As you shop for airfare for your summer vacation, don’t overlook the cost of fees for bags or changing a reservation that can add quite a bit to your travel bill.
Airlines collected a record $6.1 billion last year in these fees, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
That could be because fees are rising as well as more people are flying, said George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, which publishes a list of airline charges.
Fees continue to rise this year, with some airlines recently increasing the cost to change a reservation from $150 to $200.
“You might as well not change your ticket. There won’t be much left over,” Hobica says.
For travelers upset about baggage fees, there’s some good news:
“Some airlines are installing larger overhead bins in some of their planes. That will help,” Hobica says.
Still, Hobica says, baggage fees are often avoidable.
“People will have to learn how to pack light," he says. “No one notices if you wear the same thing day after day as long as it’s clean. Wear a different silk scarf or color of tie.”
Hobica says he’s noticed that priority boarding bins fill up faster as those who get on the plane first put their luggage in compartments over other travelers’ seats. To avoid this problem, Hobica recently replaced his 22-inch bag with an 18-incher that can fit under a seat.
“It is the smallest suitcase I could possibly find,” he says. If he needs to, he says, he washes clothing in the hotel sink.
If you think you might have to change reservations, consider booking under American Airlines’ Choice Essential or Choice Plus program, Hobica says. You will pay extra — $68 to $88 — but you get one free checked bag, priority boarding and there’s no fee if you must change your reservation, he says.
Or, Hobica says, fly Southwest Airlines, which gives a flight credit good for one year.