How Do I Avoid the Worst Airline Fees?

How to avoid the worst airline fees? The short answer is, don’t pay them. In reality, that can be tricky unless you know these simple strategies that make avoiding fees easier. Don’t miss the fun packing video below to see one easy way to make most flights cheaper.

LISTEN: Travel expert Rick Seaney laughs in the face of fees.

How to Avoid the Worst Airline Fees

Some fees can be avoided entirely, some can be minimized. Here’s how:

1. Embedded ticket fees

There are taxes and fees embedded in every ticket including money that goes for for such things as security or an airline’s jet fuel bill (on international flights) and while you can’t escape them, there is a simple way to pay less for your overall ticket:

The reason is no single airline always has the best deal. This has been proven so if you only go to your favorite airline site, you could pay too much. Always compare airfares.

2. Change fees

Two ways to avoid these fees:

  • Fly Southwest: The only U.S. airline with no change fee (but you still have to call and cancel your flight at least ten minutes before departure).
  • Review your ticket within 24 hours: U.S. airlines (and some international airlines) allow shoppers to change or cancel a ticket within 24 hours of purchase with no cancellation fee (fees that can range from $200 to $400). If not sure of your airline’s cancellation policy, go to its website and search ‘change fee’ or look for the policy in the airline’s contract of carriage.

3. Food and drink fees

With the except of small packs of peanuts and the like, there are no meals served on many domestic flights around the world (though U.S. flights to Hawaii are an exception). What to do?

  • Bring your own lunch: It will be cheaper and chances are good it’ll be a lot tastier.
  • Bring an empty water bottle: More and more airports have water stations beyond security checkpoints, or just fill from a drinking fountain.

4. Better seat fees

The short answer is, simply don’t pay them. Another answer is:

  • Keep checking: After you make your reservation, check online to see if better selections have opened up, and keep going back especially when check-in time opens up, 24 hours before departure. If nothing’s available then, check at the airport kiosk, then check with a gate agent. You might get lucky.

5. Baggage fees

It’s easy to avoid fees of up to $50 round-trip because many airlines allow passengers to bring a carry-on bag for free (including many large carriers around the world plus smaller airlines such as Virgin America and Ryanair). So use a carry-on, except in these cases:

  • Southwest: This U.S. airline still offers passengers two checked-bags for free (but if you use a carry-on, you won’t have to worry about lost bags).
  • Allegiant, Frontier, Spirit: These U.S. discount carriers charge for all bags including carry-ons; and you should know that some charge more for carry-ons than checked-bags. However, Spirit allows small bags that fit under seats for free. See the :30 video for truly useful packing tips that will help you pack such a bag.

VIDEO: Pack more in less space with the Sit & Zip Method – it really works.


Updated: September 16, 2016