Money Matters - Avoiding Airline Fees

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Wednesday, June 06, 2012

If you’re planning on flying the friendly skies this summer, but don’t want to break the bank, you need to be aware how to avoid various fees.

Alicia Jao with U.S. News and World Report says baggage fees in the U.S. generate about $3.4 billion dollars a year for the airlines. Cancellation and change fees provide about $2.4 billion a year for them.

1. Fly Southwest or Jet Blue. At some point AirTran Airlines will turn into Southwest Airlines in Wichita since Southwest bought the struggling airline. Unlike many other airlines, Southwest and Jet Blue still offer free carry on luggage and also waive the baggage fee for the first checked bag. In fact, with Southwest you get the second checked bag free as well.

2. Measure and weigh your bags. Buy one of those portable bag scales that fit in your hand and make sure your checked bag is 50 pounds or lighter. The overweight bag fees can be quite high. Also if your bag is more than 62 linear inches (length+width+ height) you'll likely be charged a fee.

3. Book you tickets online. In most cases booking online will help you avoid phone booking fees which can run from $15 to $45.

4. Be certain about your travel plans. Refundable tickets are significantly more expensive. If you buy non-refundable tickets and have to make a change it could cost you $75 to $175. Southwest is the only major airline to not charge for a ticket change.

5. Book your tickets directly through the airline. Surprisingly, some airlines charge extra if you need to make a change on a ticket that was purchased through a third party. United, Frontier and Delta have ticket change agency fees ranging from $25 to $50.

6. Make sure your carry-on items fit underneath the seat. Overhead bins fill up fast and may not always be available. At least one airline, Spirit, is going to charge $100 for a bag checked at the gate starting in November. If you're flying on one of the smaller planes that seat less than 100 people, you may not bring on board anything larger than a backpack or computer case even if that bag fits in the overhead bin or under the seat. Get a rolling backpack and cram your belongings into that.

7. Bring a good book or magazine. You can bring reading material on board separately. That way you won't be tempted to by the on board WIFI, which can cost as much as $12 for a 24-hour pass.

8. Bring your own food. You can bring your own snacks on board and avoid the inflated prices airlines charge for anything more than pretzels. You'll have to buy it after you go through security but it will still be cheaper than on the plane.

9. Bring your own neck pillow and a sweater or jacket. It can get chilly at cruising altitude. But when you bring your own items you'll avoid a few bucks that many airlines now charge for a blanket or pillow.

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