How to Avoid the Worst Airline Fees

Plane in Sky

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

These fees are often worth paying for

Change fees

This is probably the worst fee of all – the change fee – because it can cost as much as $200 for domestic tickets and $400 or more 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 with no cancellation fee. If you’re not about your airline’s cancellation policy, do a quick online search.

Southwest: This 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.

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 except of small packs of peanuts or pretzels or maybe a cookie, there very few meals served in coach these days. Here’s what to do.

Bring your own lunch: It will be a lot cheaper and probably a lot tastier.

Bring an empty water bottle: More and more airports have water stations beyond security; veteran travelers have learned to fill up empty bottles after they get past the checkpoint.

Seat fees

The easy way to avoid fees for better seats is, don’t pay them because you will get a seat. You just might have to settle for a middle seat. Instead, try this.

Keep checking: After you make your reservation, check online to see if a better seat has opened up (a free seat); if not, keep checking each day but your best chance is usually during check-in which starts 24 hours before departure.

Check the kiosk, see the agent: If you still can’t find a better seat, see if anything is available through the airport kiosk, or ask a gate agent. No guarantees but you might get lucky.

Bag fees

With checked-bag fees starting at $50 round-trip on many airlines, using a free carry-on bag is the way to go on many airlines. Always check our worldwide baggage fee chart before you fly. Other strategies.

Southwest: This U.S. airline still allows a free carry-on and two free checked-bags.

Allegiant, Frontier, Spirit: These U.S. discount carriers charge for all bags including carry-ons but they do allow one very small bag for free, as long as it fits under a seat. See the video at the end on how to pack a lot into a very small space.

Overweight fees

All airlines have weight limits for checked-bags and some have limits for carry-ons as well. Know how much your airline allows and weigh bags at home before you go to the airport because overweight fees can run into the hundreds of dollars. Our bag fee chart includes this information but be aware that prices and limits can change without notice.

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

Rick Seaney
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