Charges to check your bags. Let’s review the ugly details. Most airlines charge $25 to $40 to check your first and second bags on domestic flights. For a third and fourth bag, count on paying $100 to $200. And don’t even think about checking an overweight suitcase: In one gruesome example, a passenger flying on American Airlines between the U.S. and Japan would have to pay $900 round-trip to check a 71-pound bag.
Southwest allows two free bags, and JetBlue allows one. When you book with the Delta SkyMiles gold card from American Express ($95 annual fee, waived the first year), up to nine travelers on the same itinerary can each check one bag free on Delta flights. A $200 annual credit to cover airline fees is a perk with the American Express platinum card ($450 annual fee).
Other solutions: Ground-shipping a 60-pound bag from New York City to Miami via FedEx recently cost $51 versus $100 with an airline. Check out Jaktogo.com or Scottevest.com for vests that hold everything from passports to pajamas.
Priority seating. On all domestic airlines, the choicest locations incur an extra charge of up to $50. At Spirit, even the least desirable back-row middle perch may cost you $10 or more. Friendly Planet Travel’s Peggy Goldman recommends arriving at the airport check-in a couple of hours before flight time and asking if any desirable seats are available. “Most airlines hold back as many as a third of their seats for airport check-ins,” she says.
Frequent-flier fees. Even flights earned with rewards points incur taxes, facility charges and security fees -- ranging from about $20 on cheap domestic itineraries to hundreds of dollars on international flights. Rush fees, incurred when you book your flight within a few weeks of takeoff, can run $25 to $75. Redepositing miles will nick you $25 to $150. The fees may be waived if you accumulate enough miles through flying and using a rewards card to qualify for an elite loyalty program.
Upgrade fee. To swap your economy seat for a first-class seat, you may have to pay, not just with frequent-flier miles but with cold, hard cash. This year, US Airways added a co-pay of up to $300 round-trip to upgrade domestic fares to first class. International upgrades on United can cost you miles plus up to $1,200 round-trip. The airline has caught flak for collecting the fee at the check-in counter, long after surprised travelers could have opted out. Some full-fare tickets, elite tickets and Delta upgrades avoid this fee. If your airline charges it, try upgrading at the gate instead of online; the agent may offer a better deal.