15 Easy Ways To Avoid The Most Common Airline Fees

Unlike the glamorous age of air travel your grandparents enjoyed, flying today is a painful exercise in patience, leg cramps, and bland food. And while it's impossible to expect much more than a gratis bag of stale pretzels on your next flight, there's plenty you can do to avoid some of the sneaky and gratuitous fees airlines tack on when you're not paying attention.

1. If you have to check a bag, don't go over the weight limit

If your luggage tips the scales at 50 pounds or more, you're looking at a hefty "heavy" fee—as much as $200 if you're flying overseas.

2. Make sure your credit card is getting you mileage

Pay all your bills (including your rent) on an airline-affiliated card. If you've picked the right one, you'll be flying free and enjoying no-joke upgrades on the regular.

3. Don't fall for the "premium seat" ploy

Many airlines will tease you with the ability to select your seat during the booking process, but if you're not careful that could tack on an extra $25-50 to the ticket price. If you're set on picking out a specific seat, make sure it doesn't come with an added fee.

4. Pack smarter and don't check a bag

Now that practically every airline charges you for any bag you check, it's prime time to learn to pack lighter. Just make sure you follow the carry-on rules.

5. Make sure to un-check the insurance box when purchasing online

If you want to protect yourself against a forced last-minute cancellation and losing all the money you shelled out for a big vacation abroad, by all means protect yourself with third-party trip insurance, but not through your airline. If the only part of your trip you've prepaid for is airfare, it's generally not worth the insurance, especially if you're only traveling domestically.

6. Opt for airlines with the least punishing change or cancellation policies

If there's a good chance your trip dates may change, consider booking on Southwest. They are famous for their no-charge change or cancellation fees (they instead give you a credit for future travel). Similarly, Alaska Airlines will refund your flight if you cancel up to 60 days before your departure, and won't charge a change fee.

7. Timing is crucial

Unless you're travelling on high-traffic days, booking too early could result in you overpaying for a ticket. As a general rule, you should be booking 45 days ahead for domestic travel and 60 for international trips.

8. If you must cancel, do it immediately

Legally, you are entitled to a full refund if you cancel your flight within 24 hours of purchasing.

9. Sometimes it pays to ship your luggage

If there's no way getting your heavy bag down below 50 pounds, consider shipping it via FedEx or UPS ground. Since the airlines charge a flat (albeit hefty) fee for overweight luggage and UPS/FedEx charge by the mile, it may be cheaper to ship, especially if you're traveling a shorter distance. Just remember to get it in the mail four to five days before you intend to arrive at your destination.

10. Consider booking two one-way tickets instead of round-trip

If you need to cancel, eating the cost of your ticket could be cheaper than the one-way cancellation fee.

11. Suck it up and fly on a holiday

You might miss out on a full morning or afternoon of lounging, but it'll be easy to stomach once you realize how much you'll be saving by not flying the day before or after.

12. Pay for Wi-Fi ahead of time

If you have to be online while you're flying, it's often much cheaper to pay beforehand for an all-day pass via Gogo. Or, you could try some of these tricks and potentially get online at 30,000 feet for free.

13. If you need to cancel, do it over the phone or in person

Depending on your circumstances, you might be able to appeal to the good nature of an actual human and they could make an exception for you.

14. Book online

While people may be more friendly and understanding, some airlines charge more for tickets when they're booked over the phone or at a ticket counter.

15. BYO mini booze bottles

Pack a few nips in your carry-on, grab one of these, and toss back a few cocktails for significantly less than you'd spend on any from the drink cart.

Joe McGauley is a senior editor at Supercompressor and hasn't checked a piece of luggage since 2004.

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