The saying “If it sounds too good to be true” can be applied to just about everything in life, including budget air travel. The bare fee for a flight ticket that flashes on your computer looks like a great deal at first, but then the add-on fees start piling up. Watch out, because they will continue right up to boarding if you’re not paying attention. By the time the plane is finally in the air, you have shelled out far more than you ever imagined paying for airfare. To save you the time and frustration, we put together a list of hidden fees for low-cost (Spirit and Allegiant) and legacy carriers to be aware of when buying a flight on a budget.
Low-cost carriers really like to nail customers with hidden luggage fees. With some strategizing, you can beat them at their own game. Start by ditching a carry-on completely and opt for traveling with a checked bag and personal item. Spirit actually charges more for a carry-on ($30) than checked bag ($35). Personal items are free and include purse, laptop bag, or small backpack. Traveling with a companion? Cut luggage costs even more by sharing a checked bag. And be sure to pay baggage fees at booking when they are cheapest.
As a general travel rule, always pack light. Overweight baggage fees can be massive. Spirit charges $30 for checked bag over 40 lbs. If possible, weigh your bag at home before arriving at the airport. Think twice about that second pair of shoes or extra outfit, and leave toiletries at home – the complimentary soap and shampoo are the best things about staying at a hotel anyways.
You’ll want to kick yourself if you wait to print your boarding pass at the airport Spirit charges $10 per boarding pass to print while Allegiant charges $5 per boarding pass. Save money and print your ticket at home. Allegiant, however, offers the option of a free mobile boarding pass through its app.
Book your flight over the phone with a customer representative and be ready to pay $10 to $20 per ticket. Booking fees don’t apply when you go through a major airline’s website though. Spirit and Allegiant have minor online booking fees, which can be completely avoided if you buy your ticket at the airport.
Depending on the carrier, you can skip additional expenses by letting the airline assign you a seat. While main airlines usually do not charge for seat selection, low-cost carriers do. Spirit’s reserved seating starts at $5 and seat reservation fees with Allegiant vary.
Don’t put off paying any unavoidable fees until you get to the airport. The longer you wait, the more expensive the fees become. For example, with Spirit, you can expect to pay $30 for a checked bag when you first purchase your ticket online. The fee jumps to $50 at the airport and $100 at the gate!
Spirit and Allegiant offer on-flight snacks for purchase. Dodge paying $5 for a bag of tasteless pretzels and pack your own snacks in the personal item bag you are already carrying. You’ll be better off this way. Choose healthy, protein-packed treats like fruit, veggies, nuts, crackers, cheese, and hummus - for more ideas, check out our 10 Healthy Travel Snacks to Bring On Your Next Flight. A few pieces of dark chocolate won’t hurt. You can’t bring drinks through security, but can bring an empty water bottle to fill up before getting on the airplane.
Budget travel by plane doesn’t always mean going with first cheapest option you see. It also requires smarts and having a game plan from start to finish. And knowing when and where to look for hidden fees is the surest strategy for keeping your air travel costs down.