Time to Re-think How You Shop Around for Airline Tickets

PHOTO: Here are ways to keep track of airline fees.

If you're planning a summer getaway, don't click over to search for airline tickets until you read this.

Here's why:

1) Hidden fees could make your flight pricier than it appears.

2) The biggest carriers all just upped their change fees.

Yes, more airlines are switching to the ala carte pricing system first done full-scale by Spirit Air, where you book a ticket for a low base price but every extra costs, well, extra. And their definition of what is "extra" is rapidly evolving. Not just checked bags. We're talkin' carry-on bags, roomier seats --and the newest frontier, in-flight beverages. Oops, subconscious pun. Frontier Airlines is one of the airlines that has begun charging even for non-alcoholic beverages.

Now, I'm not one of those consumer advocates screeching "the sky is falling, the sky is falling" --and the airline business with it. Actually, I can see where these discount carriers are coming from. From their point of view, they are offering you a way to save money. If you don't need to check a bag or drink the airline's soda, you can get a ticket for less than the person next to you.

But it does mean you need to shop for seats in a whole new way. From now on, when you look for airline tickets, to know the real cost of the flight, you need to consider the fees that are not included in your base ticket.

For example, I just checked online and you could snag a roundtrip from Denver to Los Angeles on either Frontier or Southwest for $252. But, here's the new consideration: Frontier charges $20-$25 for a checked bag, $25-$100 for overhead space (if you book through a third party rather than through Frontier's website) and $2 for an in-flight beverage. Will you be needing any of those? Southwest doesn't charge for up to two checked bags, the overheads or soft drinks.

The website Cheapism.com has just compiled detailed lists of airline fees for the dozen biggest domestic carriers. Cheapism, which is dedicated to finding ways to live on less, has charts for baggage fees, another for miscellaneous charges and a third for change fees.

Yes, change fees. We also need to start giving more thought to how solid our plans are. I think we've all gotten used to the fact that the vast majority of airlines charge you if you want to change the date of your flight. Pop quiz: how much do you think they charge? I would have said $50. Insert loud buzz here! I'm so behind the times. American, Delta, United and US Airways all now charge $200 to change a ticket. Other airlines range from $50 to $125, according to Cheapism. Southwest has no change fee, though you have to pay any difference in fare.

So, look before you leap --or click--or the price of your summer getaway could get away from you.

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