8 Tips to Minimize Airline Fees

Feeling nickel and dimed? Here are tips to help keep those new airline fees at bay.


By now, just about everyone has read or heard the announcement last week from American Airlines that beginning June 15, 2008, the company will charge passengers with domestic economy class tickets $15 for any piece of checked luggage, each way. Even just one. No more freebies—unless you can afford full economy, first or business class. One bit of good news: The fee is waived for customers who purchase tickets before June 15.

Nearly all carriers now charge $25 for a second checked bag, but American is the first airline to charge for even one bag. But the company is hardly alone in adding new fees recently.

Last week also brought increases from Frontier Airlines: $25 for a second checked bag; $50 for an unaccompanied minor, up from $40; overweight and oversized bags are now $75, up from $50; antlers now cost $100 to bring on board, up from $75; and (live) pets will no longer be allowed to travel in passenger cabins, however service animals are still permitted.

Ticket changes will cost you more too. JetBlue now charges $100, up from $40 for online changes, $50 via phone; United Airlines’ fee jumped from $100 to $150; US Airways matches United’s fee on domestic fares and charges $250 for changes to transatlantic and transpacific flights.

Add on charges for in-flight food and drinks, seat changes, overweight luggage, “premium” economy seats, headphones, and more, and it’s enough to make you want to chuck flying and return to the Great American Road Trip.

Oh, wait. Gas is $4 per gallon. Hmm, maybe it is cheaper to fly after all.

What’s a family to do?

Fee Reducers

Here are some tips to help lessen the pain of airline fees:

1. Research and compare airlines to see who charges the least and is the most flexible. Southwest Airlines reduced its number of allowed checked bags from three to two per passenger, but it hasn’t added or upped its fees … yet.

2. Look for hotels or other travel-related service providers that offer fee reimbursements or other incentives. Right after American announced its new $15 checked bag fee, Loews Hotels introduced its “Baggage Buy Back” program. Present your baggage fee receipt upon arrival, and your final bill will be credited. Guests are allowed up to two bags, for a maximum of $30 per occupied room, per stay. The deal is good June 15 through Sept. 1, 2008.

3. Pack light and keep luggage to carry-on only, or one checked bag per person. This will not only save you money now, but also it will mean fewer bags to carry, fewer bags to (potentially) lose and fewer items to keep track of during your vacation.

4. If you have more than one child, pack all their clothes and items into one suitcase, rather than trying to keep them divided. Yes, this could be risky if the bag gets misplaced, so as back-up be sure to pack a change of clothes for each child in one of your carry-on bags.

5. Make sure your carry-on bag is within the legal carry-on limits so you don’t get caught having to check it at the gate. While airlines haven’t yet figured out how to charge for these bags, you can bet they’ll probably come up with a method soon.

6. Read the rules about seat assignments before you purchase tickets at an online travel site. Some airlines charge a fee to change seat assignments if you didn’t purchase from the carrier directly. Often, you can make the change for free if you do so online. If you call an airline agent, you’ll likely get charged.

7. For food, bring a carry-on sized backpack filled with snacks for the family. Be sure you don’t have liquids, as they’ll be tossed when you go through security. To save money on beverages, bring empty bottles and fill them from water fountains after you’ve gone through security. Nonalcoholic beverages remain complimentary on most carriers.

Note: Some international airports do not allow passengers to carry any liquids onto the plane, even if they’ve been purchased after going through security. I learned this during my recent flight from Buenos Aires, where your carry-on bags are checked for liquids after you’ve had your boarding pass scanned but before you’re allowed to walk down the jetway to the plane.

8. Avoid change fees: Make your plans and stick to them. For a family of four, an itinerary change can add $600 to your vacation budget. If an emergency happens, talk to an agent; there may be exceptions to the rule. If not, plead your case and ask for a discount. All an agent can say is no. But it’s worth a try.

Themes: Family Travel

User Comments

checked bag fees I usually fly with only a carryon, but coming home I have to check the bag of (stuff, junk) goodies I acquired during my visit. I'll have to remember the extra fees when I think I need to own more stuff! Thanks for the tip.

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