Many airlines charge to check luggage, often starting at $25 for the first bag and quickly escalating. For instance, the fee for three or more bags on United, American and Delta can range from $150 to $200 each.
What to do: If packing light isn't possible, your baggage fees may be waived if you buy the ticket using the airline's branded credit card. Or fly Southwest Airlines, which doesn't charge for the first two checked bags. And when flying ultralow-fare airlines Spirit or Allegiant, baggage fees will be lower if you pay them at the time of booking rather than later at the airport. Some travelers also avoid this fee by checking a bag at the gate, which is often — but not always — free, Seaney says.
You'll pay extra for oversized or overweight luggage. You might even owe two fees on United and JetBlue if your bag is too big and too heavy. Oversized fees often run $75 to $200. Overweight bags cost $75 to $100, but can climb to $200 for each bag over 70 pounds on American, United and Delta.
What to do: Make sure your bag isn't bigger than the 62 inches allowed by many airlines, and weigh luggage before going to the airport to stay within the 50-pound limit. Or, mail your luggage ahead of time to your destination. Shipping a 51-pound bag from Chicago to New York via FedEx costs as little as $41.
Most airlines charge extra to switch a nonrefundable ticket. Delta, United and American slap travelers with the steepest fee — $200 to change a domestic flight days before departure.
You'll pay similar fees to cancel a flight as you would to change it.
- What to do:
If you must cancel, do so early. Federal regulations require airlines operating in the United States to refund your money if you cancel a reservation within the first 24 hours — provided you booked seven or more days before the flight.