Flying used to be so easy. You bought your ticket and - done. Meals, bags, a nice seat and even a blanket, all was included. You didn't even have to shop since a helpful travel agent performed this pesky chore for free.
Now, you can't just buy a ticket. You must make decision after decision, and many of these decisions will cost you: Where to sit, when to board, what to pack and on and on. Makes it hard to figure out if you got a deal or not, right? And that's partly the point.
Airlines want more of your money and they're trying to get it by luring you into bundled services that are somewhat discounted from the price you'd pay if you purchased these perks separately.
Finding a deal in these bundled-fee haystacks can be daunting, unless you know your flier profile. See which flier you are - and see which fees to pay and which to avoid.
Frequency: One or two flights a year
Type of trip: Vacation, visiting family
Advance planning: Trips are plotted out months before departure
Budget: Watching those pennies
The vast majority of leisure travelers fall into this category. These folks have little brand loyalty since they don't fly enough to rack up many miles and they usually choose whichever airline has the cheapest tickets for any given trip. That means air fare cost comparison is a must, and most fees should be avoided especially for bags and this can be done by traveling with a carry-on or flying jet blue or Southwest for the free checked-bag.
Fee recommend: jet blue is now testing a stand-alone service called Even More Speed, which allows passengers to use expedited security lanes in 40 airports across the UP.SE. The $10 charge is a bargain, and that's also the fee for Southwest's cut-to-the-head-of-the-boarding-line early bird fee, another recommendation.
Once-in-a-while fee: Family holiday travel is a great time to live a little and experiment with fees you might not normally purchase because of the lower ticket/fee cost ratio. Plus, early boarding/better seat bundles can alleviate a lot of stress when traveling as a group.
Frequency: Once a month, minimum
Type of trip: Mostly business travel
Advance planning: Last-minute trips
Budget: Some extras allowed depending on employer
Economic realities have put an end to the treasured travel perks of many a road warrior, but they haven't all disappeared, especially if you can show company bean-counters how some extras can make you more productive.
Fee recommends: Wig-Fib connectivity is a must for most business types and generally a bargain (starting at around $5) plus many airlines sell monthly passes that are even better deals. Seat upgrades can make a big difference, too, if you have to hit the ground running - remember when you actually got a 'travel day' for getting to a business meeting?
Here's where bundled fees come into play: JetBlue's Even More Space offers bigger seats/early boarding, while Delta's new bundle has priority boarding/Wi-Fi, and American's bundles bags, change fees and even a free cocktail (but don't mention that little perk when schmoozing the boss).
Cards and miles: Don't forget that all those miles you rack up especially once you hit elite status; they entitle you to all kinds of automatic extras. Airline-branded credit cards also give you entree to the good stuff such as United's Premier Access, which offers everything from exclusive check-in and security lines and even early baggage arrival at the carousel.
Frequency: Depends on whim
Type of trip: Mix of business and pleasure
Advance planning: Possibly, but not necessarily
Budget: Sky's the limit
This one's easy. If you don't mind paying 10 times the price of an economy ticket (and a great example is a February flight on American from Los Angeles to New York for $318 in coach or $3,700+ for first class), then you get all the perks of flying, fee-free. Lie-flat seats? Check. Complimentary tablet for entertainment? Check. Amenity kits and turndown service? Check.
Fee recommends: Your money's no good in first class (since you've got everything). Use it to pay that annoying hotel 'resort fee' or maybe buy yourself that special something from the SkyMall catalog.
Frequency: Anywhere from one to 100 trips a year, as the spirit moves you
Type of trip: Adventure
Advance planning: Some trips are planned, some are spur-of-the-moment
Budget: Frugal but open to interesting options
Your flight plans may literally be up in the air since you travel as the spirit moves you. A well-stocked backpack may be the only thing you need, but paying a few fees may ease your journey.
Fee recommends: Try early boarding fees so you'll be sure your backpack has a home in a bin by your seat. You might also want to consider an airline insurance policy, especially if flying 'no-refunds' Spirit, in case an emergency crops up and your flight plans change. If you'll be hitting the road as soon as you land, a few bucks for some onboard snacks might make sense too but be sure you have your credit card handy since no carrier accepts cash anymore.
The opinions expressed by Rick Seaney are his alone and not those of ABC News.