This topic needs little introduction. Airlines charge fees. Lots of fees. In fact, in the first three months of 2015, they collected $1.6 billion. So, in an effort to help you avoid those pesky baggage and change fees, here are our top 10 tips:
1. Make the 24-hour window your BFF
Even non-refundable tickets come with a 24-hour change or cancellation window.
So, if you find a deal that’s too good to pass up, don’t. You typically have 24 hours to get your plans together before you get penalized. Airlines are required by the DOT to offer 24-hour free hold or cancellations as long as you are booking your ticket seven days prior to your travel date. Typically, you’ll have to pay first, then get the full refund. The only exception is American Airlines, which offers a free hold for 24 hours without paying. The other big exception to note is that you have to book with the airline directly. The 24-hour rule doesn’t apply if you book your ticket with an OTA (online travel agency), such as Expedia or Orbitz.
2. Same-day change fees can be cheaper
It depends on the flight and the airline, but sometimes, same-day change fees can be cheaper than changing your flight in the days or weeks prior. If you’re not comfortable living on the edge, this isn’t the tip for you, but if you have more flexibility in your travel plans, it could work out in your favor. For example, United has a $200 change fee, but same-day charges are $75 or free if you are Premier Gold or above. Just remember, in some cases, you may need to pay a fare difference in addition to the fee.
3. Do the math
Nothing is worse than showing up to the airport and facing sticker shock over baggage fees. If you’re buying a ticket because it appears to be the cheapest option, do the math to see if it’s still the cheapest after fees. Always factor in additional fees for Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant, as well as low-cost international carriers such as WOW Air or Norwegian Air.
4. Fly Southwest or Alaska Airlines
Southwest doesn’t charge any change fees. Alaska Airlines will refund your flight if you cancel up to 60 days before your departure, and won’t charge a change fee. Unfortunately, the list of airlines that don’t charge change fees is pretty small. At this point, airlines suggest buying higher fare classes if you think you may want to change as the date approaches. For example, JetBlue now offers four fare class options, one of which, called Blue Flex, allows for free cancellation or changes.
5. Research Wi-Fi before you fly
If you can’t go on a digital detox for even a few hours, it pays to look up Wi-Fi options and promo codes before heading to the airport. JetBlue, offers free basic Wi-Fi, with faster plans for $9 per hour. Norwegian Air Shuttle offers free access as well, which is great for those longer flights across the Atlantic.
6. Check one big bag
Since most airlines charge a checked bag fee (except Southwest; we love Southwest), think about checking one larger bag instead of a bag per person. Be mindful of the weight, but if you are an efficient packer, this trick can work in your favor.
7. Think about travel insurance
In some cases, travel insurance covers changes or cancellations. Review the policy, of course, but individual trip insurance can be substantially less than the change fee. Several popular travel credit cards, such as United MileagePlus Explorer Card and Chase Sapphire Preferred actually include travel insurance. Additionally, in the event of inclement weather, airlines usually offer change or cancellation fee waivers, even without travel insurance.
8. Pick up the phone
If you absolutely need to cancel, try getting a real person on the phone. You might convince a kind soul to take pity on you and waive the fee.
9. Sometimes, it pays to pull a no-show
It can be cheaper to simply not show up for your flight rather than
canceling and paying the change fee — especially if you used miles or points to book, or if you only have to change one leg of the flight. It’s a bit riskier, but has been known to work.
10. BYO bottles
Just a tomato juice for me, please (wink, wink). No, we’re talking water bottles. Remember to throw an empty, refillable water bottle in your carry on so you can fill up after security. This is especially valuable when flying a low-cost carrier that charges for water.
*This tip has been modified to include water bottles.