Guide to Airline Charges and Fees
Emma Langley, 20.03.19
Alternative Travel Tips
We’ve all been there: you’ve managed to get yourself a great deal on your flights but now you have to avoid the minefield of hidden fees and extra airline charges.
We’ve put together this guide to ensure that you stay money-wise when booking your flights, keeping the total cost of your flight and travels down and avoiding paying extra for your flight.
1. Get Cheap Flights
First of all, you need to actually get the cheap flights. What’s the point in putting in effort to avoid extra airline charges when you’ve paid over the odds for your flight in the first place? Why not plan when you book by finding the best day to book flights. You can also use features on Alternative Airlines such as our best fare finder, which will help find you the cheapest flight within a date range.
2. Avoid extra taxes and fees
When booking flights directly with the airlines or with other travel agents, you may be surprised when the price rockets at the checkout when they add on service fees and taxes. At Alternative Airlines, we include any necessary applicable taxes and fees in the price you first see, making your transaction transparent and with no nasty price increases.
How much will taxes and fees cost me?
Taxes and fees vary depending where you are travelling to and from, however they can reach a sum of up to $200 USD. Some airlines charge for booking flights over the phone or in person, with the fees often ranging from $10-$35. At Alternative Airlines, we include the cost of taxes and fees for the customer in the price you see and pay.
3. Choose your payment method wisely
We love to celebrate our range of payment methods we offer on Alternative Airlines. To save on payment fees, choose the method that best suits you. For example most credit and debit cards are free of any additional charges when you use them to buy flights, especially in the EU where fees have been banned on credit and debit cards. You could, however, choose payment methods such as Affirm to split the costs into more monthly payments, making large expenses seem smaller and more manageable.
How much will payment fees cost me?
Some companies charge a set amount, or a percentage of your flight price, to pay with a credit or debit card. Typically, this cost averages 1-3% of the price of your flights, so is best to choose the payment method which most suits you.
4. Decide what baggage you need
Recent years have seen airlines unbundling their fares, meaning that the price of your ticket sometimes only means a seat on the plane and anything extra such as luggage, meals and seat selection costing you extra. Although most airlines still include hand baggage as part of their ticket, some have reduced the allowance even further to only include a personal item. It’s important to check what your ticket includes, so that you know if and how much you need to upgrade to.
When planning your flights, decide exactly how much baggage you will require, as there’s no point paying for baggage you don't need. For example, if you’re going on a short romantic weekend getaway, you can get away with just hand luggage, or if you’re a light traveller, perhaps even just a small personal bag! Not sure what is the difference between a personal item and standard hand luggage? Read our guide and FAQs here.
If you decide that the small fee to check a bag is necessary, you can choose to purchase it with Alternative Airlines. You can do this when booking your flights with many airlines, or alternatively you can contact us after making a booking where our customer service agents will be able to help you. Find out more about booking baggage for your flights here, including which airlines you can do it with.
When travelling with baggage, make sure to weigh your suitcase or bag before travelling to make sure it is within the limits of what you are permitted or have purchased. Don’t risk the hefty fees that some airlines charge for excess or overweight bags!
How much will baggage cost me?
Although baggage prices will vary depending on what class, route and airline you are flying with, the average carry-on bag will cost you an average of $20-30 USD when pre-booking, but can go up to around $60 USD per bag when paying at the airport. Checked bags will usually cost around $30 USD when buying before flying, which rises up to around $65 USD for some airlines when paying for them at the airport. Excess baggage is much more expensive, averaging around $75-150 USD per overweight or oversized bag.
5. Pre-book your seats
Some airlines have also changed the way they seat people on the plane. While some people don’t mind where they sit on the plane, some travellers find choosing their preferred seat changes their flight experience. For example, not only can this allow families or friends to sit together on the plane, but you can also choose whether to have a window seat or get some extra legroom by choosing an exit row seat.
For some people, this is an expense worth every penny, whereas for others it is an unnecessary fee that can help save money. Read our guide on how to book seats for more information about how to browse and book seats. Some seats will be more expensive than others, so take that into account when choosing where you want to sit.
How much will seat selection cost me?
If the thought of not sitting next to your friends or family on the plane doesn’t bother you, or if you really dont mind where you might be sitting on the plane then you are under no obligation to pre-book your seat, meaning it will cost you $0 USD. Prices of seat selection will vary depending on the airline you are booking with, and the value of your selected seat. However, prices generally range from $5 to $25 USD per seat per flight.
