15 Things That Used to Be Free but Now Cost Money

Photo (cc) by Betsssssy

If you feel as though you’re being nickel-and-dimed by businesses nowadays, that’s probably because you are.

Of course, pricing varies from region to region, but in the video below, Money Talks News finance expert Stacy Johnson lays out a few of the items that used to be free but now commonly cost you money. Find out what Stacy has to say, and then keep scrolling for more. And don’t forget to leave a comment below with any other formerly free items we may have missed.

1. Hotel amenities

You’d think if you go to a hotel advertising a pool and Wi-Fi, those items would be included in the room rate. But apparently not.

According to Travel+Leisure, hotels started tacking on resort fees in the late 1990s to cover the cost of everything from “complimentary” newspapers to maintaining the on-site gym. It doesn’t matter if you don’t swim, don’t have a computer or don’t care about current events. Many hotels assess resort fees no matter what.

At some properties, the number of additional fees tacked onto the room rate has gotten a bit crazy, as this article shows.

2. Drink refills

You used to be able to go into any restaurant, virtually anywhere, and get free refills on drinks such as soda pop and coffee.

However, reports have started surfacing that free refills are being phased out in some areas. One man was even slapped with a $525 fine for helping himself to a free refill. (Subsequent reports indicate that fine was later revoked.)

Where I live, free refills are fortunately still the norm, and Cheapism has a list of 12 chains that may still offer them near you.

3. Extras at restaurants

Speaking of restaurants, I used to get a free handful of dipping sauces when I asked for extras at our local McDonald’s. Nowadays, if I want more than two, I need to fork over some extra cash.

McDonald’s isn’t alone. The pizza place no longer gives free extra cheese, and I was at a burger joint last week that charged a $1.25 fee to share a meal with a friend. Really, I asked? Really, they said.

Eatocracy over at CNN has a list of eight other restaurant surcharges you probably never had to pay in the past.

4. Water

OK, water is still free in many places, but some apparently prefer to pay through the nose for the bottled variety even though it may be the same as what comes from the tap.

And our willingness to pay for bottles seems to have led some restaurants to decide that water will no longer be a freebie for diners.

Going back to McDonald’s (yes, we eat there entirely too much), my non-pop drinking daughter always orders water. I used to be able to get free water in a cup for her, but now I’m charged for a bottle of Dasani and told the free cup is not an option.

5. Airplane-everything

Oh my. Where shall we start with this one?

In the olden days, you would buy a plane ticket, check your bags and maybe enjoy some free in-flight entertainment via a movie projected on a wall. The attendants would give you peanuts, a drink and maybe even a meal if you were on board long enough.

Today, you buy a plane ticket and then find yourself shelling out money for everything from your checked bag to your boarding pass to an in-flight blanket. A 2013 study from IdeaWorksCompany found that airline ancillary revenue (read: mostly fees) has increased 1,200 percent since 2007.

6. Returning a rental car

Airlines aren’t the only ones getting a little crazy with their fees. An article on U.S. News & World Report notes that rental car companies have also found ways to tack on extra charges to the base price of their vehicles. Most egregious seems to be the early-return fee.

Hertz says its $11 fee is “to compensate us in part for our inability to rent your vehicle during the time reserved for your use.”

7. TV

Like water, you can still get TV for free. Unfortunately, we seem to have hit the point where paying for our on-screen entertainment seems to be a given for many Americans.

However, we’d like to suggest you can stop paying for cable TV now.

8. Air

Oh, sure, the air you breathe is still free … for now. But the air you put in your tires? Now, that’s an entirely different story.

Once upon a time, every gas station in my town had a free air pump. Today, I need a dollar. On the positive side, at least one station’s pump takes credit cards, so I no longer have to hunt for quarters in the change jar.

As with other items on this list, you can still find freebies if you know where to look. FreeAirPump.com maintains a user-generated directory of free pumps. The site also says California and Connecticut drivers are entitled by state law to free air at service stations (free in California with a purchase of gas).

9. Checking accounts

Not long ago, every bank and credit union offered free checking. Then the CARD Act came along. It limited bank profits from credit cards, and government regulations ended the banks’ practice of automatically enrolling customers in so-called overdraft protection, another moneymaker for financial institutions.

As a result (and as Money Talks News predicted), free checking accounts dried up. You can still find them, but you may need to jump through some hoops first.

10. ATM service

It’s interesting to read this 1998 Bankrate article, which says that KeyBank actually paid its customers 25 cents for using an ATM rather than dealing with a teller.

Boy, are those days long gone. ATM fees hit a record high this year, clocking in at an average of $4.35 per out-of-network transaction.

11. Bill payment

There’s nothing quite like being charged a fee for the privilege of paying a bill. And yet, that’s exactly what some companies do now. It seems as though, in the past, they were just happy to get your money, without making you pay more in order to hand it over.

I seem to run into these convenience fees most often if I try to pay on the phone, but they occasionally crop up online as well. At least it’s still free to send a check in the mail.

12. National parks

Entrance fees didn’t become a fixture at more than 100 sites administered by the National Park Service until the 1980s. However, you can still visit most national parks, including the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, for free.

13. Directory assistance

Remember when you used to pick up the phone, dial “0” and ask the operator to connect you to a number?

You can still do that by dialing 411 or 555-1212. However, while the service used to be free, most companies now charge.

For example, AT&T says directory assistance costs $1.79 in my area, while U.S. Cellular charges $1.99 per call plus standard rates.

14. School sports

Back when I was in middle and high school, school sports typically didn’t cost families a penny. Those schools that did toy with the idea of a “pay-for-play” model were met with outrage from both the community and parents.

Today, it’s not unusual for schools, both public and private, to charge those who want to participate in sports.

According to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, more than 60 percent of children who play sports today pay for the privilege. In my home state of Michigan, schools responding to a survey conducted by the Michigan High School Athletic Association charge a median participation fee of $85 per sport.

15. Information on the Internet

In the early days of the Internet, almost everything online was free. Now granted, it wasn’t exactly the same caliber of content you’ll find nowadays, but you couldn’t beat the price.

Today, membership sites aren’t uncommon. You may have to join to post on a message board or view content or download reports.

Luckily for you, Money Talks News remains your totally free source of personal finance news and information.

So what did we miss? Leave a comment below or head to our Facebook page to tell us what else you remember that was once free but now charges a fee.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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