Airline fees you can avoid

Everyone talks about those awful airline fees, but if you think airline CEOs are going to do anything about them, well, as the late Carl Sagan might have put it, fee revenue means billions and billions.

So, we work around them. It’s not as hard as you might think, and it’s an easy way to save on overall airfare costs.

1. Change fee

• Don’t pay: This is the fee you pay to change a flight you’ve already booked, whether by day or route or whatever. So do not change your tickets. You can start by reviewing your reservation carefully within 24 hours of booking and, if you see anything wrong, make the change. Pay special attention to the dates — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from folks who hit the wrong key or simply had the wrong days in mind when making reservations. Make the change within the 24-hour window and there is no fee penalty. Miss the deadline and you’ll typically be charged $200 for domestic flights and up to $400 for international. Note: Southwest remains the only U.S. airline with no change fee.

• If you miss the deadline: In most instances, you pay the change fee and pay the difference in price for new tickets, and the price almost always goes up. If the new ticket is a lot more expensive than the original booking, do some simple math: It might actually be cheaper to scrap the ticket — and eat the cost while avoiding a steep change fee and fare difference — if you can find a much better deal on another airline.

• Tip: Compare fares carefully to find the best deal  — and this might mean flying in and out of a large hub instead of the hometown airport.

2. Baggage fees

• Don’t pay: Either fly Southwest, which gives you two checked bags for free, or use a carry-on, which is free on most major airlines.

• If you fly an airline with no free bags: If you’ve booked with Allegiant, Spirit or Frontier, all bags will cost you with one exception: a free personal item. As Spirit notes, this can be a small backpack or something of that nature as long as it fits under the seat (you cannot take up any bin space). If you’re packing for a weekend getaway or a short holiday like Thanksgiving, this could work out fine.

• Tip: If you need more space than an under-the-seat bag, it’s important to note that in most cases Frontier and Spirit charge actually less for checked bags than carry-ons.

3. Food and drink charges

• Don’t pay: Simple as that. If the airline charges for meals (and they all do on domestic flights, with a few exceptions on Hawaii routes), do not eat, or make do with the free snacks (if any).

• If there are no free meals or drinks: Bring your own from home. It’ll be better and cheaper.

• Tip: If your airline charges for soft drinks and water as Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit do (for the cheapest fares), bring an empty bottle and use a drinking fountain or water station to fill it once you get past security.

4. Better seat fees

• Don’t pay: More and more airlines offer basic fares that offer little in the way of comfort or extra room. If you’d rather use that money at your destination, just grin and bear it.

• If you must go big: Scrutinize the different add-ons and fare classes carefully; some offer better seats for a stand-alone charge, like Spirit’s Big Front Seat (from $12 to $200, depending on the route) while others offer more legroom or aisle seats as part of a bundle that might include early boarding or a free checked-bag. Bundle prices vary wildly, but it’s possible to snag some starting at around $50 and sometimes less. Just be sure to examine them carefully for their overall value.

FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney is an airline industry insider and top media air travel resource. Follow Rick (@rickseaney) and never overpay for airfare again.


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