Tips On How To Save Money On Airline Fees

I’m old enough to remember a time when there were no fees associated with airline tickets.  And you got a seat assignment.  And a hot meal.  It’s been a while, and shortly before the hot meals went away so did smoking on airplanes, so it hasn’t been all bad.

But, navigating the path of all the fees different airlines charge today can be daunting.  It’s a lot harder to compare and keep track of all of those fees.  In the past, JetBlue and Southwest were pretty light on fees and your checked bags traveled free (with reasonable limits).

Now, JetBlue has left that small club, starting to charge for checked bags going forward.  You can see my appearance on Fox News Happening Now talking about this and other travel tips when you fly (video embedded below as well):

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  • JetBlue is now charging checked bag fees on most flights.  While they’re not charging as much as other airlines, you can expect to spend $20 to check a bag if you don’t pre-purchase it in one of their packages.  It’s easy to buy the bag ahead of time and save $5.
  • There are now 3 main packages for coach travel.
  • The basic package is Blue, which doesn’t include any checked bags for free, just a carry-on.  These tickets are also non-refundable, so you’ll pay a fee to cancel or change.
  • Blue Plus will get you a free checked bag fee and slightly lower change fees, as well as some bonus points for booking on their website and a slightly reduced cancellation fee.  Blue Plus will set you back $15, so you’re only saving $5 on the checked bag fee.  Make sure you’re definitely going to check a bag if you pre-purchase Blue Plus.
  • Blue Flex costs $100 and comes with 2 free checked bags and no change fees, though you still can’t cancel for free.  It also includes a few more bonus points and a faster line through security.

And, just for good measure, I couldn’t resist a funny face capture.

Screenshot 2015-07-03 14.43.59

In the spirit of summer travel, here are some other tips on how to travel more affordably:

  • Unlike JetBlue, the legacy airlines (Delta, United and American) will give you ways to avoid these fees.  If you don’t fly enough to earn elite status with an airline, consider getting their credit card.  American Airlines offers a credit card that gives you a free checked bag for you and up to 4 traveling companions.  You also receive a 10% rebate when you redeem miles for an award flight.  That easily pays for the $95 annual fee.
  • If you have good credit, you may want to apply for more than one credit card.  American Airlines has an offer now where you can get a sign-up bonus of 75,000 miles.  That’s enough for a roundtrip coach ticket to Europe.
  • If you want to travel a bit more comfortably, another 25,000 miles will earn you a round-trip business class ticket to Europe.
  • For those who want to find ways to travel for free, American Airlines still represents one of the best values when it comes to collecting frequent flier miles.  United, Delta, JetBlue and Southwest all award miles based on how much you spend.  Some have switched to a model where the amount of miles you redeem is tied to the price of the ticket you want to buy.  American (for at least the time being) still has the more traditional tiers where you can find great values for award travel.
  • Use discount carriers to your advantage, even if you don’t want to fly on them.  Let’s say you’re like me, an American Airlines customer who flies out of Washington-Dulles.  While I don’t fly Virgin America, I do keep an eye on their fare sales.  When they discount flights from Washington to LAX, American and United generally match those discounts, giving you a cheaper fare on the airline you want to fly.
  • When all else fails, fly those discount carriers.  Maybe you live in NY and you’ve seen JetBlue’s fares edge up a bit to the Caribbean (and now you have to pay for checked bags).  Consider an upstart like Norwegian Air, who launched flights to Guadeloupe and Martinique, two tropical islands just South of the British Virgin Islands near Barbados.  They introduced fares as cheap as $150 round-trip from NY, Boston and BWI.
  • If US travel is your thing, consider Frontier and Spirit.  Sign up for Frontier’s mailing list, as they frequently offer tickets as cheap as $21 one-way to destinations like Miami and Las Vegas.
  • Looking to get to Europe cheaply?  Norwegian and another upstart, WOW Air are the new cheap ticket.  WOW Air has been featuring flights to places like Iceland, Paris, Amsterdam, London for as cheap as $99 one-way.  It’s easy to find cheap tickets to fly around Europe once you get over there.
  • Consider flying when others aren’t.  If you’re a family, look at your school calendar.  Many schools close for the first Tuesday in November (elections).  They also generally make Monday a holiday, giving you a 4-day weekend when many people aren’t thinking about travel to visit popular destinations like Disney World.

Any way you go, there are lots of ways to avoid all the fees and travel cheaply or for free.  It just may take a little bit of elbow grease!

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