Travel

9 Ways to Avoid Airline Fees

Follow these tips so that you don't pay extra the next time you fly.

For cost-conscious travelers, getting a good deal on a flight doesn't stop at the price of a ticket. The savings you score by booking the cheapest flight could easily be wiped out by fees that you might be hit with when you fly.

Unfortunately, keeping track of all the things airlines charge extra for and how much they charge is no easy task. That's because airline fees are constantly changing. Since January 2012, airlines have changed 52 fees, according to a study by TravelNerd, a Web site that helps consumers compare airline fees. More than half of the changes were related to baggage fees. The rest were related to service fees, such as charges for priority seating and ticket changes, and in-flight fees for food, beverages, unaccompanied minors, blankets and other items.

Low-cost carriers Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air were responsible for 18 of the 52 fee changes, according to the study. For example, Spirit increased its fee for carry-on bags to as much as $100 for some customers (see $100 for a Carry-on Bag -- Ouch!).

Despite the fact that Spirt more than doubled its carry-on fee, most fee increases were $5 to $10, according to TravelNerd. However, TravelNerd Vice President Alicia Jao says some troubling trends have emerged: an increase in fee ranges rather than fixed fees and bundling of services for a single fee. These trends, she says, have lead to less transparency and have made it more difficult to compare prices and services.

Luckily, there are ways to avoid fees. Jao offers these tips:

1. Do your homework. The best way to avoid fees, she says, is to be aware of what airlines charge for and how much. TravelNerd has up-to-date lists of airline fees. Airfarewatchdog.com also recently published an airline fees guide. Travelers also can visit airlines' Web sites to research their fees. Jao warns, though, that fees often are listed on various pages, so you need to research each site thoroughly.

2. Fly Southwest or JetBlue to avoid baggage fees. JetBlue allows passengers to check one bag for free; Southwest lets passengers check two bags at no charge. The other major airlines charge $20 and up for checked bags.

3. Measure and weigh your bags. If you must fly on an airline that charges a baggage fee, make sure that you don't pay more than you have to. This means making sure your bag meets the airline's size and weight requirements so that you don't get hit with hefty fees (typically $75 to $100) for overweight and oversized luggage.

4. Take advantage of extra items that can be carried on. If the bags you plan to check are at the weight and size limit, you may be able to carry extra items onto the plane. Each airline has a list of items that you are allowed to carry onto the aircraft separately or in addition to your carry-on bag and personal item. The list varies, but you are typically allowed to carry crutches or walking aids, reading material, a bag of food, umbrellas and coats. So if you are in a bind, take these items out of your bags and carry them onto the plane separately.

5. Be careful with your carry-on. Airlines have even started charging for carry-on bags checked at the gate because they didn't meet size and weight restrictions. Not all airlines charge this fee, though. TravelNerd has a carry-on luggage size chart that can help you identify which airlines will charge you if you have to check a bag at the gate.

6. Book early. Airlines are reserving more and more seats for frequent flyers and passengers willing to pay seating fees. By booking well in advance of your travel date, you're more likely to get a good seat from the pool of seats that don't require a fee.

7. Book online because some airlines charge anywhere from $15 to $45 more for tickets booked over the phone.

8. Book through an airline's site because some charge an extra fee if you change a ticket that was booked through a third party, such as a travel agents and travel sites. For example, United, Frontier and Delta have ticket change agency fees, ranging from $25 to $50 (Delta waives the fee if the change is made online).

9. Be certain about your travel plans. Jao says that some airlines charge $150 to change a ticket, so it pays to be sure about your travel plans before you book. Southwest still gives credit and does not charge a ticket change fee, but the airline did announce that it will start charging a fee for no-shows.

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