Airline travel is getting more expensive and time-consuming with each passing week. Just purchasing tickets and getting on the plane is fraught with inconveniences and additional costs, but now even basic travel needs like meals and blankets are costing passengers extra. After working in the airline industry, I never imagined a time when something as simple as staying warm on a flight would come at cost. But since that time is here, there are a few new costs and travel rules to keep in mind that may help you avoid unexpected hassles that come flying your way the next time you plan a trip.
Ticketing and Change Fees
You may think you’re getting a deal by booking your flight through an airline agent or a travel site, but this isn’t always the case. Ticketing by phone through an airline agent can cost you anywhere from $5 to $15 per transaction; Web sites such as Expedia and Orbitz also charge fees from $5 to $10 per transaction.
Before you book your flight, always make sure to check the airline’s Web site. They often feature Web-only deals and may not charge a fee for booking online.
Changing your mind can also cost you, so try to avoid changing your flights. United Airlines charges $150 to change a reservation and Virgin America charges $75. While sometimes changing your flight is unavoidable, these days it really pays to plan.
You should also be aware that booking rewards travel often comes with fees, too. United Airlines charges $50 or more to book mileage travel, and Delta charges $50 to book international rewards flights.
Airlines rarely offer food anymore, so, if you don’t plan ahead, you may find yourself hungry and longing for that little plastic plate full of mystery meat. Most airlines will sell you a sandwich or fruit plate, but be prepared to empty your wallet. United Airlines charges $7 for a sandwich and Virgin America charges $3 to $5 for those little bags of Chex Party Mix and dry roasted almonds. More substantial offerings like fruit and cheese or a veggie salad will set you back $7 to $9. Oh, and don’t forget your credit card—Virgin doesn’t accept cash.
If you don’t have time to pack your own food, most domestic terminals have food courts behind the security gates, and you should be able to buy a wider variety of food for less money than what your airline holds you captive with at 35,000 feet.
If ever there was a reason to pack light, baggage fees are it. Carry-on luggage is restricted to two bags that will fit under your seat or in the overhead bins, and we all know seats are smaller than they used to be.
On United Airlines and American Airlines, one checked bag is $15 and two are $40. Don’t think your checked baggage can be huge, either. Depending on your class of service, bags can be no more than sixty-two to 115 inches and weight is restricted to fifty to 100 pounds. The fee for overweight or oversize baggage is $125 per bag for domestic travel. Fees for international baggage vary by destination, so make sure to check with your carrier.
One of the worst things that can happen is to be seated in the “back of the bus” by the galley, or wedged in the middle of the aisle for six hours. Short of buying a more expensive seat, there are several ways to try and get a better seat.
Don’t wait until the last minute to buy your ticket or book your seat. If you’re booking through your airline’s Web site, you can choose your seat when you book. If you try to pick your seat less than twenty-four hours before your flight, you’ll end up wherever the gate agent is able to seat you. See if you can sign up for alerts on your mobile or by email, and don’t forget to check the airline’s Web site periodically. People do change seats and plans, and you may be able to snag a better seat if you’re vigilant. If you’re wondering what the best and worse seats on the plane are, you can find out at Seat Guru. It even lets you know if your seat won’t recline!
Preferred seating is also available on some airlines. Jet Blue’s “Even More Legroom” seats cost $10 and up; USAir charges $5 to $30 for front-of-plane economy seats. United Airlines has an Economy Plus Access membership for $349 a year; you get preferred seating—if it’s available. (Not such a good deal if you ask me.)
Parking can cost you $20 a day for indoor parking. That really racks up after a few days. Look for coupons and deals, and don’t forget to ask your parking attendant if they have coupons at the kiosk. They usually do, and it never hurts to ask.
Some other fees or snags you may not be thinking of in your rush to your vacation? Make sure that your carry-on toiletries meet TSA standards. Don’t take more than three ounces of shampoo, mouthwash, or other liquid on the flight, as it will be tossed away. Travel kits for men and women are widely available at drugstores such as Walgreens. Love your very expensive perfume but only have that 100 milliliter bottle? Ask for a sample at the department store, or take your bottle and have them decant some into one of the sample bottles they have. It’s way better than packing your Chanel No. 5 and having the bottle break in your luggage.
You should also be aware that most airlines do not carry enough pillows or blankets for everyone on board, so if you’re the chilly sort, take your own. You can find inexpensive pillow and blanket kits everywhere, including Amazon.
Although it would be nice to be able to just throw a passport and a bikini into a bag and head to the airport without a second thought about cost, those days are long gone for most of us. With a little preparation and planning, however, you may just save enough money to make your next trip turbulence-free.