Not all fees are bad; I’ve recommended some fees depending on the type of flyer you are. But some should be avoided at all costs, like these four.
LISTEN: Rick Seaney with more ways to save on fees.
1. Inflated bag fee
Spirit Airlines carry-on baggage fee starts at $35 if paid online when you buy your ticket, but balloons to $100 if paid at the gate. Frontier’s and Allegiant’s carry-on fees also jump at the gate, to $50.
What to do instead: Pay the fee at the first opportunity (typically online during booking). Or fly the other U.S. airlines which don’t charge for carry-ons.
2. The steep change fee
Regular economy passengers will pay $200 to changes tickets on American, Delta, United and US Airways. You can avoid it if you act fast or plan ahead.
What to do instead:
- Consider buying refundable tickets: If your dates are truly up-in-the-air this could be helpful but be warned that such tickets are much more expensive than regular fares.
- Consider travel insurance: It won’t necessarily be cheap but may be worth it if it covers what you need it to cover. Read the fine print.
- Consider Southwest: It remains the only U.S. airline (that we know of) with a “no change fee” policy.
- Consider the 24-hour rule: Department of Transportation “passenger protections” give you 24 hours to change your mind about your airline ticket purchase. Most carriers allow you to cancel the purchase and get a refund, but American’s approach allows shoppers the right to reserve a seat for 24 hours without having to pay for it.
3. The overweight bag fee
If a carry-on weighs too much, it may be taken from you and you could be charged a regular checked-bag fee (though that’s rare). If a checked-bag is too heavy, the penalty is worse; Delta for example charges overweight fees of $100 to $200 each-way. Don’t look for any generosity on international travel, either; on some of those flights, United charges an overweight fee of $400.
What to do instead: Weigh your bag before you travel. Most U.S. airlines allow 50 pounds per checked-bag but some low-cost carriers are stingier. Know the baggage allowance and pack accordingly.
4. The old-fashioned phone fee
In this day and age, do I really have to tell you not to make airline reservations by phone? For one thing, it prevents you from comparing fares so you may pay too much. Plus most airlines charge a $20 to $25 phone fee.
What to do instead: Go online – or get someone to go online for you.