Last week, Denver-based Frontier headlines made the news with a new fee for carry-on luggage. But only if you book your ticket through an online travel agent such as Hotwire or Orbitz. This is the latest in a march of ancillary fees from airlines to try to increase revenue as their costs increase. But with a little work, most ancillary fees can be avoided, or at least mitigated.
Ancilary fees are those that aren’t included in the price of the ticket but are added extra. In theory they are things that can be avoided when flying. Airlines tout these fees to be more fair because only those using the service or product are being charged. The now standard checked baggage fee is the most common fee, but others include in-flight meals, tv, and extra leg-room.
The fee that made headlines for Frontier? They will now charge up to $100 for carry-on luggage if you book through a 3rd-party site instead of their own flyfrontier.com portal. The fee wouldn’t be charged to small, personal items like a purse or a laptop bag that fits under the seat. The $100 charge would also only apply to baggage paid at the terminal instead at the time of ticket purchase. Then the fee is “only” $25.
If you buy your Frontier ticket from a third-party site and are getting charged a fee for carry-on luggage, pay up front. Doing so provides a savings of 75%!
If you are traveling with your partner or family, try to condense as much as possible. If two of you can fit into one suitcase, that will save on checked luggage fees. When traveling shortly after Christmas one year, we put a smaller suitcase inside of a larger one and flew out that way. We needed the extra space for presents coming home, but didn’t want to pay to fly an empty bag.
Another item that Frontier will begin to charge for is drinks. Most airlines are already charging for food. Instead of paying the in-flight prices or terminal prices, bring your own snacks from home. Small bags of sealed food or quart size baggies will clear security just fine. Only liquids aren’t allowed. Bring an empty water bottle and fill it up in the terminal bathroom or in the food court.
Comparison shop, but then go to the source
It is no secret that airlines don’t like online travel agents (OTA’s). Southwest Airlines won’t even list their prices on them, but force you to check their own website. OTA’s force airlines to compete with each other on price and budget-conscious travelers will go with the lowest price, forgoing any kind of brand loyalty. I usually fly Frontier, but only because they are usually cheaper than other options. When they aren’t, I have no compunction with going with a different airline.
But the big reason is the cost of doing business. A $300 flight is going to cost the same $300 booked through Orbitz as through the airline’s own website. But Orbitz is a for-profit company. They are going to take a cut of that ticket price. So airlines make more money per ticket when booked through their own sites.
Now Frontier will charge extra fees if you book through an OTA. Not only that, but you will earn frequent flyer miles at a lower rate. Industry experts believe now that Frontier has paved the way to these fees, other airlines will join in. Moving forward, your best bet will be to comparison shop with an OTA (I like kayak.com best as it aggregates listings from other websites) to find the flight you want, and then book it from the airline’s own website to avoid the added fees and diminished miles.
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em
Sometimes, it just works out better to embrace ancillary fees than to run from them. Starting out as a no-frills budget airline, Southwest has made a name for itself by refusing to play in the fee game. They famously are the only airline who doesn’t charge for the first checked bag.
That said, they have not been the cheapest price any of the times I have been in the market for a flight. They have been as much as 50% more expensive than the cheapest flight in my search!
Meanwhile Spirit and Agilent have both taken up the mantle of budget airline. Spirit charges for pretty much everything as an ancillary fee. But their prices can be as low as half of the competition. A frequent flyer who pays to join their $9 club can fly from Denver to Vegas for under $50 but is closer to $90 for Delta.
Do you have any other tricks for avoiding ancillary airline fees?