6 Savvy Ways to Reduce Airline Fees When Traveling

I may receive a commission if you sign up or make a purchase after clicking a link on this page. Read the full disclosure policy here

Sometimes a cheap flight turns out to be just the opposite. Discount airlines and even some bigger companies like American Airlines and Delta offer hidden fees in the form of “upgradable options” that can add up fast.

With cost cited as the most important factor when it comes to travel, finding cheap flights is great. But what about the extras like early boarding or grabbing a beverage at the airport?

Whether you’re a frequent flier or only travel by air a few times in your life (perhaps on that dream vacay to Hawaii), saving money on airfare is a crucial factor when booking a trip. Hidden fees can hit you out of nowhere and, once you factor in these extra costs, your final bill may surprise you.

How to avoid hidden airline fees

With the average vacation coming in at $4,580 for a family of four, saving money on airfare is crucial when planning your next trip. To uncover the real cost of flying, including fees the airline might charge for services that used to be complimentary, follow these six brilliant tips to avoid hidden airline fees and save money when traveling.

Keep Your Searches Top Secret

Do you notice the price of flights changes after searching for it a few times in your web browser? Blame it on the cookies. No, not the delicious, fresh-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip variety — it’s the cookies in your web browser that are to blame.

When a route is repeatedly searched, prices automatically rise because booking sites want to scare you into buying the flight quickly before the price gets even higher. To see the lowest price, always search for airfare in incognito or private browsing mode. This way, your browser won’t have a record of your frequent searches, and the flight prices won’t increase.

Flying Off Peak

Flight prices vary considerably depending on when you book and when you fly. A recent study by CheapAir.com studied 917 million flights and found the best time to buy ranges from 21 to 121 days in advance. During this prime booking window, as they call it, prices average within 5% of their lowest, and you’re more likely to see a cheap fare pop up.

Avoid flying on the weekends and you’ll also reduce the cost of airfare. According to money expert Clark Howard, Friday is the most expensive day to book travel, making it worthwhile to compare airfare rates from Sunday to Sunday rather than Friday to Friday. When pricing your next trip, be flexible with your departure date, and you’ll rack up the savings.

Seat Selection

Often, airlines are assigning seats rather than letting the passengers choose their own. In the growing world of airline fees, choosing your preferred seat has become a standard and expected add-on cost. If you want to sit toward the front of the plane for easy boarding and exiting, or if you’re looking to avoid the dreaded aisle seat, you’ll have to pay for that convenience.

The trouble with this is it’s a gamble and some people, especially those flying with family, don’t want to take a chance of not sitting near each other. If you’re flexible and want to avoid the fees for seat selection, you’ll have to take what they give you. Otherwise, plan on paying extra for seat selection.

Carry-On Luggage

Having to pay extra for a checked bag is common, especially among discount airlines. But did you know some airlines charge you extra fees of up to $75 or more for a carry-on bag?

Recently, some airlines have introduced Basic Economy fares that are less expensive than average airfare but don’t include carry-on bags. If you do buy a Basic Economy fare, you are limited to only bringing a personal item such as a purse or backpack on board.

With baggage fees adding up to $4.2 billion in the U.S., many passengers are opting to use smaller carry-on luggage rather than paying extra for a checked bag. But if your ticket doesn’t include a carry-on, having one can end up costing you more than you thought if you aren’t prepared.

Since gate-checked bags come with the regular $25 (or higher) fee plus an additional $50 or $60 “gate-handling charge,” your cheap flight isn’t such a bargain. Check the details of your ticket and make sure you know what fare you bought before arriving at the airport.

Bring a Refillable Water Bottle

Airport security doesn’t allow you to pass through with bottled water, and once you get past the gate you can expect to pay $4 or more to buy one. Buying bottled water is a lousy deal everywhere but paying $4 for a 20-ounce bottle of water at the airport is atrocious.

But there is a way to get around this exorbitant fee by bringing an empty bottle, since those are allowed. Just pack a reusable water bottle in your carry-on bag and fill it at a water fountain after you pass through security. For a long day of travel, or if you want something more flavorful, put a few packets of powdered flavoring to spice up your water rather than splurging on an overpriced beverage.

Getting to and from the Airport

Arranging for transportation to the airport is an easy way to save 25%to 50% if you use a rideshare service, such as Uber (Ibotta sometimes has an offer for cashback with Uber) or Lyft, instead of taking a traditional taxi. Or, if you’re staying at a hotel, ask about complimentary airport shuttle service to save even more.

Though living in a rural area often means driving yourself to the airport because public transit isn’t available. In this case, parking in the discount or economy lot and taking the airport shuttle to the main terminal can save you 40% or more on parking fees.

Planning Ahead

With price as the most critical factor when buying airfare, stay alert to the additional fees before and after you book your flight to get the best deal. While getting a discount on airfare is an excellent way to save money, hidden airline fees can derail the best-made travel budget. Save money and frustration by planning in advance and, if all goes well, your airfare will be a small fraction of your total vacation costs.