America’s Biggest Rip-offs, According to Tripadvisor & Surveys

America’s Biggest Rip-offs, According to Tripadvisor & Surveys

Bamboozled, beguiled, and swindled: sometimes the only way of describing experiences that were certainly less than we bargained for. The allure of “as seen on TV” and an influencer’s POV of travel can leave us disappointed when we realize we didn’t get our money, time, or both worth. Buyer beware as we’re unpacking some of the biggest rip-offs of all time: from universal woes, not-so-national treasures, and even every state’s scams. 

We dove headfirst into Google Trends and Tripadvisor to determine the top “rip-offs” people were talking about at national, state, and local levels. From there we used the top lists to survey 5,000 participants. From the findings, we were able to separate the downright deceptions from the attractions worth the money. 

Key highlights:

Disney World ranks as the #1 biggest US tourist attraction rip-off

Respondents stated the worst generic rip-offs included: college textbooks (#1), credit scores (#2), and movie theater snacks (#3)

State fairs, ski resorts, and theme parks, ranked amongst the biggest rip-offs on a state level

Top rip-offs we can all agree on

“You know what really grinds my gears,” turns out to be a shared experience. There are certain money grabs that are a universal peeve. When we asked respondents to share their biggest gripes based on the summarized rip-offs list we were left with some clear winners. 

One thing we can all agree on is that college textbooks are the biggest rip-off ever. An extra $200 just because the latest addition has two new pages added? You’ll only need to use it twice? The price of knowledge is a steep one! Americans, without hesitation, rated college textbooks as the #1 biggest rip-off of all. 

If it wasn’t already made clear, the whole “adulting” thing in general is a rip-off, but, to be more specific, so are credit scores. The bread and butter of surviving in the US all comes back to the swipe of an American Express card or getting (and paying) as many bills as possible. Credit Scores ranked as the #2 biggest, universal rip-off according to respondents. The kicker? If you want to know your credit score, you can expect a dent in your credit just by checking the number. It’s a real credit quandary!

To round off the top three, we need to head to the movies. The joy of catching a flick on the weekend is shadowed by the absurd sum you’re expected to pay for the snack to go with it. Even an arm and a leg won’t cut it when it comes to the price of movie theater popcorn which is why respondents listed movie theater snacks as the third biggest, universal rip-off.  The smallest bag of popcorn will cost you, on average, $6.09 in the US today. With a 1,300% markup, it’s no wonder Americans consider it to be a corn-tastrophe. 

Honorable mentions go to the other tops (in descending order): hotel mini-bars, airport food and drink, cable television, brand-name products, specialty coffee, alcohol/desserts at restaurants, travel deals, and landline phones. Some write-ins included insurance, payday loans, medication, and student loans.

National Monuments ranked by rip-off status

Land of the free, home of the overpaying. Although some national parks and monuments are free, the majority are not. Not only is it not free, but it can also cost you a pretty penny. National Park admission fees, on average, are $30 per car; some are worth it, others not so much. Pair that with the other top US private attractions, like Disney World or the Space Needle, that charge exorbitant fees, we can see why some Americans are feeling scorned by visiting their nation’s most popular places.

Following the Tripadvisor results for the top 10 US attractions, we asked participants to rank what they thought was the biggest to least rip-offs according to their experiences. 60% of respondents concluded that Disney World is the biggest rip-off for US attractions. The happiest place on Earth turns out to be the “most scammy” place on Earth too as this top attraction ranks #1 for rip-offs. Starting at $109 per person for the most basic ticket, we start to see why Disney makes the top rip-off ranks. Ciao, Mickey Mouse! 

The nation’s capital is taking a blow too. DC, in and of itself, can be costly but some of the monuments simply aren’t worth the hassle either, according to respondents. The National Mall ranks second as the biggest rip-off for top US tourist attractions. Ironically, the National Mall itself is free, but respondents agree that the cost of getting there, the price of food and accommodation close by, and more simply make it not worth the hype. One Tripadvisor user writes, “Manipulators exploiting visitors for cash. Aggressive vendors heckled the tourists and blocked walkways. Trash and grocery carts adorn the main plazas,” putting rip-off to a new level. Another visitor shares, “No real stores…just a bunch of old buildings. They should probably rename it. Was a bit disappointed, was hoping for winter sales.” Well…yeah. 

So, which top US tourist attraction (shamefully) scores bronze? The Alamo ranks #3 biggest rip-off for US tourist attractions. Free on the surface, a real, fleshed-out visit is going to cost you. A self-guided tour is $20, a guided tour is $45, and group tours start at $20 per person. 731 out of 19,600 Tripadvisor reviews make mention of the Exhibits add-ons being a “must”, but it’s far from complimentary. Adding the Alamo Exhibit tickets will cost you an extra $14. Americans are saying no to the Alamo. 

The other seven, top US attractions were ranked by rip-off in order: Statue of Liberty, Space Needle, Gateway Arch, Navy Pier, Hoover Dam, Ole’ Faithful, and Glacier National Park. 

Top Rip-Offs by State 

Every state has its own money grab, be it the “World’s Biggest Insert-underwhelming-thing-here” or a theme park asking for a small fee of $60 just to park your car. What a time to be alive (and swindled). We asked participants from each of the 50 states to rank the state’s Tripadvisor top 5 attractions that they believe are rip-offs. 

1. Alabama: Visiting the University of Alabama 

2. Alaska: Visiting a glacier

3. Arizona: Wild West recreation towns

4. Arkansas: The Walmart Museum

5. California: Disneyland

6. Colorado: Aspen Ski Resort

7. Connecticut: Yale University

8. Delaware: Dover International Speedway

9. Florida: Disney World 

10. Georgia: Six Flags

11. Hawaii: Waikiki Beach

12. Idaho: Coeur d’Alene Lake

13. Illinois: Lollapalooza 

14. Indiana: Indy 500

15. Iowa: Iowa State Fair

16. Kansas: The ball of twine

17. Kentucky: Ark Encounter

18. Louisiana: French Quarter

19. Maine: Desert of Maine

20. Maryland: Ocean City Boardwalk

21. Massachusetts: Martha’s Vineyard

22. Michigan: Hell, Michigan

23. Minnesota: Mall of America

24. Mississippi: Beauvoir Estate

25. Missouri: Legoland

26. Montana: Big Sky Resort

27. Nebraska: Nebraska State Fair

28. Nevada: The Strip

29. New Hampshire: Castle in the Clouds

30. New Jersey: Atlantic City

31. New Mexico: Four Corners Monument

32. New York: The Hamptons

33. North Carolina: NASCAR Hall of Fame

34. North Dakota: The Pyramid of North Dakota

35. Ohio: Cedar Point

36. Oklahoma: Bricktown

37. Oregon: Pearl District

38. Pennsylvania: Hershey Park

39. Rhode Island: The Breakers

40. South Carolina: Visiting plantation gardens 

41. South Dakota: Bear Country USA

42. Tennessee: Graceland

43. Texas: Attending a rodeo

44. Utah: The Tabernacle

45. Vermont: Ben and Jerrys Factory Tour

46. Virginia: Virginia Beach Boardwalk

47. Washington: Space Needle

48. West Virginia: Mothman Museum

49. Wisconsin: Noah’s Ark Water Park

50. Wyoming: Yellowstone National Park

Summary

Nobody likes the feeling of being duped. Fortunately, we’ve done the dirty work of deciphering the rip-offs from the “worth its”. By looking at rip-offs on a local, state, national, and universal scale, the cons are clearer. From the ridiculous price tag of a college textbook to the cost of maintaining a dead landline, we now know rip-off from respectable.

Methodology

We initially gathered data by pooling the top results on Google Trends and Tripadvisor for US tourist attractions and keywords associated with “rip-off”. We then surveyed over 5,000 Americans in January 2024 to affirm and categorize this data. The age range was between 18-65 with all participants residing in the United States. Over half — 56% — were female, 42% were male, 1% identified as trans or non-binary, and 1% listed “other”.

Fair Use

Feel free to use the data or visuals on this page for non-commercial purposes. Please be sure to include proper attribution linking back to this page to give credit to the authors.

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Author: Alan Flores