If you’re headed on a business trip or vacation, get ready to shell out hundreds of dollars on a plane ticket. But while the ticket price might be worth the convenience of quickly getting from point A to point B, you might not be prepared for a slew of hidden airline fees.
A recent Passport-Photo.online survey found that 86% of Americans have run into unexpected airline costs at least once in their lifetime, with 59% reporting that the cost of hidden airline fees seems to be higher or significantly higher since the start of the pandemic.
And these unexpected fees don’t come cheap — 20% of Americans said they spent $100 to $200 on hidden airline fees, 19% said they spent $200 to $500 on hidden fees, and an additional 19% said they spent $500 to $1,000 on these fees.
Seat Selection Fee
Since the purpose of booking a flight is to get from one city to the next, it might seem odd to pay an additional fee to select your seat on the plane. But this is becoming more common — and some airlines are charging upwards of $100 to pick your seat, The Wall Street Journal reported.
“If you want to save on seating fees, aim for the cheapest fare class,” said Justin Crabbe, CEO of Jettly, a provider of private jet charters. “Most airlines reserve their more comfortable seats with extra legroom for an additional cost. However, if you don’t mind being seated in a less desirable spot, you can often get away without having to pay any extra fees.”
Carry-On Baggage Fee
Stuffing all your items into a carry-on bag is one way to avoid a checked bag fee — as long as the size of the bag is within the dimensions allowed by the airline and fits into the overhead bin.
With the exception of basic economy customers, American and United allow flyers to bring aboard one personal item and one bag. This isn’t the policy of every airline, though, so do your homework before booking a flight. Allegiant, for example, charges up to $50 for one carry-on bag. Frontier also charges for carry-on luggage.
Fortunately, you can avoid or reduce what you pay with this fee. Of course, the simplest solution is to pack less. If that can’t be avoided, opt to check your luggage. If you’re flying with your spouse, you can share a larger suitcase and check it. That eliminates your need to pay for unnecessary carry-ons.
Phone Reservation Fee
Between travel websites and travel apps, it’s easy to save when you’re booking travel. But some people are old-school and prefer booking their reservations directly with a customer service agent. To each his own. Although this is an option, you might pay more for booking airfare with a reservation agent, said Kendal Perez, a former savings expert with CouponSherpa.com.
“Most airlines apply a fee to reservations made over the phone,” Perez said. “[For example], United Airlines charges $25 for reservations by phone.”
If you don’t want to deal with online booking systems or pay extra to speak with a live person, fly Delta. The airline waived its phone reservation fee in 2016. American Airlines also recently waived its phone reservation fee, Travel Noire reported.
In the past, if you had an airline ticket and needed an earlier flight, you could arrive at the airport sooner and put your name on a standby list at no extra cost. If a seat became available on an earlier flight, it was yours. It’s still possible to fly standby today, but few airlines offer this service for free.
“Airlines used to be a little more lax about catching a standby flight if there was a seat available on an earlier flight,” said Maggie McCombs, formerly of Creative Lodging Solutions, a travel management company. “Now you have to pay for that luxury.”
Be prepared to dig into your pocket if you want or need a standby flight. Flying standby with American and Delta costs $75. You pay the upfront fee to add your name to the standby list, but your credit card isn’t charged until you have a confirmed seat.
While some airlines have adopted this fee, select customers for Alaska Airlines won’t incur a standby fee. Other airlines similarly offer complimentary standby to select passengers.
Unaccompanied Minor Fee
If your child travels alone, you’re required to pay an additional unaccompanied minor fee. You’re allowed to accompany your child to the gate, and he or she will then be supervised while seated on the plane and escorted to any connecting flights.
This service offers peace of mind, but it’s not included in the ticket price. Many airlines, including United and Delta, charge $150 both ways for an unaccompanied minor.
Although this fee is unavoidable, you can save money by booking unaccompanied minors on Alaska Airlines, which only charges $50 to $75 based on the flight.
Pet Carry-On Fee
Some airlines are pet-friendly and allow passengers to fly with small animals in cabin-approved kennels. But your pet doesn’t count as a free carry-on. Even if the kennel is small and fits under your seat, airlines charge a fee for bringing animals into the cabin. Both United and Delta charge $125 each way for carry-on pets. Additionally, Delta charges $200 each way for pets checked as cargo.
You can’t avoid this fee, but you can shop around and compare costs. Alaska Airlines allows pets to fly in the main cabin for $100, for example.
“I’d recommend budgeting an additional 20-30% of your ticket price for potential airline [pet] fees,” said Nina Clapperton, founder of Traveling With Your Pets. “Some airlines are more pet-friendly than others, offering lower fees or even points programs for frequent pet travelers. Being a savvy traveler also means being flexible. If you can, try to book during off-peak times, as some airlines lower their pet fees.”
Pillow or Blanket Fee
Depending on the length of your flight, you might want to get comfortable and take a nap. If so, make sure you bring your own blanket and pillow, or be prepared to open your wallet. JetBlue, for example, offers pillows and blankets at a passenger’s request, but there’s a $6 charge for a pillow and a separate $6 charge for a blanket.
Other Hidden Fees
Before booking your next flight, beware of some of these other hidden fees that could sneak up on you:
- Checked baggage fee
- Taxes that aren’t included in the initial airfare quote
- Automatically added travel insurance
- Reservation changes and cancellation fees
- Overweight baggage fee
- Name change fee
- Frequent flyer mile cancellation fee
- Airport check-in fee
- Boarding pass printing fee
- In-flight non-alcoholic drinks
- Access to in-flight entertainment
- Auto check-in
Paying extra for airline services that used to be free can seem like a ripoff. Although you can’t control airline fees, you can become a savvy customer and learn about hidden airline fees. If you know what to expect before booking your flight, you can plan accordingly and avoid surprises.
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Gabrielle Olya contributed to the reporting for this article.