If you want a bigger or better seat and don't mind paying the fee, go for it. But some fees are worse than others. Avoid these four:
1. The $100 carry-on fee
That's not a misprint, Spirit Airlines charges one hundred bucks each way for a carry-on bag if you wait to pay for it at the airport gate. Frontier used to charge the same but lowered it to $50, possibly to match Allegiant.
Solution: Pay Spirit's carry-on fee during online booking when it's only $35 or check a bag with them for a mere $30. Or fly any U.S. airline (other than the ones named above) and get a carry-on for free. But first, compare airfare prices to see which offers the best overall bargain.
2. The $200 change fee
If you've already purchased a ticket but have to change dates or cancel altogether, watch out for the $200 change fee. That's what American, Delta, United and US Airways charge but other airlines aren't far behind.
Solution: There are a few things you can do; unfortunately most of these things must be done before you buy your ticket or immediately after.
• Consider refundable tickets: If you have reason to believe the dates you plan to fly may not work for you, either wait until you're certain or buy a refundable ticket. It won't be cheap: A cross-country flight on Delta in August is about $580 while the refundable version costs $1,520.
• Travel insurance: Again, this may not be cheap but if you do get insurance, read the fine print to be certain it covers a change in plans.
• Fly the 'no change fee' airline: Southwest's enduring popularity over the past four decades isn't only due to free checked-bags; the airline also boasts no change fees.
• Think fast: By law, you have 24 hours to change your mind about airfare. Most airlines allow you to cancel a purchase and get a refund but American's approach allows shoppers the right to reserve a seat for 24 hours without having to pay for it.
• Beg for mercy: Call the airline, explain your problem and ask if there's anything they can do. Expect nothing but there have been rare occasions where this has worked.
3. Overweight fee
Normal baggage fees are nothing compared to overweight charges. If you take a 71 pound suitcase on Delta, resign yourself to paying $200 (each way) on top of the regular checked-bag fee. On certain international flights, United charges overweight fees as high as $400.
Solution: Most U.S. airlines allow 50 pounds per checked-bag before the overweight charge kicks in so weigh your bag before heading to the airport. Hand-held baggage scales are available at stores like Target for $20. Even better, pack light and use a carry-on, free on most U.S. airlines (see the exceptions above in number one).
4. Phone fee
Calling an airline is no easy task; just ask anyone who's tried to rebook a flight due to delays or cancelations. The worst of it is the $20 or $25 phone fee. Or is it your time? Think about that as you're stuck on hold for 10, 20, 30 minutes or longer.
Solution: Go online. This is one fee no one should ever pay.