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SALT LAKE CITY — It’s summer, and this much is known: It’s expensive to fly. Add the mounting surcharges of new or unexpected fees, and the overall cost of a ticket becomes a punch-in-the-gut punishment for traveling by air.
To this end, savvy travelers with tricks of their own combat airline fees in myriad ways, some tedious and some creative. Listed below are five areas where it pays (or saves, rather) to be in the know.
1. On getting airline savvy
It’s easy to pull up an Internet search with thousands of websites and blogs full of tips, tricks and plenty of advice on saving money while traveling. It can be overwhelming, especially when they all say essentially the same thing: become a smart consumer.
Since January 2012, the Department of Transportation’s passenger protection regulations mandate airlines to post all their fees on their website. Which means, in principle, it should be fairly straightforward to check what additional fees you might accrue when you book a flight to Dallas with Delta Airlines, for example.
And not all airlines are equally greedy. Some have many more potential fees looming in the fine print than others. So while they may charge you extra for fresh air, at least you can know upfront exactly which fees you can begrudgingly incur.
While this may not be an earth-shattering tip, the truth of it is, investing the time to get navigated to your favorite airline’s fees and policies can really pay off in the long run.
2. Pertaining to baggage and packing
When it comes to the question of checked bags vs. carry-ons, never rule out sweat-equity. If you can cram and overpack your barely within regulation carry-on, you can guarantee saving at least $25, which is the low end of what it costs to check a bag.
Sure, it might be a chore to heft your ton-of-bricks with wheels on the carpet between the moving sidewalks, but more often than not, you’ll have an opportunity to check it for free once you reach the gate.
It’s a risk, but with so many flights filled to capacity, it’s a rare occasion where they don’t ask for volunteers to complimentary check their wheeled carry-on luggage. And Jet Blue doesn’t charge for a single checked bag, and Southwest shockingly still allows two — old school.
So pack light but pack tight. Avoiding the cost of checked baggage is a big money-saver in modern air travel.
3. On reserving your ticket
Navigate those airways solo when booking your ticket. Otherwise it can cost you. DIY is the name of the game these days. Staff is expensive for shrinking airlines to maintain, so the more the customer can do, the better. The tip here is to avoid calling the airline directly to book a flight or, really, enlisting any help at all in the actual acquisition of your ticket.
This may have been how it used to be done, but avoid the temptation to talk to someone. That someone needs to get paid, and that payment comes from an over-the-phone booking fee, clearly marked on Delta’s fee sheet. Frontier, on the other hand, does not have any booking fees, and neither does Southwest, which is something to consider when jet-setting about.
The other common trick is to book a ticket out of a more popular airport with heavier air traffic. Even if it’s the same airline, they compete with more options, and prices are usually lower.
An illustration: If Twin Falls, Idaho, is home, and Boise is closer than Salt Lake City, it usually pays to travel to the bigger and busier airport, in this case, Salt Lake City.
4. Pertaining to the Internet-deal sites and email alerts
There is no real crystal ball to navigating all the deal sites like Priceline, Orbitz and Expedia. Try them all, try them frequently and compare. There are even sites like Kayak that do that for you. Get email alerts on deals and try to travel during unpopular times or offseasons.
Airfare Watchdog is a useful email subscription that scours airline databases directly for unadvertised prices, and while the deal is never as good as the bold headline may suggest, one can get pretty close if the opportunity is seized expeditiously.
5. On credit cards and rewards
Online booking can often go hand-in-hand with airline credit cards, which are a great way to get around a lot of fees and earn attractive travel benefits. Not all travel cards are alike, however, and a deep assessment of how the miles, or points, or gold stars actually add up to real savings is needed before any choice is made.
Airlines like to promote their credit cards against their souped-up fees. Delta, for example, includes a link on its fee page for how to avoid getting charged for that first checked bag. The click-through answer: A Delta American Express card. How novel.
PayPal’s Bill Me Later program is another credit option for those that want to pay their travel in increments and flirt with accruing interest. It can be a huge benefit for those in a time crunch or temporary budget crisis, but it’s still a line of credit, so exercise caution with these options.
With Bill Me Later, there is a honeymoon phase of zero interest, but if the entirety of the ticket isn’t paid in that time, exorbitant interest is liberally applied to the remaining balance.
Don’t stay home.
Traveling among today’s airline monopolies and economic nickel-and-diming still doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive. Sure, saving money on travel requires quite a bit more energy, effort and investment of time, but effectively reducing fees and ticket costs can often be dramatic enough to make the upfront effort worth it. Plus it frees up more vacation "dough" to spend on souvenir T-shirts and snow globes. And really, who wouldn’t want a new snow globe? Joseph Peterson is a graduate from the University of Utah currently writing and navigating life on the East Coast. Connect with him on Twitter @planetjoseph