Air travel is expensive, and you don't get much for your money these days. Airlines used to provide meals; now you're lucky to get six peanuts and a tiny cup full of Coke (flavored ice). Want to check in a bag? Sure, you can still do that for a price. Want to take a nap? That'll be $7 for a pillow and blanket, sir.
If you want to save money on air travel and avoid those hidden fees (not to mention a few headaches), keep the following tips in mind:
Research your airline. Different airlines follow different rules, so do your homework and read up on the airline you'll be flying with. Visit their website to learn about their restrictions and fees.
Take carry-on bags only. Many airlines charge $15 to $20 for the privilege of checking a bag now. Generally you're allowed one carry-on bag and one personal item, such as a purse or a laptop. Make sure your carry-on bag fits the size and weight restrictions.
Bring your own food. You're not going to get a decent meal on the plane, and buying food at the airport can be expensive. Stocking up on granola means you won't have to fork over $8 for a soggy ham sandwich.
Take an empty water bottle. Fill it up at a drinking fountain after you get through security checkpoints. This way you'll get around TSA's restrictions on liquids, and you won't have to buy bottled water in the secured areas. If you prefer juice, take some powder drink mixes with you.
Take a connecting flight. Indirect routes are often cheaper than flying nonstop. However, keep in mind that connecting flights create more opportunities for things to go wrong. One of your flights could always be delayed or canceled. Only use this option if the savings are too good to pass up.
Shop around online. Visit websites for different airlines and compare prices. Orbitz, Expedia, and Travelocity are also worth looking into if you want cheap prices.
Avoid air travel during the peak seasons. Ticket prices soar during those times when everyone wants to travel, such as around Thanksgiving.
Book early. If you wait too long to book your flight, you may end up paying several hundred dollars more than you had to. Worse, the travel times you want to book may become unavailable.
Don't book over the phone. Some airlines will tack on a $5, $10, or even $20 fee if you make your travel arrangements over the phone or in person. Just another good reason to book your flight online.
Show up early. Lounging around in an airport terminal for an hour or two might be boring, but it beats missing your flight and paying a fee to get on the next one. No one is going to hold the plane for you if you get stuck in traffic.
Flying doesn't have to be a nightmare. As long as you give yourself time to plan ahead and do your research, you can avoid the hidden costs of air travel.
Victoria Neely is a freelance writer. As a former airline employee and a semi-frequent traveler, she is intimately familiar with the travails of air travel. You can visit her website at victorianeely.com.
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