6/24/2011 11:42 AM ET|
How to beat pesky airline fees
Carriers can hit you with unexpected charges that significantly increase the cost of a flight ticket. Fortunately, there are ways to get around these fees.
Once upon a time, airlines advertised their full prices, making it easy to choose among different carriers.
Today, airlines advertise low prices upfront and then stick you with fees or back-end charges you might not have expected. Predicting the cost of an airline ticket requires a calculator and a magnifying glass to read all the fine print. Even then, you may be in for some unpleasant surprises.
Airlines raked in $3.4 billion in baggage fees alone last year, a revenue source that's largely responsible for turning the industry's red ink to black. More fees are coming -- Spirit Airlines just announced a $5 fee to print a boarding pass, for example -- as carriers continue to "unbundle" the flying experience and figure out more ways to profit from services that used to be free.
"Airlines are squeezing every last dollar from every last customer on every last flight," said Tim Winship, the publisher of FrequentFlier.com.
Here are some pesky airline fees to watch out for, and how you can get around them:
Travelers know by now that most major airlines charge to check luggage, and the typical fee is around $25 each way for the first bag and $35 for the second. (The exceptions are Southwest, which allows two free checked bags, and JetBlue, which allows one.)
What travel customers may not know is that a bag that is a single pound over the 50-pound weight limit can trigger up to $100 in additional fees -- one way. An oversize item can cost a breathtaking $300 to check one way.
The airlines have "all pretty much gotten in line on the $25 fee" for the first checked bag, Winship said. "The other fees don't get as much attention, so the airlines feel comfortable going to town on them, knowing they're not getting called on it."
And then there's Spirit Airlines, the only carrier (so far) that charges for carry-ons as well as checked bags. Spirit's fees for carry-ons range from $20 for members of its fare club to $45 at the gate, versus $18 to $38 for the first piece of checked luggage.
How to cope: Current reservation systems don't allow you to add in the varying costs of checking baggage so you can get an apples-to-apples comparison on how much flights actually cost. Instead, you can download an updated guide to airline fees at SmarterTravel. Refer to it before booking your travel.
Award ticket fees
You joined your airline frequent-flier program to earn free flights, right? Good luck with that.
Airlines are starting to lard fees onto award tickets. You'll often face a $25 to $35 "booking fee" if you need to talk to a representative on the phone. And that's something you often must do because navigating the airlines' award redemption system can be so complicated and because calling a rep is sometimes the only way to get the flight you want, Winship said.
Changing or canceling an award ticket can trigger fees up to $150, while some airlines impose a $50 to $100 fee for a "last-minute" award booking -- generally any reservation made within three weeks of the flight.
Many airlines now also charge a cash "co-pay" if you want to use award miles to upgrade a coach ticket to first class. American Airlines, for example, charges $50 plus miles each way for a domestic upgrade and up to $350 each way for an international upgrade.
"That can cost you $700 for a round trip," Winship said. "You're talking about significant money."
The fees vary based on the cost of the ticket, with cheaper tickets triggering higher fees.
Another fee to watch for: US Airways charges $25 to $50 simply to issue an award ticket. It's so far the only domestic carrier to do that, and Winship finds the fee "an outrage."
How to cope: If you have to use a phone rep to book an award flight, ask for the fee to be waived. The rep may not cooperate, but it's worth asking. The other fees are harder to circumvent. You can avoid the cash co-pay for upgrades by redeeming miles for a first-class ticket, but that assumes you have enough miles and want to deploy them this way.
Charging extra for fuel hasn't really caught on yet among U.S. airlines, which instead have been raising fares or imposing "peak travel" surcharges. But foreign airlines have embraced these sometimes-spectacular fees. Where you'll really get stung is in trying to book trips on these airlines using frequent-flier miles.
British Airways, for example, recently levied a $346 fuel surcharge on economy-class roundtrip tickets from Los Angeles to London; a first-class seat would trigger a $592 surcharge. These fees are embedded in the tickets' cost when you pay cash, so the $858 British Airways charges for the flight, including the surcharge, is about the same as the $889 Delta charges for the same route. But you still have to pay the surcharge, even when you're using miles to schedule an award flight.
With all the surcharges, taxes and booking fees added in, the economy flier would pay $567 in fees, taxes and surcharges for the British Airways flight, while first-class fliers would pay more than $1,400 for an award ticket -- in addition to the miles they cashed in.
These costs "seriously undermine the value of the frequent-flier miles that you've earned," Winship said. "The whole value proposition is upended when you have to factor in all this cash you have to pay."
How to cope: Consider using your miles on a foreign carrier to book a seat with one of the airline's U.S. partners that charges far less cash to book award flights. You can use British Airways miles to book American Airlines tickets to South America or Cathay Pacific Airways tickets to Hong Kong, for example. The other foreign airlines that charge significant fuel surcharges -- Air Canada, Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic and All Nippon Airways -- also have U.S. partners that don't.
Seat selection fees
Most U.S. airlines charge extra if you want a good seat, and more will follow, Winship predicted. About a third charge if you want any say in selecting your seat, while several levy fees for "premium" seats with more space.
