Six Sneaky Travel Fees You Can (and Should) Avoid

by Sarah Pascarella, Staff – May 25, 2009

Have you experienced travel sticker shock lately? Maybe you showed up at the airport with two suitcases and walked away with a much lighter wallet after visiting the baggage-check desk. Perhaps you rented a car and drove away with a few hundred dollars in collision-damage waiver insurance you didn’t know you needed. Or maybe you got socked with hotel charges for using the Wi-Fi and parking your car. These fees and others like them are annoying at best, and severely expensive at worst. But here’s a secret: You don’t necessarily have to pay them.

Before your next trip, arm yourself with this list of sneaky travel fees. A bit of research, a bit of planning, and a willingness to travel light might just save you big bucks. And remember, to stay abreast of the often-confusing and ever-changing world of airline surcharges, you can always check our continuously updated Airline Fees: The Ultimate Guide.

Booking Fees

Now more than ever, booking a flight in-person or over the phone will cost you. Fees currently range from $5 to $45 per ticket—a hefty “convenience fee” just for completing a transaction. With the exception of Southwest, virtually every major air carrier now adds a surcharge for non-Internet bookings, so avoid this sneaky fee by booking online. With many online travel agencies now temporarily eliminating booking fees, you can save online regardless of whether or not you book directly with the travel supplier.

Seat Selection Fees

Let’s say you’ve heeded my advice and booked your flight online. Good job! But the hard work of avoiding extra fees is far from over. Now comes the seat-selection challenge. Before you choose a seat, be sure the read your carrier’s fine print to make sure doing so is free. Hint: If you’re booking with AirTran, Spirit, United, US Airways, or Virgin America, it’s probably not. (JetBlue charges for six “extra legroom” rows, but the majority of seats do not incur a fee.) Surcharges range from $6 to $349, depending on the airline and desired seat. If you’re not picky about where you sit, err on the side of caution and let the airline choose your seat for you when you check in online, at the airport kiosk, or in person.

Baggage Fees

Speaking of the airport check-in process, don’t let your guard down there, either. With the exception of JetBlue and Southwest, every major domestic carrier charges extra for all checked luggage. Fees range from $15 to $50 for the first and second checked bag. If you add a third bag, the rates climb even higher. As such, the cheapest way to fly nowadays is with a well-packed carry-on bag.

If you do have to check a bag, limit yourself to just one and make sure to pack as efficiently as possible. Overweight bag charges can add an extra $25 to $175 to your bill. Fortunately, this is one surcharge that’s entirely preventable. Check out our packing tips to learn easy ways to make the most of your suitcase space.

Now here’s where things get sneaky. US Airways, United, and Spirit require you to check your bags in advance online or suffer an extra fee at the airport. These are three of the same airlines that charge you extra for choosing a seat online! So if you’re going to check your bag with US Airways or United, do it online and pay $15 to $25 instead of $20 to $30 for the same transaction at the airport. Spirit also has a slightly higher fee for bags checked in person versus online—$19 online, $25 at the airport.

In most cases, though, you shouldn’t see a different price if you check your bag online or at the airport. At press time, only US Airways, United, and Spirit customers need to be aware of this tricky scheme

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