How to Avoid Paying Airline Fees

We should be used to airline fees by now but being ‘used to’ doesn’t mean we want to pay them. So allow me to offer up some simple strategies on avoiding fees whenever possible.

And please check out the short-but-useful video at the end.

LISTEN: Travel expert Rick Seaney avoids all fees. Usually.

Avoid Paying Airline Fees

Sure, there are some airline fees you may actually want to pay for, but if you’re a total cheapskate – and in my book, that’s a compliment – do not pay these fees.

1. Phone fees

Do not even think about calling an airline reservation line and ordering up your plane tickets. Two reason for this:

  1. You will pay a phone fee, often from $25 to $35.
  2. By calling only one airline, you cannot compare fares, and that could cost you more than any fee.

Avoid phone fees: Don’t call, go online. Or pick up the phone to call a friend to help you do this.

2. Baggage fees

The vast majority of airlines around the world charge baggage fees. Here’s how it works on U.S. airlines:

  • Checked-bags: Only Southwest and JetBlue give you checked-bags for free, and JetBlue has indicated it will drop this perk sometime in 2015. Most airlines charge $25 one-way for a first checked-bag.
  • Carry-on bags: Most U.S. airlines allow carry-on bags on planes at no charge with three exceptions: Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit. But even these discount airlines allow free carry-ons if they are small enough to fit under the seat in front of you.

Avoid bag fees: Pack light. You can do this. I used a carry-on bag on a ten day trip to Europe. So did my wife.

3. Change fees

Many, if not most airlines around the  world charge you a fee for changing a reservation – even if it’s the simple act of changing a name on a reservation or switching a flight to the next day or next hour. What to know about change fees on U.S. airlines:

Cost of change fee: Up to $200 on domestic flights and twice that for international travel.

  • No change fee: Southwest.
  • Airlines with change fees: All the others.

Avoid change fees: In the U.S. and some other countries, you have a government-mandated 24 hour grace period in which to make changes without being penalized. Other than that, be absolutely certain of your travel dates before you  book as well as details like the proper name to put on a reservation (and make sure of dates/information for everyone else in your travel party).

4. Food fees

Can you really fill up on a 0.4 ounce bag of mini-pretzels? I sure can’t. The alternative for coach passengers on most airlines is to pay as much as $10 for an uninspired sandwich on the plane. You can do better than that.

Avoid food fees: Bring a lunch from home. We have a bunch of tasty do-it-yourself snack and meal ideas but you probably have your own. Consider bringing a beverage, too; while you can’t carry a container filled with more than 3.4 ounces of liquid through security checkpoints, you can bring an empty bottle and fill it up at one of those convenient bottle-filling stations after you go through security.

5. Seat fees

More and more airlines are charging seat fees; on some you’ll pay more for a large seat or one situated up front, while others charge for aisles and windows. Some airlines  such as Spirit charge for almost every seat.

Avoid seat fees: Keep returning to ‘seat selection’ to try to improve your seat position (or to find enough seats together); this is a must at the start of the 24-hours-before-departure window. You can also try politely requesting a seat change from the gate agent, or as a last resort, see if fellow passengers will swap seats with you. On an airline such as Spirit, you will get a randomly generated seat for free when you check in but if you are traveling with someone, talk to the gate agent and hope for the best.

VIDEO: How to avoid paying airline fees.


Updated: June 10, 2015