By No Vacation Required, on April 8, 2014

How to avoid airline fees

In 2013, airlines took off with more than US$27 billion in fees, according to a study of 53 carriers around the world. There's no reason why you have to contribute to that astounding number on your next big trip. Here are some of our best suggestions for avoiding fees without diminishing your overall travel experience.

Seek good deals

Trying to avoid a $25 checked baggage fee while overpaying for your ticket is a poor use of your energy; you can’t keep your total cost of air travel low if you are overpaying for your ticket to begin with. Before you even worry about avoiding airline fees, make sure you are getting a great deal on your ticket. Expedia offers a full suite of travel tools to help you do just that.

Join an airline loyalty program

It can pay to be loyal. While loyalty programs are no secret, we find that they are fairly underutilized. In many cases, just achieving an airline’s lowest elite tier (Alaska Airlines’ MVP, for example) comes with some big perks, such as complimentary checked luggage and reduced change fees.

Sign up for an airline credit card

We are not recommending that you use more credit. However, if you do use credit, it could save you some money to go with an airline-specific credit card (or at least have one on hand for strategic purchases), as these can offer some cost-saving benefits. There are several major airline credit cards that waive checked baggage fees if you simply use their card to pay.

Viewfinder Tip: Airlines continue to add new fees, so always consider the total cost of air travel when budgeting, not just the base fare.

Pack your own food

If you ask us, on-board meals are the new theater popcorn; they tend to be ridiculously overpriced, of questionable quality, and really unhealthy. The names of celebrity chefs and ample use of words like “artisan” and “fresh” all just seem to be marketing gimmicks to make you feel better about paying extortionate fees for mediocre food. For the sake of your wallet (and your health), make food-for-the-flight part of your packing plan. 

Fly first or business class

Yes, we are advising you to spend more to avoid some airline fees. Hear us out. If you find a good deal, the value could make first and business class strong contenders. Sure, you will pay more for your ticket than if you fly coach, but you won’t pay baggage fees, you don’t have to buy food, and–because these fares are often refundable–you have a lot more flexibility. Add to that a much more enjoyable experience and other potential perks (lounge access, faster miles accrual, etc.), and this move makes even more sense. Don’t forget that you can use frequent flyer miles or Expedia Rewards points to book first and business class, so you could avoid fees AND the cost of your ticket altogether. 

Airlines have struck gold with airline fees, which means they likely are going to continue to shift their revenue models to include more and more of them. When booking air travel, always consider the total cost. Not being aware of potential fees means you will likely be paying them. The airlines are banking on that.

What tips do you have for avoiding airline fees?