Last Updated Dec 14, 2010 1:26 PM EST
The quoted, or advertised air fares are, increasingly, just the beginning of what you're going to pay for your flight, as airlines now charge for checked bags, food, seats, even pillows.
But smart travelers don't have to pay any of these additional fees, if they do some preparation ahead of time, as well as approach all of these fees with the basic common-sense test: Why do we fly in the first place? To get from point A to point B AND NOT DIE.
So if we're really on the plane for basic transportation, why should we pay for extras that can, in some cases, cost more than the flight itself?
Skip the Luggage Fees Without Hurting Your Back
Let's start with the big-ticket fee item: checked bags. With the exception of Southwest, just about every airline charges for checked bags. JetBlue still lets you check the first one for free, and some credit-card programs (Delta, for example) gives you a waiver if you use their branded credit card with American Express. Frequent travelers on some airlines who have collected enough miles to achieve elite status may also get these fees waived.
But at the end of the day, you're still paying the airline to cost you time, and of course money. We're talking up to $120 round-trip if you check two bags in each direction.
So do what I do. Avoid paying the airline to cost you time and/or lose your bags entirely. Instead, I use FedEx (but you can also use UPS and a number of other services). And for about $20 more than what the airlines want to charge you for LOSING your bag, I save at least two hours of my life every time I board a plane by not checking my bags and sending them by courier. I use FedEx three-day in advance ground service. (And let's face it, for your return flight, your dirty laundry doesn't need to arrive overnight).
Where do the two hours figure in? I'm not schlepping the bags to the airport or standing in line at the counter, and then again at the TSA to have them scanned. And even better, when I land, I'm not standing with my eyes transfixed on the luggage carousel hoping against hope that my bags were on the same flight I was.
Let's presume they WERE on the same flight -- I'm also hoping my flight didn't land during a shift change with the baggage handlers, and even if i didn't land during that shift change, that 30 to 40-minute wait time for bags means I'm now stuck in rush-hour traffic, or standing in a long taxi line with other passengers who had to wait for their bags.
When I land, I don't go to arrivals; I go to the departure area. That's where my friends pick me up, I'm whisked away, beat the traffic and when I get home, or to my hotel, and guess where my luggage is? In my room.
Say No to Bad Food and Germ-filled Pillows
Then there are the charges for the pillow, or the blanket. I want them to provide me with a full hazmat suit so I would even feel comfortable TOUCHING that blanket. So I'll pass on those charges.
Then there are some more insidious charges. Food. Have you seen one healthy item sold on a plane lately? Remember, people don't eat airline food because they're hungry. they eat it because they're bored. So if you have to eat on a flight, bring on healthy snacks.
And please, please nothing cooked. Trust me, nothing smells worse than a half-eaten bag of anything from McDonalds. Please be courteous to your fellow travelers. You're flying inside a sealed metal cylinder and that smell of bad cooking oil is obnoxious.
Extra Charges for a Coach Seat
What about seat charges? These are equally ridiculous. One airline wants to charge you up to $39 for a coach seat CLOSER to first class. Why would you pay for that? The airline even puts a premium price tag on middle seats in the front part of coach...absurd. All this means is that you're about 9 feet away from a first class chocolate chip cookie. You can smell it. But you still can't have one.
The bottom line here:
- Courier your bags.
- Bring your own food (or cookies).
- Carry your favorite, most comfortable pillow.
- And remember, you don't need to sit closer to first class.
Image courtesy of Flickr user, by gurms