How to Get Around the Hidden Fees of Most Airlines

It’s cheaper to fly than it used to be. Adjusted for inflation, a Los Angeles to Kansas City ticket was worth $ 575 in 1955 , compared to a couple hundred dollars today. Airfare has become more affordable these days, but almost everything costs extra . Here’s how to get around these fees, especially the hidden ones.

Avoid baggage fees with smart packaging and airline credit cards

If I think about it, I can remember when the baggage check was free. Almost all airlines these days charge an additional fee if you check in your bag instead of just taking it with you on your flight.

TripAdvisor has a comprehensive list of baggage fees charged by airlines , with prices typically ranging from $ 25 to $ 75 for the first bag. For example, Delta, United and Virgin charge $ 25 for the first checked bag on domestic flights. Discount airlines like Spirit usually charge more. Checked baggage fees start at $ 30 and increase based on weight. Southwest Airlines is one of the few that offer free checked-in baggage (though the third costs $ 75).

Some airlines will waive this rule if you have a co-branded credit card. For example, if you have a United Explorer Card or Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage Card , your first checked baggage will be free. If you have a credit card with an airline logo, check your terms and conditions to see if they include this bonus. If you don’t have a card and travel frequently with an airline, it might be worth applying.

Of course, the most obvious way to get around this fee is to not check in your luggage at all and pack everything into one carry-on baggage. Squirting roll is one of my favorite ways to do this. You collect your clothes in one compact and convenient roll, and if you do it right, you will also avoid wrinkles.

There are tons of tips and tricks on how to fit everything into one package . However, this has several disadvantages. First, there isn’t much room for the top basket. You’ve probably been on a flight where the luggage compartments are full and passengers are forced to check their luggage whether they like it or not. If you are one of the last to board, your carry-on baggage can be checked free of charge, which would be great if you were planning to check it anyway. However, if you don’t want the hassle of waiting for your baggage upon landing, you’re out of luck. So for many travelers, this situation can be unpleasant.

Second, depending on the airline, this method can be pointless because many of them charge for carry-on luggage.

Pay early or pay for the light package to lower your carry-on commission

Spirit Airlines are known for their notoriously low prices (and terrible customer service attitudes , but that’s another story), but they make up for their big discounts in the commissions they pass on to you.

While personal items such as a wallet or laptop bag are free, larger carry-on luggage will set you back $ 25-100, depending on how early you pay. See how the rate changes when you pay for your carry-on bag when booking versus checking in (or worse, at the gate):

Pay in advance and you will at least reduce the amount you pay. If you pay when booking, you will pay $ 65 less than last minute. $ 35 still sounds high for carry-on luggage, but be warned: this is why Spirit flights are cheap.

Prices also drop if you are a member of their $ 9 fare club , which actually costs around $ 60 the first year. The Fare Club also gives you access to cheaper flights, but you probably shouldn’t join just to save on fees because the fees aren’t even waived – they’re just cheaper.

If you are a very lightweight packer, you can try to fit everything into your personal item. I fly Spirit when I visit my parents in Texas. I have clothes and toiletries, so I just put my laptop and small purse in my backpack and it counts as my personal item. Obviously this isn’t possible for everyone, but it’s an easy way to get around the board.

Skip seat fees while waiting for selection

Yes, some airlines even charge for the luxury of seat selection. It doesn’t even have to be a fancy place in First Class. Spirit costs between $ 1 and $ 50, depending on the route. Allegiant charges up to $ 80 for some flights. And, of course, most airlines charge a small fee for premium seats in front of the wings or in the aisles. Airfarewatchdog has a long list of seat reservation fees .

Fortunately or not, to get the best seats, you can skip the preselection altogether. Travel writer (and Lifehacker alumnus) Erica Ho explains how it works :

… front seats are usually reserved until the very last minute. Gate agents will dip into this bucket to seat passengers if there are no other options on the plane. They can’t charge you for something you didn’t “want.” This is where the magic of seat rejection comes into play: when people register, they simply take up whatever space is left. If you’re lucky, the agent at the gate will jump out of the usual places and push you forward.

Ho explains this from his own experience. As she put it off, the seats got better. This happened to me too, but it backfired as well – I got a very bad place for not having booked in advance. As Ho points out, this usually works best when your options are already dire and you can’t do anything worse.

If you are a member of an airline reward program, you may be able to get a better seat for yourself, but not for a companion. The Points Guy invites you to call the airline and ask them to transfer your companion to your preferred seat. It never hurts to ask .

Use your phone as a boarding pass to avoid paying for printing

Most airlines don’t charge you for this, so it’s always nice when some do. Spirit charges you $ 10 to print each boarding pass with an agent at the entrance, so be sure to do it online or at their kiosks.

Similarly, Ryanair requires passengers to check in online . If you check in at the airport, it will cost you € 45 ($ 51) just to check in and another € 15 ($ 17) to print your boarding pass. You can (and should) simply download their app , which allows you to register with your phone for free. This is not just limited to airline discounts – you will save time and money simply by using your phone to check in for your flight and as your boarding pass.

Pay in advance and find coupons to save on Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is not exactly a hidden fee, but it can be circumvented if planned appropriately. Most major carriers offer Wi-Fi on many, if not all, flights, and fees range from $ 5 to $ 50 depending on how long you use it and how you use it. Here is a list of Wi-Fi costs by carrier.

Our very own Adam Duchis says one of his favorite tricks to pay less for Wi-Fi is to pretend your laptop is a phone. Most browsers allow you to change your user agent so that you can identify yourself as a mobile device. This is for developers to test, but you can also use this option to get cheaper in-flight Wi-Fi. Change your user agent, get a lower mobile price, then come back after payment.

If this is too secret for you, you can still save money by paying in advance . Gogo offers several tickets that are cheaper if you buy them before your flight. For example, you can purchase a full-day pass for $ 16, and this is usually much cheaper than buying an airplane pass.

What’s more, you can find coupon codes. For example, sites likeRetailMeNot will host promotions and vouchers for Gogo. If you’re a T-Mobile customer, you can get an hour of free Wi-Fi . In fact, some apps can run for free even if you don’t pay for Wi-Fi. Good or bad, it’s worth trying before spending your money.

You may have to pay extra for amenities these days, but the good news is that it’s cheaper to fly than ever . And with a little preparation, you can skip many of the additional fees.


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