These days, airline fees can quickly cut into your travel budget. In fact, airlines in the U.S. made an additional $6.16 billion due to airline baggage and cancellation fees in 2013, according to CNN. But you don’t need to resign yourself to paying airlines hundreds — or even thousands — of dollars in unnecessary charges every time you travel. Anticipating fees and being prepared is the key to avoiding them; these six tricks will show you how.
1. Choose airlines offering free checked bags
Whenever possible, fly Jetblue or Southwest. Both airlines offer free carry ons and let you check some of your luggage at no additional cost, ensuring you don’t get charged with unnecessary baggage fees. Trip Advisor explains that Jetblue allows you to check your first bag for free, while Southwest allows you to check two bags for free.
Free checked bags might not sound like much, but many other airlines charge for luggage and, in some cases, even carry ons. Airfare Watchdog reports that Airtran, Alaska, and American charge $25 for your first checked bag. Other airlines, including Allegiant and Spirit, not only make you pay for checked luggage, but also charge between $10 and $75 for your carry-on bag. By flying Jetblue or Southwest, you could end up avoiding $200 in fees; saving money doesn’t get much easier than that!
2. Carefully measure and weigh your bags
Make sure you are staying within the airline’s luggage weight limits. If you don’t, you could be charged with some unpleasant overweight baggage fees — CNN reports that of the $6.16 billion collected by airlines in 2013, $3.35 billion was due to baggage fees. U.S. News & World Report explains that if your bag exceeds more than 40 to 50 pounds, depending on the airline you’re using, there’s a good chance you’ll be hit with overweight baggage fees.
You can then anticipate getting charged between $50 and $400 per bag round trip, on top of the checked bag fees you’re already paying, according to U.S. News & World Report. By weighing your bags prior to arriving at the airport, you can avoid getting hit with these fees; your travel budget will thank you!
3. Get an airline credit card
An airline credit card comes with some perks that could prevent you from paying extra airline fees. For example, The Huffington Post writes that some credit cards exempt you from checked luggage fees. Nerd Wallet adds that many credit cards also offer priority boarding and rewards programs, which offer free tickets, hotel stays, and even car rentals.
There is something to keep in mind with these credit cards, though — The Huffington Post warns that many of them come with an annual fee, so it’s important to calculate the baggage fees you usually pay against the annual credit card fee. If you travel enough, there’s a good chance you’ll see savings even with the fee.
4. Avoid premium economy seating
With its extra legroom, adjustable headrests, larger personal TV screens, and laptop power ports, premium economy seating might sound appealing, but it comes at a price. Premium seating will cost you quite a bit more than a normal economy class ticket. Seat Guru notes that premium economy cross-Atlantic flights that are booked in advance cost 85% more than normal economy class tickets. Additionally, Seat Guru estimates that travelers pay about 95% more for premium economy class on cross-Pacific flights.
If you book a premium ticket closer to your departure date, that ticket price will drop significantly, but it will still cost about 35% more than a regular economy ticket. If you want the extra legroom but don’t want to pay for it, U.S. News & World Report recommends selecting any available seat when booking your ticket. Then, continue checking online for seat availability; airlines will often release a few of the reserved seats as demand declines.
5. Buy your ticket at the perfect time
If you like to book your flights early, there’s a good chance you’re getting charged more just for being an early bird. The day, time of day, and time of the month all play a role in how much airline tickets cost. Quartz reports that if you book your tickets too early, unless you’re traveling on high-traffic days, you’ll almost always pay a higher fare. You can avoid paying more for your tickets by booking your flight 45 days out for domestic travel and 60 days out for international, Quartz explains.
6. Avoid changing your travel plans
Changing your airline tickets after they’ve been purchased can quickly cause you to accumulate unwanted fees. U.S. News & World Report writes that if you purchase non-refundable tickets, which are often much cheaper than refundable ones, you can end up paying ticket change fees that range from $75 to $175.
For example, according to Airfare Watchdog, Airtran charges a $150 non-refundable ticket change fee, while Alaska charges a $125 fee for changes made less than 60 days prior to your ticketed flight departure. If you are going to cancel, do it within 24 hours — The Points Guy explains that many airlines offer refunds as long as the flight is seven days out.
More from Life Cheat Sheet: