Tips and Tricks: Beware of Hidden Costs

By now, everyone is aware of baggage fees and the windfall that airlines are making by charging them. But what about other hidden costs? In order to avoid your plane ticket being much more than you expect, be sure to read the fine print on the airline before you book.

Fuel surcharges, for example, can amount to hundreds of dollars, especially on a “free” flight booked with miles. British Airways is said to be a great airline, but is notorious for its fuel surcharges, which can be upwards towards $600 on what is supposed to be a “free” international miles ticket. However, if you can score a seat on one of British Airways’ partners like American or US Airways or Iberia, your mandatory taxes and fees could be a fraction of the price. Unfortunately, many people are now realizing this and those coveted seats go quickly, so book mileage flights as early as possible, some of them allow for certain changes without fees.

Speaking of change fees, I am not sure why these still exist, but a change fee can be $150-200 to change a ticket plus the difference in airfare. One notable exception to this policy is Southwest Airlines, which only requires that you pay the difference in fare and no additional fee. This is why whenever I am fairly confident that I am going to have to change my itinerary, I opt for Southwest. Nobody has time to tack on an additional $200 on a ticket for a minor change!

Another source of hidden fees is on certain low-cost carriers. Norwegian Air Shuttle, for example, offers many inexpensive flights to Europe, specifically Scandinavia, but according to their website, if you wish to choose your seat or your checked baggage is more than 44 pounds or 20 kg (the limit is usually 50 pounds), you will not only have to pay for checked baggage but also an excess baggage fee. This is similar to domestic carriers like Spirit Airlines, that require you to pay for everything from checking your bag to carrying on a bag to choosing a seat to water. And now the major airlines are cracking down on bags being even one pound over the limit, with fees ranging around $100 for an overweight bag. You may even incur a fee if you don’t print out your boarding pass before you get to the airport. It is best to know what you are dealing with in advance and make sure to get familiar with all of the airline rules.

On the contrary, there are ways to get around the fees. Southwest is the only major domestic carrier to still offer two free checked bags. And on long-haul flights, they give you snacks (score)! Also, be sure to leverage any airline or travel credit cards you may have, as they may offer free baggage perks, which cut down on the costs.

A low-cost ticket may still be worth it, even with fees tacked on. But be wary of hidden fees; a ticket that may seem dirt-cheap may end up costing more than a ‘normal’ priced ticket in the end if you don’t read the fine print. After all, you don’t want to any surprises.

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I am a lawyer. I am a journalist. I am a writer. I am a photographer. And I love to travel.

36 comments on “Tips and Tricks: Beware of Hidden Costs”

  1. I never understood why change fees were so expensive either. Thankfully the only time I had to change flights, I was traveling for business, so I did not have to pay the fees

  2. YOU ARE SPEAKING MY LANGUAGE!!! OMG! Now that I am on a major miles kick, I try to fly American/US airways or Southwest only. I have a card with American so if i get happy with my packing I get a free checked bag and like you said Southwest isnt stingy with their baggage options. I have flown Frontier twice (Spirit never) and I will never ever again. Fees to check in, fees to have a bag, more fees if you don’t do it by a certain date. Its ridiculous. A good friend just booked a flight from BWI to Paris for the Spring- RT less than $400!! AMAZING -oh but its on one of these budget airlines. NO TVS, has to pay for food, and probably no reclining chairs. I might suck it up for domestic if the price is really calling my name but not for 7+ hours. NO NO NO. Thanks for sharing this info because so many people get caught up in the scams >.<

  3. This is why I love Southwest!!! I cant stand spirit they are notorious for their secret hidden fees. You want water on the plane you probably gotta pay for that too! There is no snack no extra nothing lol.

  4. I need to travel more so that I can use these tips! I think this model can be applied to many things; the low up front price is great until you see all of the hidden fees.

  5. I need to pin this post like yesterday! I actually work for travel insurance so I hear about those daggone change fees every day! Didn’t know southwest didn’t charge any

  6. These are all great tips. I just started flying this year – I’ve been a scaredy-cat. Now my fear isn’t getting on the plane itself, but getting through security and all these fees!

  7. I travel monthly (I’m actually flying to NYC tomorrow) and I always make sure to look out for hidden fees. Spirit and Frontier are definitely the worst when it comes to extra fees. To the blind eye, a Spirit or Frontier flight might seem $50 cheaper than Untied but that’s because you have to pay to pick your seat and bags are so much more than other airlines. I always do research when booking flights <3

  8. This is sound travel information. I’ve been surprised a couple of times at the airport to find that the carrier changed their fee structure just before my trip. I had no idea there could be fuel surcharges. I thought that’s what my ticket paid for!!

  9. I usually fly American/US Air since their east coast hub is in Charlotte and I have a miles card with them. I just wished their free baggage included the Caribbean because that’s where I fly to more often than anywhere else. This is all great info to know!

    1. Alli, if you have the credit card with AA, all you have to do is book the tickets with the card and you should get a free checked bag to wherever! Not sure if it is different for US Air, but when I went to Panama, I didn’t have to pay for my bag because of the card.

  10. Thanks for the reminder to read the fine print when buying airline tickets. I never fly Southwest since they use the airport in Chicago that is farthest from me, but it truly might be worth it since people sing their praise constantly.

  11. It’s amazing how many hidden fees there are, and how those little costs can really add up! It definitely speaks to the importance of taking those little fees into consideration when comparing two different flights!!

  12. I don’t travel much but when I do I’m going to keep my eyes open for hidden fees. My hubby and I stayed at a hotel room over the weekend and we were shocked by all the hidden fees that were charged to our bill. I can imagine air travel being the same way

    1. Exactly Savannah. You expect all of the different taxes to be broken down (taxes are a foregone conclusion), but I always make sure to ask about how much parking costs (it can be ridiculous) and also if there is a resort fee, which I hate!

  13. I swear I remember a time when flying was actually something to look forward to doing and not just an ordeal to get through. I don’t even mind driving super distances in order to skip the ridiculousness of the price fixing game and security hassles.

  14. Oh I hate all the hidden fee’s. I fly with a mix of cheap airlines and standard ones but the last few years I have been only flying with carry-on. It’s a great new challenge to pack only carry on even when going for 2 months plus to multiple destination with different seasons! Thanks for the other tips though!! x

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