Learn about what hidden airline fees might be associated with your ticket

The Most Common Hidden Airline Fees

Throughout the history of airline travel, customers have seen big swings when it comes to included services and additional fees. Flying commercially used to be a fancy ordeal – dressing up, full meals, luxury and amenities were included and expected. While travelers can certainly still fly in style including first class and onboard dining and beverage options, the culture of commercial flight has morphed to more of an à la carte menu of options onboard most domestic and international flights. While airlines are attempting to cut back on cost and provide a more cost effective travel package for customers, you may want to research any hidden airline fees associated with the airline you choose. After all, fees can add up quickly on a round trip ticket when you add extra baggage charges, booking fees, insurance and other charges you may not have expected. Tacking on fees is how many airlines recoup the lost income from providing cheap airfare. Here are a few things to look out for when snatching up that really great plane ticket at a super low price…beware the fine print!

Hidden airline fees you can fly without… maybe

Seat selection – Almost every flyer likes to have a seat assigned, but if you’re a business traveler or frequent flyer getting from point A to point B on a regular basis, you might consider skipping the seat selection upcharge. However, if you’re traveling with a group, or more importantly with small kids, budget airlines can get you with seat selection fees. In order for a group to sit together, there may be a small charge (usually around $10) to pick seats that are next to one another, while nicer, more desired seating options can cost a bit more. For a family of four, that can add an additional $40-$60 to your cost each way. If you’re pleasant to other passengers, you can usually talk a few people into switching seats with you once onboard, especially when they see you’ve got your hands full with little ones. Be aware not all airlines will allow passengers to switch seats.


Food, beverage and other amenities – Probably the most difficult aspect of the ever-evolving commercial airline industry is the removal of complimentary food and beverages. On long flights many airlines no longer offer free meals to travelers. While most of the cheaper budget airlines will provide juice, pop, water and coffee or tea along with a small snack regardless of the duration of your flight, the age of complimentary dining on airlines is over. You can generally expect to have to pay for packaged meals and other bigger more substantial snacks while on board your flight. Pillows and blankets usually come at a small fee, too, so if you can squeeze a neck pillow in your (hopefully free!) carry on, that will be your best option. The food options tend to be a bit pricey, so sometimes even stocking up in the airport is a bit cheaper, or better yet, pack appropriate food at home to bring along. Avoid these fees by being prepared.

in flight dining charges

Save some cash by bringing food and snacks on board your flight. Most airlines now charge for inflight dining.

Technology on board – In a time of ever-changing technology, you can almost always expect hidden fees associated with Wi-Fi and onboard entertainment. While this element of commercial airline travel seems to vary the most from company to company, it is rarely free. From movie and television fees to onboard Wi-Fi to multiple device access, these fees can add up if you’re a family on vacation and mom needs to get a few hours of work in during the flight. Business people can be impacted the most – you can’t sync up your Dropbox account in the air if you didn’t pay that one-time $14.99 fee. While these are some of the more frustrating hidden airline fees, in today’s world, they also happen to be some of the most common. A great way to avoid some of these fees is to be prepared… download movies and videos for the kids to devices and any working documents or files to your laptop before you get on board.

Standby fees – Standby options for earlier flights used to be offered by most airlines free of charge. If you arrived early at the airport and needed to get on a flight leaving earlier than yours, you just added your name to the list and if a seat opened up you could get on board. Now however, if you need to leave earlier, you’ll need to pay a fee to get your name on the list. You typically won’t be charged the fee if a seat doesn’t become available but if one does you can expect to dish out about $75. Alaska Airlines is one of the few commercial companies that has opted out of this charge.

Hidden airline fees you’ll most likely have to swallow

Carry-on baggage – It used to be that travelers were allowed one carry-on bag, one personal item and up to two checked bags and in fact, Southwest Airlines still allows that number of bags, free of charge.  Different airlines have offered a variety of combinations of included bag allowances, but we’re quickly coming to a time when all checked bags are going to cost you, and some low-cost airlines are now charging for your carry-ons, too. Our tip? Pack smart. If there are laundry facilities where you’re headed, pack minimally. If you get a free checked bag, fit as much in there as possible while staying under the weight requirements.


extra baggage charges

Many airlines are starting to charge for all manner of baggage – that includes carry ons! Packing smart, light and compact can help you save on this cost.

Traveling with pets – While this shouldn’t come as any surprise, if you’re bringing your furry family member on the plane, there are going to be associated fees. Generally speaking, booking your pet or service animal on a flight will cost anywhere from $75 to a few hundred depending on airline. There are very strict rules you’ll need to adhere to, so be sure to check in with your airline to make sure you have the proper documentation, kennel size (if applicable) and know what the expectations are when it comes to handling and pet behavior.


Booking and reservation fees – In the age of technology, most travelers search every corner of the internet to find the very best deals on flights. This typically means they’re booking through the airlines website directly, or through bargain sites like Priceline or Kayak. Even booking through online avenues will hold associated booking fees, so before clicking “purchase”, make sure you read the fine print at the bottom of the screen. If you’re old fashioned and appreciate the customer service involved in speaking to an actual person while you’re booking your trip, you still have the option to pick up the phone and make a reservation that way. Don’t be fooled, however – most airlines charge a minimum of $20 to book over the phone, and some will charge you to change your itinerary. Looking for an airline that lets you book over the phone for free? Delta Airlines has dropped this hidden airline fee for its customers.


Unaccompanied minors – The kiddos want to head to grandma’s house for the summer, and dad can’t get the time off to fly out with them; maybe the cost of an additional airline ticket is just too much. No matter your reason, most major airlines including budget airlines offer the option of flying your unaccompanied minor domestically and in some cases, internationally. Each airline has its own age requirements (usually flyers can be as young as five) and associated fees. CheapFlights.com put together this great list of unaccompanied minor requirements and fees for most major airlines. Make sure your kids have the appropriate documentation to fly; in some cases they’ll need a passport, in others you’ll just need to provide a certified copy of a birth certificate.


unaccompanied minor on airline flight

If sending the kids off unaccompanied is your plan, be sure to look into your airline’s fees regarding unaccompanied minors.


Why research and planning can save you a bundle

With these menu-style options seeming to be the way most airlines are headed, if you’re a frugal traveler, you really can get a great deal. To do so, it’s best to research an airline before booking. That $125 round trip ticket can easily turn into a $300 ticket if you haven’t looked into the costs associated with traveling comfortably. While it’s still may cost an additional fee, most airlines offer membership packages that include airline miles, onboard amenities, VIP boarding opportunities and other perks at a moderate yearly cost. If you’re a once-a-year traveler, you probably won’t be able to fully optimize that cost. On the other hand, if you travel a few times a year, a membership program may truly offset some of those hidden airline fees.

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