Saving on travel: How to avoid unexpected, expensive airline fees

Just when you think you've found a great deal on airfare, you realize the price doesn't include those annoying fees, everything from a checked bag to selecting a seat. Consumer Reports says there are ways you can avoid these fees.

From gas to groceries, with prices on everything inching higher and higher, we still want to find ways to get away for a bargain. The problem is, just when you think you found a deal on a flight, you realize the price doesn’t include those annoying fees -- everything from checked bags to selecting a seat. The good news is, Consumer Reports found ways to avoid them.

Pang-Chieh-Ho is an editor at Consumer Reports. She herself thought she found a good deal on a flight to Florida -- until she looked a little closer.

“It was the carry-on bag fee that I was most surprised by,” she said. “The fees for my flight were more expensive than the airfare itself.”

Her experience isn’t uncommon.

“These days many airlines make more money off of fees than they do off of base airfares,” said Consumer Reports Aviation Adviser William McGee.

But McGee says you can still save.

CONSUMER REPORTS: Ways to save as airfares climb

Start by checking out the airline’s website to find out exactly what’s included in the price for the type of ticket you are considering.

“They make it very, very hard for you to find a bottom-line price,” warned McGee.

You also have to decide what extras you’re willing to pay for. Baggage is the most obvious -- even carry-on baggage. Others can include a seat assignment and early boarding.

McGee says while many airlines have loosened or even eliminated change or cancellation fees, Southwest, for example, allows two free checked bags. A rarity.

Consumer Reports reminds you, if you’re trying to avoid a checked-bag fee by packing only a carry-on, airlines have very strict rules on the sizes of any carry-ons you may bring with you.

If you’re a frequent flyer on one airline, consider using that airline’s credit card, which could offer valuable perks such as free checked bags, priority seat selection and boarding, and other travel treats.

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Another piece of advice: snag a decent fare as soon as you see it.

“If you see a fare right now and you think you’re going to be traveling this summer, my advice is to book it,” McGee said.

If your travel plans include a hotel stay, consider booking an air and hotel package through the airline: Consumer Reports says the fare you’ll get is often lower than what you’d pay if you booked the ticket separately.