In 2020 and 2021, COVID-19 kept people from traveling to see their families. This year, it’s inflation. According to Bloomberg, airfare is up more than 40% year over year heading into the holidays.
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If you haven’t booked your flight yet, you’d better be ready to put a major dent in your savings account if you’re still trying to snag a seat — and, if you have, chances are good you spent more than you would have liked.
But it can still get worse.
The cost of that flight can continue to grow thanks to the many fees and extras that can keep piling up even after you’ve taken off. You’ve already shelled out enough for airfare — don’t waste any more on upgrades and other avoidable expenses that would better be spent on gifts, food and fun with the family after you land.
Travel light when you fly this winter — and always. Overpacking can land you a fee upwards of $30 per checked bag.
For a family of four, that’s an extra $120 each way.
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If you want to avoid paying for the privilege of bringing things with you when you travel, start by doing your research and choosing the right airline. Southwest remains the undisputed champion, allowing all passengers two free checked bags on every flight, with no exceptions. As for the rest of the industry, policies vary considerably based on the airline, fare class, destination, loyalty status and route.
According to Forbes, the right credit card also can help you beat baggage fees. Some branded airline cards offer free bags as a cardholder benefit and some general travel cards give a baggage credit. Finally, resist the urge to downgrade to basic economy — airlines make up for the reduced fare by nickel-and-diming you with baggage charges and many other fees.
According to Consumer Reports, most airlines charge $7 to $8 for an hour of in-flight Wi-Fi — or about $20 for a day pass. Here, too, your choice of airline matters; in this case, JetBlue is the clear winner. Their Wi-Fi is free and fast on every seat on every plane.
If there’s some critical work that you absolutely must perform while you fly, then you don’t have a choice but to pay to connect. But if you’re just passing the time, you have so many choices that it’s hard to justify the expense.
You can download games, shows, movies, podcasts, stand-up specials and whatever else you would normally stream to a tablet, phone or laptop with no Wi-Fi required for playback. The same goes for your favorite book on an e-reader — or, of course, you could just bring a regular book that doesn’t require any downloading at all.
Arguably the most loathed surcharge in the industry, seat-selection fees can cost between $10 and $30. Travelers hate them because they’re the airlines’ way of holding your desire to sit with your family hostage in exchange for ransom. But you don’t have to pay up.
Nearly all carriers allow passengers to check in 24 hours before takeoff. The key is to set an alarm and check in as soon as you’re able — exactly 24 hours before your flight. The longer you wait, the longer your odds of getting to sit with your travel companions. Those who wait until they arrive at the airport are all but certain to be split up on busy flights.
In-Flight Food and Beverages
Soft drinks and snacks are standard freebies on most flights with most airlines, but an in-flight meal or an adult beverage will cost you quite a bit. Airport food is notoriously expensive and it only gets worse once you’re in the air. But there’s no need to let hunger pangs talk you into unneccessary spending.
You can’t sneak alcohol onto a plane, nor should you try. So the only way to dodge the cost of in-flight cocktails is to abstain outright, which, considering the environment, is certainly better than having one too many. But when it comes to eating, the TSA is clear that you’re free to pack your own food.
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