If you’re thinking of a trip, comparing fares is a great way to save, and so is ditching all those annoying fees.
Nobody likes to pay extra, so I generally recommend not doing it at all … except in certain circumstances, when paying an airline fee could actually be a life-saver — or at least, a flight saver.
Here are five examples:
The 'improve your seat' fee
On many airlines, passengers are offered the opportunity to upgrade their seats. Not to first class, but just enough of an upgrade to give you a seat with an extra two inches of legroom. It isn’t cheap, either. You may have to pay a fee of $50 or $100 (or more) for this, so unless it’s a very long flight, forget the fee and tough it out.
The exception: Some airlines offer an additional economy class upgrade, for what's called a better-positioned seat. It’s significantly cheaper than the extra-legroom seat, seeing as you don't get any extra space, but instead a seat closer to the front of the plane, and often on the aisle. This fee can be really worth it to anyone who has to make a tight connection and needs to deplane as quickly as possible.
VIP lounge fee
If you want to fly like a celebrity, by all means, join an airline VIP lounge, but it’s helpful if you earn like a celebrity because these lounges aren’t cheap. American’s Admiral clubs, for example, cost up to $650 per year. Access to those lounges is sometimes also a perk for people who use specific credit cards, but those card-holders are generally paying annual fees north of $400.
The exception: Pay for a VIP lounge day pass (American’s is $59) when flights are getting canceled or delayed and there are long lines to speak to airline reps. You will find these reps in lounges too, but without the long lines. The next time schedules start going to pieces, give it a try.
Normally, this fee can be avoided by the simple act of using a carry-on, because carry-ons are often free. As someone who travels to Europe for ten days with a carry-on, it can be done (and my wife does it, too).
The exception: Some airlines charge for all bags, including carry-ons. You are, however, allowed a very small bag for free on the condition it be placed under the seat in front of you. This can be fine in the summer, if you’re just packing shorts and a bathing suit. Otherwise, go ahead and pay for the carry-on. It’s worth it if only because you don’t have to worry about the airlines losing a bag that travels by your side.
Who doesn’t want to board a plane early? But since you’re going to get on that plane one way or another, why pay for the privilege?
The exception: Go ahead and pay for early boarding if the price is right (on Southwest it starts at just $15). And pay if you must have your carry-on near you (perhaps because it holds medications or valuables). It’s especially important to pay if you’ll be among the last to board and there might be no bin space left, leaving the airline to take your bag and stow it away from you in cargo.
Overweight bag fee
This can cost $200 for domestic flights on Delta and up to $450 for certain international routes on American — and these overweight fees are in addition to the regular bag fee.
The exceptions: There are none. Do not pay overweight fees. If you’re at the airport and you're being told your bag is too heavy, you have two options: If you’re traveling with friends or family, shove some stuff into one of their bags; and if you're not, pull out your heaviest items — things like a coat, a sweater or boots — and put them on.
The bottom line? Don’t pay any fees unless you absolutely have to. It’s just that much more in your pocket for fun times at your destination.