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How to Beat New Airline Charges

Several leading airlines promised over the weekend that they would not charge passengers for carry on bags, following Spirit Airlines announcement that it would institute up to a $45-per-bag charge for items placed in the overhead bins. That was the latest move in an industry that is depending increasingly on charges for everything from snacks and pillows to suitcases and sodas. The next move? Europe's super-cheap a la carte airline Ryanair is trying to figure out how to put pay toilets on its planes.

The airlines that promised not to charge for carry-on bags were American, Delta, United, US Air, and JetBlue. But don't automatically assume that means you'll fly cheaper on one of them: Spirit lowered its already-low fares to compensate for the added carry-on fee. (Psst: Want to know a secret? Spirit says it's making the move to cut down on boarding congestion, but there are also tax implications. Ticket prices incur a 7.5 percent federal excise tax, but baggage fees do not.) And just to add insult to injury, the average flight can be expected to cost 25 percent more this summer than last summer, Priceline reported. The great deals found in the middle of the Great Recession have evaporated like so much jet exhaust.

Don't despair, and don't just stay home, though. There are still some great ways to save on summer travel now, including these:

  • Always check the bottom line. Spirit may charge a lot for that carry on, but its fares tend to be much lower. And it charges half as much to check a bag as it does to shlep one on the plane. Add all costs before you book.
  • Shop direct and through aggregators. Low-price websites like Priceline and Hotwire don't list every airline and they don't get every deal, so after you've checked prices there, go directly to the web site of the airline that offered the lowest fare and hunt for coupons. Also, check the websites of the deep discounters -- like Spirit and Southwest -- that might go to your local airport. Finally, pick up the phone and call the winning airline. The ticket agent may offer another deal.
  • Go someplace cheap. Travelocity is telling flyers that they'll get lower ticket prices if they choose these discounted destinations: Eastern Europe, Maui, the Dominican Republic, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Make it up elsewhere. Hotels are still fighting low vacancies with price wars. So, even if you pay more to fly, you may pay less to stay.
  • Fly right. Bring your own snacks and in-flight entertainment. And, note to self, it's really time to learn how to pack light. Less is more. Three shirts, a jacket, and a couple of skirts or slacks, and you can always find a laundromat at your destination. For a fee, of course.
Photo by Matt Biddulph on Flickr
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