine hours long and £43 for the rest.
And then there is the matter of airport taxes which further lighten your wallet.
Take London's Heathrow airport. Its air passenger duty was doubled in February this year to £40and £80 for destinations outside Europe, in economy and business classes respectively.
But industry sources also note that since Singaporeans love to travel these days, rising costs have not seriously dented vacation plans.
Mr Honvie Chang, for instance, visited China,Korea and Hong Kong last year. An SIA devotee,he and his wife would have paid about $1,168 in taxes and surcharges alone for flights to these three countries.
"If it's a holiday, and you need to go somewhere,then you don't really have a choice," says Mr Chang, 35, a product marketing manager, who is taking these increases in his stride.
Many others share his sentiments, for the number of passengers using Changi Airport has increased,from 28.1 million in 2001 to 35 million last year, dipping only in 2003 because of Sars.
Travel agencies, too, report good business."We've had a 25 per cent increase in customers this year, with most headed to exotic locations like Turkey and Egypt," notes Ms Fern Sim, manager for marketing communications at Dynasty Travel.
Travel agencies say they are doing all they canto rein in expenses to stay competitive. This means they try their utmost to find savings, say, from suppliers of accommodation or food, and pass them onto consumers.
"When we have news that the fuel surcharge will increase, we will advise customers to get their tickets issued before the surcharge kicks in," says a spokesman for Dynasty Travel.
Over at SA Tours, its marketing communications manager Ruth Lim says: "Apart from our usual advertising, we do not have any other campaigns so that we have more savings to offer better deals to our customers."
But if you are travelling on your own, it pays to do some homework first.
Families with young children might want to choose destinations like Hong Kong, where children below 12 are exempted from the departure tax of HK$120 (S$24).
Flying on budget airlines also means lower airport taxes and cheaper fares. Departure taxes at Singapore's Budget Terminal and Kuala LumpurInternational Airport's Low Cost Carrier Terminal are $13 and RM25 (S$11) respectively.
Ultimately, at the end of the day, people must feel good to spend on holidays, even if the extra surcharges are a pain. The current good economic times help, and travel agents know that.
At the Natas fair in March, 121 exhibitors set up shop, a rise of 15 per cent compared to last year.
"As long as the package tours are attractively priced, I won't stop going on holiday," says Ms Laura Ng, 26, a retail assistant.
-Additional reporting by Huang Xueling
Airport taxes take their toll too
FOR the frequent traveller, it pays to know where your hard-earned dollars are going.
Life! looks at charges levied by major airports around the world. All airport tax rates are quoted in Singapore dollars.
In addition to airport taxes,travellers should factor in other extras like fuel and insurance surcharges levied by airlines, which will vary according to destination and airline.
For example, someone flying from Tokyo to Singapore in economy class on Singapore Airlines can expect to pay $89 in taxes, while the fuel surcharge is included in the basic airfare due to Japan's special regulations.
Another person heading to Singapore from Los Angeles or Paris has to pay $146 and $98 in fuel surcharges respectively, on top of the$9 insurance surcharge applicable as well.
WHAT THE WORLD'S TOP AIRPORTS CHARGE
COSTLY AIRPORT: At $50, Sydney Kingsford Smith's airport tax is oneof the highest.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol: $28
Auckland International Airport: $25
Bangkok - Don Muang Airport and Suvarnabhumi Airport: $33
Barcelona Airport (Aeropuerto de Barcelona): $15
Beijing Capital: $19
Berlin Tegel: $25
Brussels Airport: $49
Mumbai - Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport: $9
Changi International Airport: $21;
Budget Terminal: $13
Copenhagen Airport: $35
Dubai International Airport: $13
Frankfurt International: $43
Geneva International Airport: $24
Hanoi Noibai: $22 (collected at airport)
Hong Kong International: $24
London Heathrow: $44
New York JFK International: $48
Osaka Kansai: $26
Rome Leonardo Da Vinci: $17
Taipei Tao Yuan: $15
Tokyo Narita: $26
Zurich Airport: $47
Oslo Airport: $44
Ho Chi Minh City: $22 (collected atairport)
Johannesburg International Airport:$26
Kuala Lumpur International: $23
Los Angeles International: $48
Moscow Domodedovo: $20
Manila - Ninoy Aquino International Airport: $25
Paris Charles De Gaulle: $33
Phnom Penh International Airport:$24 (collected at airport)
Shanghai - Pudong International Airport: $19
Sydney Kingsford Smith: $50
Vancouver International Airport: $25
-Rates compiled from information from Dynasty Travel, SA Tours and Jetabout Holidays. Subject to change in exchange rates.