How to Avoid the Worst Airline Fees

Published by Rick Seaney on January 21, 2020

Travel fees

Congratulations, you figured out how to get the cheapest flight possible. But what about expensive fees? These simple strategies show you how to avoid the worst airline fees.

These fees are sometimes worth paying

Change fees

Arguably the worst fee of all is the change fee because it can cost as much as $200 for domestic tickets and $450 for international flights. Three ways to avoid it:

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 and there is no cancellation fee. If you’re not familiar with your airline’s cancellation policy, do a quick online search.

Fly a no-fee airline: Southwest is only U.S. airline with no change fee, but you still have to call and cancel the flight at least ten minutes before departure. Also, it may not pay to fly Southwest simply because it has no change fee; be sure the price is right, too.

Buy a refundable ticket: You won’t pay a change fee if your plans fall apart, but this is not a good option for most of us because refundable tickets are very expensive.

Food fees

With the exception of small packs of peanuts, pretzels and maybe a cookie, there are few food freebies in economy class these days. Some alternatives:

Bring your own lunch: It will be a lot cheaper and probably tastier. If you want chips or a power bar, get it when you go to the supermarket instead of in an expensive airport shop.

Bring an empty water bottle: More and more airports have water filling stations beyond the security checkpoint; veteran travelers bring empty bottles through security then fill them up.

Seat fees

The easy way to avoid fees for better seats is, don’t pay them. You will still get a seat, but might not be that great and you and your family or traveling companions might not get to sit together. If that bothers you, or you fear getting stuck in a middle seat, here are some things you can do.

Keep checking: After you make your reservation and choose your seat (if you’re allowed to) keeping checking back to see if a better free seat has become available. Your best chance at finding one of these better seats is during check-in which starts 24 hours before departure, so be sure to look then.

Ask at the airport: If you had no luck online, see if anything is available through the airport kiosk, or ask the airline gate agent. It never hurts to ask and you might get lucky.

Bag fees

With checked-bag fees starting at $60 round-trip on many airlines, using a free carry-on bag can be your best option (and the option we always recommend). But if you feel you must bring a big checked-bag, look at the fees on our worldwide baggage fee chart before you fly. And here are some cost-cutting strategies.

Fly a free bag airline: Hello, Southwest! This U.S. airline still allows each passenger a carry-on and two checked-bags for free.

Fly a free very small bag airline: U.S. discount carriers like Spirit and Froniter charge for all bags including carry-ons but do allow one very small bag for free, if it fits under a seat.

Overweight fees

Overweight bag fees can run as high as hundreds of dollars, and all airlines have weight limits for checked-bags (generally between 40 and 50 lbs). Find out how much your airline allows, then weigh your bag(s) before you go to the airport. Be aware that overweight allowances and fees can change without notice.

VIDEO: Pack more with the Sit & Zip Method – perfect or carry-ons or any bag.

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