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Need to check a bag? There’s a fee for that. Prefer an aisle seat? Be prepared to pay more. Buying an airline ticket isn’t straightforward anymore. Today there are a slew of hidden fees travelers have to pay in addition to the airfare.
“Add-on fees are becoming more and more common and are a bigger part of the cost of travel,” says Scott Keyes, founder of the website Scott’s Cheap Flights. “Twenty years ago, you didn’t have as many add-on fees.”
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Blame our tax code for the rise in airline add-on fees. Why? Airfare is subject to a 7.5 percent federal ticket excise tax, but add-on fees are not. “If you separate the payment for a checked bag or seat selection, all that money is worth 7.5 percent more,” Keyes says. “That’s how airlines benefit from unbundling.” Charging to check a bag, select seats and have a drink in-air, instead of including it in the airfare, is also a way for airlines to keep the base ticket price low. That helps them compete, since many travelers shop based on price alone.
Fees are now part of flying, but you don’t have to pay all of them. There are ways to keep your airfare close to the ticket price, including these three.
1. Baggage Fees
Prior to 2008, airlines let you check your luggage for free. American Airlines was the first major U.S. carrier to change that. Rivals quickly followed suit. While the airlines blamed high fuel costs for the new fee, they maintained it even when oil prices plummeted. Fast-forward to today and travelers are paying around $30 for the first bag and $40 or more for additional bags on most U.S. carriers. (Southwest allows two free checked bags.) The industry made $1.4 billion in baggage fees in the second quarter alone, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
How to Avoid It
Use a credit card. “The most common way people save on checked bag fees is with an airline credit card,” Keyes says. “Almost every airline credit card includes a free checked bag for you and anybody else in your party,” he says.
Pack light. If you aren’t a frequent flier and don’t have an airline credit card, packing light is another work-around. This may be difficult if you are traveling for an extended period of time but can work for short trips. Keep in mind that some airlines have begun charging for carry-on bags. For instance, both JetBlue and United don’t allow carry-on bags for their Blue Basic (JetBlue) or Basic Economy (United) fares. Ticket holders can bring a small personal item that fits under the seat only.