The golden days of flying the friendly skies are over. Free upgrades, flexible frequent flier reward programs, and full-service meals have become all to infrequent. This summer, as holidaymakers plan and book air travel for their summer vacation, they’ll be running into a slew of fees that are already a point of contention between passengers and airlines. Keep the following fees in mind as you plan and book your summer travel to avoid any ugly surprises on your trip budget’s bottom line.
Talk Travel in the Forums: Which flying fees irk you and which do you manage to tolerate?
1. Fees for booking over the phone.
There’s an easy way to wean travelers off the comfort of booking flights through a live ticket agent. Charge them extra for the convenience, and change your rules often enough that your personnel aren’t always sure of them in the first place. In April, Delta increased the cost of booking directly with a Delta representative from $20 to $25. Also, Delta SkyMile holders booking a flight on a partnering airline over the phone are now charged a $25 handling fee.
The bottom line: If you need to call an airline for more information or to work out a tricky itinerary, always ask if the flights your agent recommends can be booked online. If you are registered in an airline’s frequent flier program, research the requirements for its platinum program. Many fees can be avoided if you gain preferred status.
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Talk travel: “The information given to me by four different agents was totally erroneous and designed to encourage phone bookings with vastly inflated added charges.” – Lee (more from the Forums)
2. Second Bags and Oversize Luggage.
Need extra motivation to slim down your packing? That extra bag (or that extra big bag) will cost you. Several airlines in the U.S. now charge passengers $25 each way for checking a second piece of luggage. Jet Blue will begin charging travelers $20 to check a second bag starting June 1. Don’t pack your one “freebie” suitcase to the brim either; if its weight nudges above 50 pounds, many airlines will charge you an oversize baggage fee. You’ll be charged $50 on Continental, US Airways, Northwest, and American Airlines for bags between 51lbs and 70lbs; for that same weight range Delta charges $80.
The bottom line: Packing light can save you money and time. By ruthlessly downsizing your usual load, you may find you can even get everything into a single carry-on, which guarantees that your luggage will arrive when you do. Chronic overpackers should invest in space-saving packing devices like the packing cubes Forums poster evecolorado recommends here.
Talk travel: “I liken the machinations I went through in order to get all the clothes and shoes in 20″ to doing a senior sudoku and Rubik’s cube at the same time. Quite challenging but still a game…” – llamalady (more from the Forums)
3. Seat “Upgrades” in Coach
The roomy emergency row seats were the first coach seats awarded special status (and special pricetags). Now airlines have gone so far as to identify other select seats that travelers are willing to pay extra for, including seats in the first few rows, aisle seats, and window seats. For instance, US Airway’s Choice Seats program asks travelers to opt for “premium” seats 24 hours before their scheduled flight (up to 90 minutes before the flight’s scheduled departure) for an added fee starting at $5. These seat selections make up roughly 8% of coach’s total capacity. Do you value leg room above all else? Jet Blue’s Even More Legroom seating, offered on select routes and planes, offers 4 more inches of space for charges running from $10-20 each way.
The bottom line: This is a good thing for last-minute ticket purchasers who might otherwise be relegated to coach’s remaining dregs, but planners who typically grab these better seats well in advance might resent having to ante up. Being an elite member of the airline’s loyalty program helps. On US Airways, for instance, Dividend Miles Preferred members do not pay an additional fee and can grab one of these choice seats right when they book their flight.
Talk travel: “We flew JetBlue last week and the first 3 or 4 rows were EMPTY! I guess people do not want to be nickeled and dimed for the front seats – also on the way back the flight attendant made people move up there to balance the plane. That was what they said – not me – go figure?” – flycatcher06
4. Fees, Taxes, and the Fine Print
When comparing the price quotes of flights on various sites, you may occasionally notice that some sites offer quotes that are noticeably lower than the rest. Often the price quote is the base fare before the taxes and fees that other sites include in their quotes up front. These fees can vary widely; airport charges, known as Passenger Facility Charges, can vary from $3-$18. Security fees, the federal segment fee, the Travel Facilities Tax, and international fees can all also significantly affect your final cost.
The bottom line: Keep those surcharges in check. When reviewing flight options, keep in mind that the cheapest option might be to purchase the flight directly from the airline. Some travel search engines add a non-refundable service fee to their fare offerings.
Talk travel: “The initial price for the flights I’d like to get for myself looked good; but after fees and taxes were added on, it turned out to be not as good a deal as on the airline’s own site.” – simpsonc510 (more from the Forums)
5. Standby Fees
A free convenience that many travelers once took for granted, flying standby, now carries a cost on several major airlines. Many airlines have recently rolled out new “confirmed” standby programs that allow travelers to opt for an earlier (or later) flight without the uncertainty and inconvenience of waiting at the airport. Peace of mind and a confirmed seat are the upside for travelers in a jam, but if you happen to be at the gate of the flight prior to yours already, the decision to pay a surplus fee to board a plane with empty seats might seem unfair. American Airlines now offers a same-day confirmed flight change at the cost of $25, but travelers can also opt to test their luck the old-fashioned way without paying the fee. United has not added fees for standby. Both Northwest and Delta’s new policies deny customers traveling on non-refundable tickets the option to go standby for free.
The bottom line: There are exceptions to every rule. Like the other fees mentioned here, many airlines will drop standby fees for participants of their loyalty programs. You may also find that a friendly attitude on your part goes far with a sympathetic gate agent—so take a deep breath and smile.
Talk travel: “Then she told us that we would just have to pay $50/ticket to get on the plane! Now mind you, we would be using seats on a plane that had vacant seats and freeing up seats for a later plane. By my calculation, we were offering them a way for the airline to potentially make more money and for this opportunity, they wanted us to pay! ” (more from the Forums)
— Katie Hamlin
Photo credit: ©Istockphoto/ Deejpilot.