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Avoiding Ever-Growing Airline Fees

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and Christmas is waiting silently in the wings. Are you headed to Grandma’s to get your fill of turkey and cranberry? Join the crowd. Best to fly armed with my Thanksgiving travel tips in mind. It will make for a better trip and help your wallet cope with the ever growing list of airline fees.

Turn on the news and it seems like every other day there’s a story about another charge being imposed by one of the big carriers. There’s no doubt, airlines are struggling. They need the money the fees generate, but if you’re not careful, you could find yourself struggling to keep your trip within budget after having to shell out extra cash for unexpected fees. It’s amazing how fast a cheap ticket can turn into a pricey one Even the most savvy fliers can get caught off guard.

Airline Baggage Fees

Checked luggage fees have probably gotten the most attention in the media. Airfare search engine just added a new feature to their website that tells you what to expect to pay in baggage fees when flying major airlines. Most carriers now charge passengers $25 to check one bag, and $35 to check a second bag on domestic flights.The good news is, you can avoid the luggage fees. Packing light is not impossible (see my family travel packing tips for help). A well packed carry-on is all you need. And once you master the art of packing one, you’ll never check luggage again.

Live Agent Fees

I’ll admit most of my travel planning is done online in the wee hours of the morning. I can get a lot done when the rest of the family is sleeping. The Internet has made it easy to be your own travel agent, but there are times when you need help. Something on the website just doesn’t work right, or doesn’t make sense. Being able to pick up the phone and talk to a human is no longer a part of most carriers’ customer service plan. Be prepared to shell out another $15 to $35 per person.

Airline Seats

One of the things the average family of four might need help with is airplane seat selection. On rare occasions, you can click on the color coded seat icons and get seats together. But more often than not, open seats are scattered about, in exit rows or what’s often called preferred or priority areas. In other words, if you want to get seats together, you have to pay.

More and more, seats are not guaranteed. I can’t tell you how many times my family has been split up on air flights. My youngest daughter panicked when she was placed, all alone in the rear of the plane, on an 11 hour – plus flight from Beijing to San Francisco. (Even at the airport we were told there was nothing they could do) Luckily most of the time, fellow passengers are more than willing to switch seats, especially when the other option is sitting next to a solo 7-year-old.


I don’t fly many red-eyes anymore. My girls are older, and bigger. Though I ‘ve always been able to sleep pretty well, I find it harder these days with two, hundred pound girls leaning on either side of me. On a recent trip to Jamaica, bad weather delayed our flight home. By the time we finally took off it was way past bedtime. When I asked the flight attendant for blankets for my girls, I was completely un-prepared for the almost $20 price tag. (The flight attendant was gone before I could ask about pillows.)

There are still some holdouts, but on more and more airlines, staying warm in the skies is going to cost you.So do your homework before you leave, if you want to avoid buying a blanket, you may have to carry your own.


Kids eat constantly. And it doesn’t matter how much you feed them before you leave, I guarantee as soon as the plane takes off they’ll tell you they’re hungry. Free food on flights has become a thing of the past. Every now and then you might get a free bag of peanuts or pretzels, but don’t plan on it. Common choices include chips and cookies and pre-packaged snack boxes. Expect to pay anywhere from three to ten dollars. That can multiply quickly if you’re traveling with more than one child.

The most economical bet is to pack your own meal. Think of it as packing your kids lunch for school. A sandwich, fruit, maybe some crackers and you’re good to go. No drinks, they won’t make it thorough security. And there’s no need, non-alcoholic drinks are still complimentary on all major U.S. carriers. An added bonus to planning ahead, a picnic on the plane is a good way to pass the time.

In-Flight Movies

Used to be, I’d gladly shell out the five bucks or so for the movie to keep the kids entertained, but these days, there’s really no need. Thanks to technology, the in-flight movie is no longer the perk it once was. The way I look at it, I carry hours of entertainment in my purse everyday, and I bet most moms are the same way. Think about it. Most either have an iPhone or iTouch. Kids can listen to music, plays games, and yes, even watch movies.

If you’re lucky enough to have an iPad, you’ll actually be able to see the movie, probably much better than the television mounted to the airplane ceiling 5 rows ahead. You can even check your email, but if you don’t already know, heads up, there’s a fee for that too.  See our list of travel activities for kids if you need some additional ideas.

Relevant Links:

Thanksgiving travel tips

10 great fall family getaways

Flying with kids, booking award travel and upgrades

Flying overseas with babies

Travel activities for kids

Start a Discussion

  • Great tips. I think it’s outrageous that some airlines charge for blankets and although I do love plane food (I’m sick I know!) bringing your own food is a great idea – so much healthier and cheaper.

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