Airline Fees Explained and How to Avoid Them

Disclosure: Well Traveled Mile has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Well Traveled Mile and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

What happened to the day where we can just purchase a ticket for a set price? You know, a ticket with no add-ons and no extra fees.

No one likes to pay extra airline fees. From luggage fees to ticket changing fees, we are going cover some of the most loathed airline fees that are often added to your flying experience and discuss how you can get around paying for them:

Over-the-phone booking fees

It’s an easily avoidable fee. If you can’t book through an agent, then book online instead, but avoid booking over the phone. Airlines charge a fee for booking over the phone, but there are ways to get around the fee if you can’t use the airline’s website for any reason. Elite passengers are normally exempt from paying the fee however, the status levels needed for exemptions vary depending on the airline. For example United waives fees for Platinum and 1K members whereas American Airlines only waives for Executive Platinum. If you’re not an elite ticket holder, then simply ask the agent to waive the fee. If the agent won’t waive the fee, keep requesting to speak to someone else until the fee has been waived.

Sometimes when booking award flights with a partner airline, the partner’s itinerary is not available on the website. In this case, you most likely would have to call the airline agent to reserve a ticket. Mention that you are unable to make an online reservation because you are experiencing booking problems.  If you end up speaking to someone in online support, they too will waive your fee because the nature of the call is noted as an IT Error.

Luggage Fees

I hate luggage fees for a couple of reasons. For one, having to pay $25 to bring essential luggage with me so that I don’t have to drag it around the airport seems a bit excessive. A second reason I dislike this fee, is that it really limits what I can bring with me on my trip. Lately, I’ve been traveling with just a backpack, but there have been trips that I have had to check in two bags and that alone costs $50. Most major airlines don’t charge for the first two pieces of luggage on international flights, but almost all domestic flights have a $25 bag check-in fee. Southwest Airlines is one of the few major airlines that does not charge for the first two checked-in items and JetBlue does not charge for the first checked bag. If you are not flying with either of those airlines--Delta, American or United will waive the fee for the first or both bags by using one of their co-branded credit cards.

DeltaDelta Gold Amex, Delta Platinum Amex, and Delta Reserve Card holders get to check-in one bag for free for up to nine passengers traveling under the card holders reservation.

United - With the United Explorer credit card, the cardholder as well as a companion get to check in one bag for free. When the opportunity comes, be sure to opt for the United Club Card offer to get two free checked bags as well as two for a companion.

American Airlines - Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage offers one free checked bag, for up to four travel companions as long as the reservations were all made with the Citi Platinum card.

Most elite passengers are able to have the fee waived for their first checked-in bag. Checking in luggage is not the most expensive fee, but it is an easily avoidable one that could keep extra cash in your pocket, especially if you are traveling with your entire family.

Cancellation/Change Fees

The dreaded cancellation or change fee is my biggest fee peeve. The $150+ that airlines charge for minor changes is one that I could live without, but I too have had to pay the fee one too many times in order to make a last-minute ticket change. I now know that cancellation fees could be avoided by following a few tips. For months in advance I would receive email updates of my flight being changed by a minute or two at least once every few weeks. The minor schedule changes should be a good enough reason for airlines to change your flight as you wish without charging a change fee. A refund may even be possible. Just ask! When I was in this situation, in addition to the $150 change fee, I was told that I would have to pay the difference in the fare price of my new reservation. So I asked the airline rep, “what if the fare is less than what I had originally paid, would I receive credit for the difference?” The answer was “no.” Southwest does not charge a change fee, they merely ask customers to pay the fare difference. There is no reason to feel obligated to pay the change fee when it can be avoided!

Award Redeposit Fees

Airline tickets that are purchased by redeeming rewards points, but later cancelled or changed are also subject to a redeposit fee of $150. The best way to avoid paying this fee is to wait for the airline to make even the slightest change to your itinerary then call them and request that your rewards points be deposited and have the fee waived. Like most other fees, Elite level passengers can have this fee waived or discounted. United and Delta will redeposit rewards for their Elite passengers that are United’s Premier Platinums, 1K’s and Global Service members or Delta’s Platinum and Diamond Medallion.  If your flight is altered due to bad weather it may also merit a free redeposit of rewards, but dont forget to ask.

Premium Seating Fees

Sitting in comfort for a 5 or 13 hour flight is a privilege and it does come with cost, but like all other fees, passengers who wish to upgrade to premium seating could skip paying the upgrade fee. Rather than dishing out the $100 to sit near an exit or have more leg room, members of the elite level could request the upgrade for free. If you’re flying with a companion that does have elite status, calling ahead the day before a flight could ensure that both passengers sit together in premium seating without paying an upgrade fee. Normally, the airlines will gladly upgrade your companion as a gesture of appreciation for you doing business with them. Another method to snagging a free upgrade to premium seating is to hold off on selecting a seat when you’re booking your flight and wait until boarding. When most seats are filled on a flight with heavily available premium seats, it’s very likely that a free upgrade to premier would result in your favor.

Close in Booking Fees

Most airlines will penalize passengers for booking a rewards flight within 21-days of takeoff and the fee ranges from $25 to $75. British Airways and Delta do not charge a fee for booking a trip within 21 day for anyone, but US Airways, United and American do charge a fee. The fees could be avoided or discounted by booking the flight through the airlines rewards programs for Elite members. United does charge a discounted fee for Premier Silver and Premier Gold members, but waives the fee for Premier Platinum, Premier 1K or Global Services customers. With American Airlines, flights booked with either AAdvantage Executive Platinum, AAdvantage Platinum and AAdvantage Gold members accounts will also have the $75 close in booking fee waived.

Airline Lounge Fees

We can all agree that airline lounges are a great place to take a break, sip on a drink, and kickback while checking emails during a long layover. Delta’s Sky Clubs or Virgin Airlines lounges are particularly swanky places to settle in, but they are also on the pricier end starting at $450 for membership. A day cost of hanging out in one of these lounges could cost about $40 a day, but that cost could also be waived. American Express Platinum card, Delta Reserve Card and United Club Card offer card holders complimentary access to partnered airlines’ lounges. With the United Club Card, companions also get to enjoy access to United’s lounge. Another great deal is with American Airlines CITI Executive AAdvantage Card because it provides immediate family members of the cardholder with access to the lounge or up to two companions with full Admiral’s Club membership privileges.

Airplane Gourmet

Airlines used to provide complimentary food for all flights whether they were domestic, international, long or short. Unless you’re traveling on an international flight, you now will only receive a bag of peanuts or pretzels as an effort to cut costs of airlines. They do have food available for purchase, but it’s not cheap. If you are flying coach and want to purchase food mid-flight, there are some ways to avoid paying full price for it. For one, if you’re flying with American Airlines and you have an Platinum card you can get a free premium snack and drink and those with a Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage card can get a 25% savings off food purchased in flight. Other airlines like Delta offer 20% off of on-board purchases as well.

The Bottom Line

Most airline fees are avoidable by simply asking airline attendants to waive the fee or by using co-branded airline credit cards. These methods for avoiding fees can save travelers up to $400 that can be used for purchases they actually enjoy.

Additionally, if you find yourself stuck with paying the fees, don’t fret because if you have an Amex Platinum card because it offers $200 in fee reimbursements every year.

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Advertiser Disclosure: Well Traveled Mile has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Well Traveled Mile and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

Editors Note: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.
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