"In the past, it was first come, first serve, so if you were quick enough and savvy enough to book an exit row seat, it was yours for no extra fee," Winship explained. "Now airlines are seeing (seat selection) as yet another source of extra revenue."
What's holding the other airlines back isn't a lack of will to charge, Winship said, but older reservation systems that don't allow them to charge customers for selecting seats. Eventual upgrades will change that.
How to cope: Again, download SmarterTravel's handy fee-comparison sheet, and refer to it before you book a flight. It may be worth paying extra: Sometimes premium seats come with priority boarding, which can be handy if you want to find precious overhead bin space for your carry-on, and United's package of perks includes access to a shorter security line at many airports.
Liz Weston is the Web's most-read personal-finance writer. She is the author of several books, most recently "The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy" (find it on Bing). Weston's award-winning columns appear every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. Join the conversation and send in your financial questions on Liz Weston's Facebook fan page.
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We learned the hard way through Spirit Airlines - thinking we were getting a good deal on our tickets until all the "baggage fees" were added - we realized we should have just gone thru Southwest Airlines! Travelers Beware of Spirit Airlines - plus when you call their customer service - they dont speak English, and you get to speak to "PEGGY"
Avoid airline fees by: Don't fly. Drive or take a bus or train where possible.
If you have no other choice and must fly: Ship your luggage in advance via Fed Ex, UPS, or some land carrier to your destination or request hold for pick up at their terminal.
Carry only a minimum of necessities in a 'fanny pack' and use disposable shavers, shaving cream, tooth brush and paste, mouth wash, etc. as you travel. These items are available in most hotel and motels as well as major drug stores and grocery stores for a very reasonable price. If you have a lengthy lay over in an airport somewhere instead of eating in the airport establishments with poor food and even poorer service and outrageous prices consider ordering carry out pizza or chicken or Asian fare for delivery to a specific airline gate. The trick with that is trying to find a local telephone directory to locate a vendor who delivers. LOL I have also been known to carry a supply of munchies like crackers, cookies, nuts, and other assorted goodies in a plastic grocery bag. They may not allow that any longer though due to their heightened security and it is also a way to force you to buy their overpriced junk on the planes.
In the 60s and early 70s flying was a real joy but starting with the fuel crisis in the 70s the airlines gradually made it less and less attractive as they cut more amenities and made the seats smaller and closer together. Then when all of this security crap hit the fan and fuel costs became an issue air travel simply became non-doable for me except in the direst of emergencies or for extreme distances. I also have begun to lose faith in the dilapidated air traffic control system we have as well as in the quality of maintenance on passenger aircraft today. So with rickety aircraft flying in poorly controlled airspace with terrible service, lousy product, ill tempered employees, and prices going out through the roof flying is now a form of self abuse as I see it. LOL
I agree with John Miller. When I started reading the article, I was expecting to read on how to avoid those pesky fees. Instead I read about all the fees and hated the airlines even more. If I have to go local and Canada, I drive. If I must fly, I try not to have too many bags for all the fees that are associated with them. I was reading the post from Thomas from SJ. You say, we get what we pay for, not true. We don't pay for delays, cancellations, stranded on the runway, backed up toilet facilities, rude and condescending TSA agents, 1 packet of pretzels (oh how I hate those darn things), and the list goes on.
Here's my tkae on things. If the airline can charge me for changing or cancelling my flight, why can't I charge them for chnaging or cancelling my flight? Or flight delays, or spending my vacation on the runway, instead of at my indended destination.
I agree with one othe posts here, take your base fare, add an average fee, that is, 2 checked bags, 911 fee etc...and just post one fare. We won't feel cheated and tricked. And everyone should pay these fees, whether you check bags or not. That way, in the future if by some miracle of all miracles, you check a bag in, you wouldn't have to fork out the extra money for it.
Hey, let's drive!
Thanks for the support! hopefully this will make it to twitter etc.
AS WE HAVE ALL SAID MANY TIMES BEFORE -- K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple S.......
That is what any consumer wants!! That is why the Airlines, Oil companies, Service companies, Etc need to understand this simple philosophy!
I found a way to beat those pesky fees, I stopped flying. It's worked like a charm. I now only go by train or bus and btw, Greyhound has improved a great deal from the old days - their seats are incredibly comfortable, they have wifi, electrical outlets and they're clean, not like it used to be.
I started flying 30 years ago, it was expensive but flying was a treat and it was enjoyable, you were catered to. Nowadays it's a sick nightmare... seats that keep getting smaller, no complimentary beverages, fascist security, hidden fees, ridiculously long lines, 3 hour waits on the runway... I'm done. I haven't flown in a couple of years and I plan to never fly again - and all that extra green is now in my pocket.
All flyers should come up with charging airlines some fees. Start charging a fee for being a loyal customer, allowing agents to choose your seat, a fee for making you wait, a fee for a cancelled or delayed flight, a fee for being rude to you (sware jar), and any other inconveniences you experience.
Seems this articles title was misleading. "How to beat pesky airline fees." It had one tip that I saw and that was ask to have the fee waived.
Liz Weston writes some good articles and this was ok, just misleading in the title.
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