Between charging you to check your bags, select a seat or surf the web, there are few aspects of air travel that don't come with extra fees. And it can be hard to keep up with individual carriers and their ever-changing rules.
In order to get the best deal on your flight, you need to include any potential fees you'll pay to truly compare prices between carriers. What might look like a low-cost ticket can end up being pricey if you're dinged with extra charges on every step of your trip. Luckily, there are some simple ways to keep your ticket price low, according to Consumer Reports.
U.S. airlines brought in almost $5 billion in baggage fees alone last year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. That's up from $4.5 billion in 2017 and $1.1 billion a decade ago.
The fees can run from around $30 to over $100, unless you're flying Southwest, which gives travelers two free checked bags per flight. Otherwise, packing light or using a travel rewards credit card, as highlighted here, are your best options to check a bag for free.
As more airlines adopt an a la carte pricing model, seats are the next frontier in fees. Major U.S. airlines including American, Delta and United all charge customers to pick their seat assignments ahead of the flight, with prices ranging from $9 to over $100 in some cases — potentially more than a checked bag fee. Travel analyst Henry Harteveldt, co-founder of Atmosphere Research Group, told CNBC Make It that seat selection fees generate more than half a billion dollars a year for large airlines.
Though "preferred" seating can be confusing, you never have to pay extra for a seat assignment if you don't want to. One key thing to remember: A preferred seat in economy is different than upgrading to a premium economy seat. With the former, you're usually just paying to pick a standard economy seat to ensure you have a seat assignment before you arrive at the airport, whereas the latter will typically come with more leg room, free drinks and other perks. You might select a preferred seat it you think paying for a seat by a window or being closer to the front of the plane is worth the added expense, for example, or you want to avoid the dreaded middle seat at all costs.
WiFi can cost around $7 to $8 for one hour, Consumer Reports found, to around $20 for all-day access. The sole domestic exception is JetBlue, which doesn't charge for WiFi. Delta announced that it plans to eventually offer free access and ran a test of the program on 55 domestic flights this month.
CR recommends paying for a monthly package from a third-party provider if you fly often and typically need access to WiFi to work or take care of personal business. Gogo, for example, charges $49.95 for monthly access and $19 for a daily pass on participating airlines. If you use WiFi primarily to watch movies or TV shows, though, you can usually download those on to your device before take off, CR suggests, and watch for free. Or you could just unplug!
Correction: This article has been updated the correct baggage fee information for 2018.
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