HOW TO AVOID SNEAKY AIRLINE FEES
by Eileen Ambrose | AARP | April 12, 2017
The government is looking at requiring airlines to refund baggage fees if your luggage shows up late. It’s a rare victory for travelers, but not a sign that fees — which bring in billions of dollars yearly to airlines — are going the way of paper tickets. If anything, airlines have gotten more creative at tacking on charges for perks that were once free — like choosing your seat.
Fees vary by airline. Ultra low-fare airlines, for instance, are more likely to charge additional fees to make up for the cost of those discounted tickets.
“They charge for everything,” says Rick Seaney, CEO and cofounder of FareCompare.com. “The ticket price is ridiculously low. And if you fly naked and don’t eat, you’re in good shape.”
You don’t have to go that far to avoid add-ons. Here are some common fees on domestic flights and ways you can bypass them — or at least lessen their impact.
Many airlines charge to check luggage, often starting at $25 for the first bag and quickly escalating. For instance, the fee for three or more bags on United and Delta is $150 each, while four or more bags on American costs $200 each.
What to do: If packing light isn’t possible, your baggage fees may be waived if you buy the ticket using the airline’s branded credit card. Or fly Southwest Airlines, which doesn’t charge for the first two checked bags. And when flying ultralow-fare airlines Spirit or Allegiant, baggage fees will be lower if you pay them at the time of booking rather than later at the airport. Some travelers also avoid this fee by checking a bag at the gate, which is often — but not always — free, Seaney says.
You’ll pay extra for oversized or overweight luggage. You might even owe two fees on United and JetBlue if your bag is too big and too heavy. Oversized fees often run $75 to $200. Overweight bags cost $75 to $100, but can climb to $200 for each bag over 70 pounds on American, United and Delta.
What to do: Make sure your bag isn’t bigger than the 62 inches allowed by many airlines, and weigh luggage before going to the airport to stay within the 50-pound limit. Or, mail your luggage ahead of time to your destination. Shipping a 51-pound bag from Chicago to New York via FedEx costs as little as $41.
Most airlines charge extra to switch a nonrefundable ticket. Delta, United and American slap travelers with the steepest fee — $200 to change a domestic flight days before departure.
You’ll pay similar fees to cancel a flight as you would to change it.
– What to do:
If you must cancel, do so early. Federal regulations require airlines operating in the United States to refund your money if you cancel a reservation within the first 24 hours — provided you booked seven or more days before the flight.
What to do:
It’s usually not worthwhile buying refundable tickets because they can be two to three times more expensive than nonrefundable fares, says George Hobica, founder of AirfareWatchdog.com. Look for flexible airlines if your plans are iffy. Southwest doesn’t charge a change fee, giving a credit for a future flight instead. Alaska Airlines has no fee if you make a change more than 60 days before departure. And for $59, Frontier offers “The Works,” a package of perks that includes a waiver of change fees.