6. Check-in Online
Some airlines now charge their passengers to check-in at the airport, charging for both staffing and sometimes to print a boarding pass. You can avoid this charge by being organised and checking-in online for free. You can read more detailed information about online check-in here, with information about how to check-in online for flights booked with Alternative Airlines.
How much will check-in cost me?
When you check-in online, you will be able to complete the process for free. However, as mentioned some airlines will charge you to check-in at the airport, which averages around $30-35 USD. Even if you have checked-in online, some airlines may charge a fee of around $20 USD to print your boarding pass if you have not printed it at home, or have lost it, depending on the airline. So be sure to follow all instructions and print it at home if you can!
7. Plan your food before travelling
The food that airlines offer is completely dependent on what airline you are travelling with and the route you are flying, so it is always best to check once you have booked to see if your ticket includes any food or drinks. For example, when flying long-haul, passengers will often get a full meal included in the price of their ticket whereas on short haul flights, a full meal is rarely provided, and you may only be provided with a light snack. You can choose on some airlines to purchase food either in advance or on board.
It is usually cheaper to pre-order meals rather than purchasing it on board, and you get the guarantee of having your item available. However, sometimes full-meals are the only thing available for pre-order, with snacks and light meals only being available to buy on board where they are much more costly. If you want to avoid this expense, you can bring your own food with you on the plane, or if you’d still prefer a more filling hot meal, why not enjoy a meal in a restaurant at the airport - find some airports with a great restaurant selection here.
How much will food cost me?
If you are looking for a full meal, it can cost up to around $20 USD on most American carriers. Snacks on board are less expensive, but still can cost around $5 USD for a light snack. Drinks prices depend on if they are alcoholic or not, and so vary from around $6-17 USD. Save on these expenses by bringing your own food, or eating beforehand.
8. Consider any extras
Work out if you will need or want any extra amenities such as WiFi on your flight. Although WiFi can be expensive in your flight, you may need it if you will need to work on a long-haul flight. You can read more about the airlines with the best WiFi here, including which airlines provide it for free! It often works out cheaper to pre-book WiFi before flying, rather than paying full price on the plane. However, be sure to research your airline before travelling to see price variations.
Alternatively, you may wish to have access to an airport lounge. This can be quite costly if you choose one of the premium lounges, but some can provide great value for money. For example, the Strata Lounge in Auckland Airport (AKL) is only $36 USD, but includes WiFi, seating, unlimited drinks and food. Additionally, some plane tickets include complimentary access to these lounges, so although the more premium ticket may be more expensive, you will get more for your money through access to these lounges. NB: if you want access to airport lounge facilities, but don't want to pay for a more expensive ticket, Alternative Airlines sells airport lounge passes so you can have a touch of comfort before and after flying.
Finally, you may want to consider priority boarding. Like airport lounges, your flight ticket may already include this so be sure to check. However, some airlines will offer this as an add-on purchase, allowing you to board the plane before anyone else. This is a great option if you have decided to save on checked luggage fees, and want to be sure there will be room for the overhead lockers for your bag, or if you simply want to get settled and not feel rushed getting into your seat.
How much will extra amenities cost me?
The price of WiFi currently averages at around $20 USD per short flight. Airport lounges hugely differ depending on which airport and airline you are flying with, but some of the most basic ones only cost around $15 USD. Priority boarding can cost as little as $10 USD for most US carriers.
Travelling with Something Different?
There are a number of things that certain travellers will have to pay extra for. For example, those travelling with pets, who are not special service animals, will be charged according to where they travel in the plane. Similarly, passengers planning to travel with a musical instrument may be subject to additional charges or fees. For instruments that fit into the set dimensions of checked luggage, passengers will not be charged. However, for instruments which travel as hand luggage, which most musicians prefer, you may have to pay for additional or oversized hand luggage, or even for another extra seat to place the item on. Unaccompanied minors also cost more, as you are paying airline staff to look after those who are not old enough to look after themselves.
How much will this cost me?
Travelling with a pet can cost around $100 USD in the cabin, rising up to around $200 USD to transport pets in the cargo. However, this is only an average and depends on the rules and fees of the specific airline you are travelling with. The cost of transporting a musical instrument will depend on the cost of either oversized baggage or the price of an additional seat. The extra cost for an unaccompanied minor will vary depending on the airline you are flying with and the route of your flight. Most American airlines such as American, Delta and United will charge around $150 USD for this service for a one-way flight, whereas some such as Alaska will be cheaper at $50 USD for a direct flight.