Air travel fees are airlines way of making back the income they've lost to low-cost airfare. If you though you had a great deal on a $200 return ticket to Vegas, you may be wondering how it burst into a financial mushroom cloud. Was it paying for 2 pieces of luggage at check-in? The $100 for the third piece (full of shopping and souvenirs) on your way back? Changing your flight did add $90, and having to do it on the phone cost another $25. You did opt for a later flight, which added $73 to the cost. With a $5 movie and a drink to calm your nerves you've totaled $492. Thankfully, taxes were already included. While some fees and charges like taxes are mandatory, others are controllable, and some are even avoidable.

In this guide to avoiding high air travel fees:
Know Your Luggage
Take Advantage Of Booking Cancelation Periods
Avoid Preferential Treatment
Get To Know Airline Fee Policies For International Flights
Don't Buy More Travel Insurance Than You Need

  1. Know Your Luggage

    Airlines typically allow you one personal item and one carry-on bag; additional bags become checked luggage.

    Problem: For carry-ons, size limit measurements differ by airline, ranging from 21.5 to 24 inches long by 13.5 to 18 inches wide by 7.5 to 10 inches deep. Some instead specify a total linear 45 to 46 inches. That's anything from 21.5 x 13.5 x 7.5 inches to 24 x 18 x 10. Even for checked bags, sizes, weights and costs differ. One checked bag may cost you zero flying on Southwest, but $75 at the airport flying on Allegiant. Add more, and you may be staring at fees of $150 to $200 or more per bag, especially if they're oversized or heavy.

    Solution: Know the exact dimensions and weight of all luggage before you go; a premium luggage scale is about $20, a fraction of the cost of just one overweight bag. Check your bags well in advance; the price increases as you near the gate. Some airlines will let you check luggage online, others at the kiosk. Still others use flat fees. Check prices and policies online before you book. If you are a member of the airline's frequent flyer program, check if your membership status entitles you to free checked bags. As an elite status member of the AAdvantage® loyalty program from American Airlines, for example, you can get anywhere from 1 to 3 checked bags free, depending on your membership status. Using certain airline credit cards to pay for your flight entitles you to a certain number of free checked bags (usually 1, but more with some cards).

  2. Take Advantage Of Booking Cancelation Periods

    Booking a reservation initiates a contract between you and your chosen carrier. Pay the airfare, and both parties are committed to the terms, including the name on your ticket. 

    Problem: Once you buy the ticket, changes or personal assistance will cost you. Most airlines charge an extra $50 to $75 if you redo within 24 hours of purchase; after that, change fees can jump, varying from $75 to $110, $200 to $500, or – our personal favorite – zero to $1,000. Request assistance over the phone, and you can tack on an additional $15 to $45.

    Solution: Most airlines allow a 24-hour courtesy period between booking and paying. In addition, most allow 24 hours after payment for you to request a refund. Don't be tempted by a seemingly cheap flight if you're not certain of your own schedule or someone else's. Every change will cost you, and while you can eventually change a name on a ticket, that will dent your wallet, too – often by several hundred dollars. Know your air carrier's policy before you buy. Here again, a frequent flyer membership could be your ticket to fee-free seat changes. Some airlines offer loyal customers free seat upgrades for up to 100 hours after you purchase your ticket.

  3. Avoid Preferential Treatment

    Seats no longer fall into three neat classes – first, business and coach. You now get classes with titles like economy basic or economy plus, and very little is included in a basic ticket price (not even the cost of the ticket itself). 

    Problem: Airlines now charge a la carte fees for every additional amenity, including portion of the cabin, seat selection, leg room or giant seats, priority boarding, "extra" or "economy comfort," early-bird check-in, and food or beverages. They'll even charge you $50 for a printed ticket. Add-ons can run $10 to nearly $200 each, depending on what you choose. A courtesy pillow will cost you $7 on some airlines, and carriers may add holiday surcharges onto more than your basic ticket fare. Even for members of frequent flyer clubs, using your "free" miles may still cost you a booking fee, often $25 to $150.

    Solution: While creature comforts may tempt, fees may not be worth added expenses on short flights. Bringing a pet along can add $250 to a round-trip domestic flight; that figure would easily cover a professional pet sitter's fee. When you start clicking options, consider first whether it's something you really need or a way for the airline to plump your ticket. Print your own ticket, or put it on your smartphone. Even if you know an airline's fees, check them all again, as "prices are subject to change without notice." If an airline drops its fare, you may be able to claim a refund for the difference, depending on your carrier's contract of carriage.

  4. Get To Know Airline Fee Policies For International Flights

    U.S. carriers' policies can be drastically different from those of other countries. Tax and tariff requirements are just the start. 

    Problem: Paying with a credit rather than debit card can cost you an extra £10 fee in the United Kingdom. Baggage when traveling with an infant varies depending on whether you paid for an infant ticket or not, what percentage of the fare you paid, which carrier you are flying with and what destination you are traveling to. Sporting and other specialized equipment may carry its own fee, and even reimbursement for damages or losses are governed by the Montreal Convention and lower compensations for damages and delays once any leg of your trip leaves U.S. territory. 

    Solution: Identify the costs before you book. Know what you're choosing and why you're choosing it. Even if you think something should be included or inexpensive, check (and then double-check) carriers' websites and contracts of carriage. Not doing so may cost you more than you think.

  5. Don't Buy More Travel Insurance Than You Need

    Most airlines, travel booking sites or travel agents will offer you travel insurance when you buy your ticket. Many may even insist or "highly recommend" that you buy travel insurance. This may include trip cancellation insurance (which provides a refund if you have to cancel your trip due to an unexpected incident), travel accident insurance (pays a benefit if you are killed or seriously disabled in an airline accident) and baggage loss or delay coverage.

    Problem: Some airlines (and some countries) require that you have a travel insurance policy in order to fly. Travel insurance is obligatory for flights to and from many European countries, for example. But travel insurance can add a big extra cost to your flight. But travel sites, agents and airlines usually receive a tidy commission from partner insurance companies, and may sell you an expensive insurance policy with lousy benefits if you aren't careful.

    Solution: Getting travel insurance is a good idea, but always take time to compare and research travel insurance offers on your own. It's also important that you know that many credit cards give you complimentary travel insurance when you use them to pay for your flight. The most common coverage you get from credit cards is travel accident insurance, but premium cards may offer trip interruption or cancelation insurance, luggage delay or loss insurance, and even trip delay coverage. If you buy your tickets online you probably use a credit card to pay, so check your credit card benefits. You may already be insured.

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