Airline Fees: The Hidden Fees (and How to Avoid Them)

Scouting out cheap airfare in the information age is as easy as a click or two. But be careful: that rock-bottom ticket might not be quite so cheap when it is time to pay for it.

That is because airlines and travel sites often wait to tack on all those hidden taxes and fees until you are ready to pay.

Here is a list of the most common airline taxes and fees. Many are unavoidable (think security taxes and fuel surcharges), but there are some you can avoid with a little advanced planning (word to the wise: do not book over the phone).

Airline Taxes: The Ones You Cannot Avoid

  • U.S. Excise Tax (aka U.S. domestic transportation tax): 7.5 percent of cost of ticket
  • Travel Facilities Tax (applies to certain flight segments to or from Alaska and Hawaii): $8.20
  • U.S. Federal Segment Fee (per-segment, inflation-adjusted fee applicable to flights within the continental U.S.): $3.70
  • Passenger Facility Charge (a maximum of four charges per itinerary applies to PFC-approved airports for facilities improvements): up to $4.50
  • 9/11 security fee: $2.50 per U.S. enplanement, not to exceed $5 one way or $10 round-trip
  • U.S. International Transportation (Arrival/Departure) Tax (applies to all flights arriving in or leaving the U.S., Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands): $16.30
  • U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Fee (applies to all flights originating abroad and landing in the U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands): $5
  • U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Fee (applies to international arrivals to the U.S., Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands): $7
  • International Taxes and Fees (Various foreign taxes, inspection fees and security surcharges typically excluding airport departure taxes): up to $349

Airfare Taxes You Can Avoid

Fear not: it could be much worse. Here are some additional fees that you can avoid paying, by making some smart decisions:

Direct Ticketing Fee (charged by the airline for booking a flight on the phone or at a ticket counter): $15 to $40, depending on the airline.

What you should do: Book online or use Southwest, which does not charge for booking on the phone.

Paper Ticket Fees (charged by the airline for providing a paper ticket): $50

What you should do: Print your own ticket or use an e-ticket on your mobile device

Change fees (charged by airline for changing your flight): $50-$250 depending on the airline.

What you should do: If you think your travel plans might need to be changed, consider flying Southwest, which does not charge a change fee.

Learn the hidden airline fees you can avoid paying

Award ticket fees (charged by airline for using award points for a flight):

  • United charges $25 for booking and $25-$75 for booking within 21 days of flight;
  • US Airways charges $25-$50 for booking, depending on where you travel and $75 for booking within 14 days of flight (Chairman’s Preferred members excluded);
  • Delta charges $150 for Award ticket redeposits or reissues (Diamond and Platinum medallions excluded), $150 for mileage upgrade (Diamond and Platinum medallions excluded), and $50 for same-day travel changes (Diamond, Platinum and Gold medallions excluded).

What you should do: Unfortunately, there is no such thing as flying free. You can save money by booking ahead of time, though.

Checked bag fees (charged by airline for checking any bags): $15-$38 for first bag, depending on airline; $20-$75 for second bag, depending on airline.

What you should do: Pack light or fly JetBlue or Southwest, which do not charge for the first bag (Southwest does not charge for the second bag, either)

Carry-on bag fees: Spirit airlines charges for carry-on bags that cannot fit under the seat. $20 per bag, each way.

What you should do: Do not fly Spirit.

Holiday surcharges (charged by airline for travel during peak holiday travel days or special events): $10-$30 depending on airline.

What you should do: Stay flexible with your travel dates. Consider flying on the day of the holiday to save money or planning a trip before or after the holiday season.

Airline Fees: What Will the Future Hold?

Our own Rick Seaney predicted even more fees to come, including:

  • Charging for soft drinks and water on domestic flights
  • Charging for infants
  • Charging for meals in coach on transoceanic flights
  • Charging for overweight carry-on bag.

Sorry, folks. Those airline fees are here to stay. Keep them in mind as you’re budgeting for your next trip.

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Published: September 9, 2011