With the collapse of a few small airlines (ATA, etc.), bankruptcy of others (Frontier) and near bankruptcy of yet even more, there are less and less choices of flights available to the American domestic traveler. Combined that with the merger of some airlines (Delta and Northwest) and the rising cost of fuel, the only logical result is the inevitable increase in fares. What’s even more frustrating is that airlines have been finding ways to nickel and dime their customers for a while now, and it goes beyond just serving cookies and soda on a 5 hour flight (really, what ever happened to meals?). But not all airlines are the same, so check these things in the fine print before you book.

1. Rebooking Fees – When plans change and you need to reschedule your flight, wouldn’t you think that if you do it weeks in advance, you shouldn’t be penalized that much? The theory is that the airlines may lose out on a deal that they had already made with you, but with that much time to sell the ticket, they should be able to find someone to take your spot as long as there’s demand for that route. However, rebooking fees have just about doubled over the last few years. Southwest still lets you change flights for free (if you pay the right fares). Virgin America and Jet Blue charge around $35 – $45, which isn’t all that bad. Frontier, US Airways, United and American airlines all charge over $75, and most $100, to change a flight. On top of that, if you’ve booked a ticket through a third party site such as Orbitz, you may get charged an extra fee from them as well. This brings me to a tip: always check the airline’s website for the fare you’ve found on a third party site, which are only usually good as a searching point. (You can’t really avoid cancellation fees however. Life happens.)


2. Extra Luggage Fees – The thing about this fee is that 2 checked luggages was the norm for as long as I can remember, and now the second one is considered ‘extra’ by some airlines. If this fee were implemented last summer, I would have paid $75-$100 extra for moving to DC. “If you fly Delta, for example, and you bring one extra bag that weighs over 50 pounds, you will be charged: $25 for the extra bag and $80 for going over the weight limit. If you needed a bigger bag to carry all that gear, that’ll be another $150 for exceeding the size limit. Other airlines’ fees follow suit.” ( I didn’t realize that when you take a vacation, you’re also technically sending packages. If that’s the case, here’s tip #2: send it using Fedex Ground or UPS. Not on vacation of course (just pack light), but if you’re really going somewhere and need 2 luggages worth, just mail some stuff ahead of time. It’s a lot cheaper and you get an online tracking number. Next thing you know, the airlines might charge you for finding the luggage they lost.

3. Seat Change Fees – This is one of the most ridiculous fees I’ve seen. I recently booked a flight from DC to LA on AirTran‘s website. I was going through the normal process and clicked on the screen to select my seat. First thing I noticed on the page with the overhead view of the plane was that my seat was not selected, meaning there was no default seat. I didn’t really care too much and went on to select my seat and then noticed that they were charging me a $16 (I think) fee for getting the seat of my choice! Then I realized that they don’t want you to know what you already have in the case that if you already have a seat that you’re fine with, you won’t want to pay their change fee. I’ve also read that some airlines mark some of their economy cabin seats as premium and charge extra for those. I guess you should have seen this coming when Southwest charged that large lady an extra ticket for being fat. They might as well charge her for having an extra carry-on too. This one is new to me so I don’t know how to get out of it. I’ll see what happens on my flight to LA in June. Good thing I can sleep in the middle seat too. It’s a skill you just have to pick up.

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