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6 clever tricks to save on flights

Airline profits are up, their prices are up, their fees are up. And that can get a traveler down. Here's how to fight back.

By Stacy Johnson Jul 26, 2011 10:50AM

This post comes from Jason Steele at partner site Money Talks News.


High oil prices and a tough economy mean that airlines are under increased pressure to squeeze every dollar out of their customers -- and it's working, according to Reuters. "Airlines are seen mostly profitable for the second quarter," the news service reported recently.

Fortunately, you can fight back with some clever tricks that are proven to get more from your vacation dollar:

Price airline tickets individually. When you're traveling as a group or even as a couple, airlines will always quote the highest price available to all travelers -- even if a lower fare is available to one or more travelers in your group. So here's what you do: When searching an airline's website for fares, specify a single traveler first. Once you find the best fare, search again for your entire group. If the price of the tickets goes up, save money by purchasing one seat at a time.
This trick also works when searching for multiple frequent-flier award seats at the lowest redemption levels.

The downside: You'll still pay the higher fare for at least one passenger in your group.

Beat the airlines at their luggage-fee game. Packing light isn't the only way to avoid airline luggage fees. Some items can always be checked for free, including a child's car seat. I've been able to check a large duffel bag with a discretely hidden smaller bag underneath an upside-down child's seat. Upon check-in, I merely inform the airline's agent that I'm checking a child-safety device, and I open the zipper to reveal the car seat.
Another trick is to check excess carry-on luggage at the gate. Almost all airlines now offer to gate-check luggage -- usually at no charge.

The downside: Neither trick is foolproof. You can still get busted by an eagle-eyed agent, but you have little to lose for trying. Post continues after video.

The "hidden city"trick. The New York Times recently exposed a little-known secret: Airlines love to gouge passengers on routes to their hubs, yet they'll offer lower fares on the same flight that connects to another city. Savvy passengers can book the lower fare and simply depart the airport at the hub.


The downside: Actually, there are three downsides. First, you can't check luggage to an intermediate point, so you can only carry on. Second, you must book these itineraries as one-way tickets, since the airlines will cancel any other flights after you miss one. Third, although this trick is perfectly legal, it still violates the rules of most airlines, with the notable exception of Southwest. You'll only get caught if you do it repeatedly, and while theoretically the penalty can be severe -- not ever flying on that airline again -- it's more likely to be the suspension of your frequent-flier account. Not adding your account number reduces this chance.

Skip seat fees. Many airlines charge you to reserve a seat in advance. Rather than pay an extra $10 to $15, I check in online exactly 24 hours in advance. By reserving a seat for free at the earliest possible moment, I might not sit in the front, but I beat out most other passengers and avoid receiving a middle seat in the back of the plane.

The downside: If you don't have access to a computer at the right time the day before your flight, you can miss out on this window (literally) of opportunity.

Get an empty middle seat. When traveling as a couple on an aircraft with three-across seating, always book an aisle and a window seat -- leaving the middle seat empty between you two. Since middle seats are typically the last ones taken, you could have the entire row to yourself. You can improve your chances by selecting seats closer to the rear of the plane. If someone is assigned the middle seat, simply offer them the aisle or window.

The downside: At worst, you may be sitting farther back than you would have preferred.

Speed through security with any elite card. Travelers who hold elite status in frequent-flier programs are permitted to bypass the line before the TSA checkpoint. At airports like Denver's, passengers must show a card indicating elite status from any airline -- but the card's information isn't matched against their tickets. In Denver, I have used a card from British Midlands airlines, a carrier that doesn't even offer service there.

The downside: There's little consistency in the rules at different airports. Until you know that your elite card will work in a particular city, you still need to arrive early enough to account for possible rejection.

The airline industry employs plenty of people who work tirelessly to find new ways to charge passengers more for the same journey, so don't be ashamed to fight back with your own ingenuity. There is no doubt that these tricks are sneaky, but it was the airlines who created this world and we're entitled to work around it.

More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Sep 22, 2011 1:34PM

I am on a fixed income and have learned to pare down my belongings, and as time goes on and my travel has increased the past few years (my daughter gets more points than she can use) I am getting better at it.  If you're visiting a friend or family member, pack enough for three days max, then do small loads of laundry at their home.  My neck and back problems already had me limiting baggage.  Trip this month was with a 19-inch carry-on and a large purse.  I use the 7-day medicine holders rather than take pill bottles with me, little round containers with screw-on lids hold my hair gel, sunblock, etc.  I use the shampoo and conditioner that my daughter or friend uses ... and if I am in a hotel, they always have the basic extras for free.  (If I want all the comforts of home, I can stay home!)  I carry one paperback book in my hand to make the flight fly by ... and protect me from chatty seatmates should I choose to seek solitude.  Nice thing about small planes is that you either get a window seat alone or window and aisle seat on the two-seat side.   The $50 round-trip baggage fee I would have been charged instead paid all but $5 of my 12-day parking fee as I flew out of a different airport (Fargo, ND) because of the airline involved (my daughter had stepped aside on one business flight and had a $300 voucher).

Sep 22, 2011 9:17AM
Well reading that took 5 minutes  of my life I'll never get back. Hmmm lets lie about what we are doing. Hide things in a bag so they won't see them, try book a seat that we won't use and let the airline take the hit. NICE advice MSN hope the writer get the next TSA strip search for holding all of us up when they get caught.
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