Avoiding Sneaky Airline Fees

A Northwest Airlines plane takes off from Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport in Minneapolis Monday April 14, 2008. Delta Air Lines Inc. and Northwest Airlines Corp., squeezed by record high fuel prices and a slowing economy, are combining in a stock-swap deal that would create the world's biggest carrier. The boards of both companies gave the deal the go-ahead Monday.(AP Photo/Andy King)
AP Photo/Andy King
"A la carte" pricing may help you save money in a restaurant, but it's costing airline passengers big bucks.

Longtime travel guru Peter Greenberg, author of "Tough Times, Great Travels: The Travel Detective's Guide to Hidden Deals, Unadvertised Bargains, and Great Experiences," visited The Early Show Monday with word on many of the newest -- and sneakiest -- fees and how quickly they can add up, and tips on avoiding as many as possible.

There's no doubt that travelers are enjoying a buyer's market right now. According to Greenberg, we haven't seen one this big or long in 33 years! The deals encompass hotel, resort and rental car rates, along with airfares.

But it was the airfares Greenberg focused on Monday.

Airlines have a lot of empty seats to fill so they can't raise fares (due to the law of supply and demand). But they're still desperate to raise money any way they can. So, welcome to the new reality of paying fees for everything in connection with your flight. That enables airlines to effectively raise your fare by $60 or more (a lot more!), without actually advertising higher fares.

Believe it or not, it was only about a year ago that American Airlines opened the floodgates for a la carte pricing, beginning to charge passengers for checking bags. American was the first major carrier to impose such a fee, and almost every other carrier has now followed suit. In 2008, the major airlines raked in more than $1.1 billion in luggage fees.

Unfortunately, being charged to check a suitcase is now old news. But proving just how pervasive these fees have gotten, even Southwest Airlines -- the discount carrier that built entire promotional campaigns around the fact that it doesn't charge passengers extra fees like its competitors -- just announced it would start charging $25 for overweight bags or to check a third bag, along with a couple of additional fees. After years of outperforming the rest of the airline industry, Southwest lost $91 million in the first quarter of 2009.

So now, we all expect to pay a fee of some sort to check our bags. And if your bags are oversized or overweight, you'll REALLY be hit with some big fees -- as much as $200.

But some other fees may catch travelers by surprise.