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Around the World: Be Aware of Costly Airline Extras During Holiday Travel

Jennifer Merin on

Whether your holiday travel plans include a getaway vacation for yearend rest and recreation, or visiting family and friends with bundles of presents in tow, makes sure to budget for add-on costs that will bump up the cost of your airline ticket.

You should shop around for the best and lowest airline fare and grab it when you find it. But most of the time when you book discounted fares – even if your reservation is made directly with the airline – you’ll find hidden costs for items that once upon a time were included in the price of a ticket, whether bought on the cheap or full price.

Most of the add-ons are small amounts, ranging from about $15 to $60, or higher, per element. They surely can add up quickly.

To help you avoid surprises and make your budgeting easier, here, lest you’ve forgotten them, is the list:

Seat selection - Used to be that you simply asked for your preferred seat and if you were the first to make the request for that row and number, you’d be the passenger sitting in the seat.  Now, some airlines charge you for making a seat reservation in advance, when you book your flight.  Without the reservation, you can wind up having to wait until you get to the airport before getting a seat assignment, and you can wind up in the back of the plane, or in a middle seat where you’ll be cramped for the entire flight.

Even airline that allow you to reserve a seat for free at the time you book your flight will charge you extra If you want to sit in the front of the plane, Even if you’re a premium frequent flyer, who used to be able book and to sit in a bulkhead seat for free. Seat prices vary, but the highest tags are for bulkhead or exit row seats.

It used to be that qualifying frequent flyers could reserve seats in economy plus sections – seats with extra legroom – for free. Now you pay around $60 for the ‘upgrade.’  

So, be prepared to shell out an extra $15 to $60 for a seat you like, or settle for one that you find less comfortable, perhaps a middle seat in the back of the plane.  It’s you choice of course, but the money for a decent seat on a longish flight is usually well spent.

Carryon Luggage – Most airlines allow one standard size carryon and one small purse or briefcase to accompany you on board for free.  But, some charge you for placing your bag in the overhead, and others charge a fee of $25 to $30 for just wheeling your bag aboard.  Carryon size is limited by most airlines to 22” by 14” by 9” or some slight variation of those measurements, including wheels and handles. The maximum weight allowed for carryon ranges from about 15 pounds to about 40 pounds, depending on the airline.  But be aware that flights with fewer than 50 passenger seats may not allow carryon bags, and some will charge for checking your luggage. To avoid extra charges for baggage, pack as light as possible – even during holiday travel.

First checked bags - If you’re flying coach or on a discounted fare, most airlines will charge you $25 to $30 for your first checked bag. If you’re traveling for the holidays, you’re not likely to be traveling light. You’ve be carrying gifts for family and friends, or towing home souvenirs from vacation places, The goodies are best stowed in bags that are checked, so they don‘t have to undergo the scrutiny of security checkers, who may insist that the gift wrap be removed from them.  So, don’t even think about saving the checked bag fee.  You should automatically add it to the cost of your ticket.

Second checked bag - be prepared to pay $35 to $50 for your second checked bag.  This is a charge you can avoid, if you’re not overburdened with gifts.

Additional bags – If you have more than two bags, you’re getting into expensive territory.  Airlines charge from $100 to $250 per bag, depending upon the total number of bags you’re checking. The budgetary solution is obvious. No third bag.

Overweight bags - Checked bags are limited to 50 pounds in weight.  If your checked bag weighs 51 to 100 pounds, you’ll have to pay an additional $39 to $300, depending on the actual weight of your bag and your destination.  Anyway, if you’re carrying a lot of heavy stuff, you’re better off dividing it into two checked bags, each of which weighs, if possible, under 50 pounds.  In that case, paying $35 to $50 for your second checked bag is the less costly option.

Oversized bags - Checked bags that measure more than the standard size will cost you more, too.  The standard measurement is 27” by 21” by 14” or some variation of that totals the same linear footage. Anything larger, costs a pretty penny.  Sometimes oversized luggage cannot be avoided, but if you’re packing at that scale, be prepared to add another $50 to $200, depending on the total linear issues, to the cost of your flight.

Curbside check in - Once provided for free by the airlines, the convenience of dropping your bags with curbside porters now costs you $2 or $3 per bag, excluding tip. During holiday season, airports are particularly crowded and chaotic, so you might want to spring for the cost of curbside bag check and bypass the long lines at the check in kiosks or counters.

Sustenance - Once you’re on board the plane, you’ll find that charges for snacks and drinks can add up, too.  Few airlines hand out free snacks in coach--not even pretzels or peanuts.  They will sell you small packets of these or other munchables for $3 to $5, which is an exorbitant sum for what you’re getting.  A rather meager sandwich and chips will cost you at least $10. You have the option of avoiding these charges--and having better food to eat -- by provisioning yourself for the trip before boarding the plane. Your best bet is packing your favorite portable foods from home.  But don’t include any liquids--not even bottled water--because they will be confiscated at the security screening.  You can also buy a takeaway lunch in one of the fast food outlets inside the airport’s secure area. The usual collection of eateries includes McDonald’s, Wolfgang Puck, Pret A Manger and others. Check your departure airport’s web site to see what’s available.  Be prepared, though, to pay higher prices at the airport than those that the eateries charge at their outlets in your neighborhood.  To be on the safe side, add at least $30 to the price of your ticket to cover inflight food.

Coffee and tea are usually free, as are juice and soft drinks. You can get a cup of water--which they say is bottled--but a small size individual bottle of water will cost you from $2.  You can buy a bottle of water from a vendor inside the airport’s secure area, but that, too, is more expensive than the same product is in your local super market.  This is a charge, however, that you can’t avoid.  Add $10 to the cost of your ticket for water--you should drink a lot of water to prevent inflight dehydration. Or you can tote an empty water bottle and fill it from the tap at the airport before you board your flight.

Inflight wines and cocktails have also gone up in price, and will now cost you from $5 to $7 for each little bottle.  Mixers are still free.  Do yourself a favor--and save some money--by restricting your alcoholic intake while you’re in flight.  Alcohol is dehydrating and its effect is much stronger at flight altitudes.  So use a little liquor and a lot of mixer, if you want an alcoholic drink with your inflight meal or snack.

Creature comforts - The most surprising charge of all, however, is the $7 to $25 tab you’ll pay for the use of a pillow and blanket inflight.  You can bring your own, of course--but that takes up a lot of space in your carry on.  Unless you purchase those inflatable neck supports and compact silk travel sheets or fleece coveralls available from travel outfitters.

The bottom line is that no matter what low fare you manage to find, plan on spending at least $100 more each way to actually make it on to the plane and get to your destination comfortably. So, before purchasing the lowest fare you find, do a little research to find out specific added costs imposed by the airline you’re about to book.



Copyright 2017 Jennifer Merin


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