Avoiding Hidden Airline Fees

Photo © Carl & Peggy Backes.

Photo © Carl & Peggy Backes.

As Moon’s American Nomad, I generally travel more often by car than by plane – a fact that I’ve highlighted in many of my previous posts (such as “Truck Stop Oases on the American Road” and “Passing the Time on Long Road Trips”). So, it’s taken me awhile to realize that I’ve been rather remiss when it comes to the needs of travelers who typically opt for domestic flights rather than the open road.

That said, my interest was definitely piqued when, last Thursday, I received an email from Aubrey Allen, in which he claimed the following:

In the first three months of 2012, U.S. airlines raked in an extra $1.4 billion in add-on fees alone. If consumers are not careful, these fees can increase ticket prices by an extra 20%, 40%, or, in extreme cases, even 100%.

Now, I don’t know how accurate these figures are, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me to learn that, as with most banks and other corporations, many airlines are slowly leeching money from their customers through the use of unnecessary (and often hidden) fees. The good news, though, is that “with a little planning,” according to Aubrey, “many of these fees can be avoided or minimized.” He even offered some specific advice – courtesy of Jeff Klee, CEO and co-founder of CheapAir.com – about how to prevent these unexpected add-on charges.

Having already heard of Jeff, who founded CheapAir.com (originally known as 1-800-Cheap-Air) back in 1989 with a college buddy and fellow wanderer, I was eager to learn a few of his money-saving tips. After all, “Just because you’ve bought your airline ticket,” Jeff says, “doesn’t mean you’re done paying your airline. Airlines these days are charging extra for more and more services that used to be included in your ticket price.”

So, here are a few tips from someone who’s made it his mission to find travelers affordable airfares:

The most costly add-on fees are normally bag fees. All airlines except Southwest (two free bags) and JetBlue (one free bag) now charge for checked bags on domestic flights. Two airlines, Spirit and Allegiant, even charge for carry-on bags. The fees typically start at about $20-30 for the first bag, and remember, these are each way. A family of four traveling with four suitcases can easily pay an extra $200 in bag fees. To reduce or eliminate bag fees, know what your airline will charge before you hit “purchase” because you might want to factor that into your decision. (CheapAir.com has a handy comparison chart to make it easier). Also, some airlines charge less if you prepay your bag fees in advance, so check your airline web site a couple days before your trip to see if that’s an option.

More and more airlines are charging extra for the best seats on the plane, including a large percentage of the window and aisle seats. Sometimes, this means that if you are traveling with friends or family, the only way to sit together will be to pay an extra fee. For more information on this point, and some tips to get around it, check out this recent article.

On domestic flights, food is almost never free anymore. Most airlines charge $3-10 for a snack or meal. The good news is that the quality has gotten better since they started charging for it; the bad news is the cost can add up, especially if you’re traveling with a whole family. With a little planning, you can easily avoid this extra expense by bringing your own food on the plane.

Well, I hope that Jeff’s tips enable you to save some money on your next flight. In the meantime, do you have any budget-friendly tips to share regarding airline travel?

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