Avoiding luggage and other airline fees

A new survey by the Consumer Travel Alliance released this week found that luggage and other additional airline fees increase the average ticket price by up to 50 percent. The truth is, there is a relatively easy way to have most of those fees waived — if only travelers were better educated and more open-minded.

My impression during almost constant global travel for most of the last decade is that people think they know how to travel — but then they complain about being “scammed” by the airlines. My approach has been to learn as much as possible about rules, restrictions and fees, and then to look for ways to waive them and generally make the system work for me.

One of the reasons I started the “On the Fly” Seminars was to educate people how to be better travelers — and to change negative attitudes toward travel. In fact, my FLY 201 class covers exactly how to get those extra fees waived: by achieving elite airline status.

Many people think they don’t travel enough to get elite status or it’s cheaper to fly a different airline every time. I find both of these arguments valid in very few cases.

First, you don’t need to fly 100,000 miles a year. The first elite level in most frequent-flier programs will get your baggage fees waived. Moreover, because of elite benefits offered and recognized across global airline alliances, a silver membership with one carrier will secure those waivers on every member-airline. You can fly on any Star member and credit your miles to any of the Star loyalty programs.

However, mileage requirements to achieve status vary greatly. For example, you need 25,000 miles for Premier on United Airlines, which will give you Star Alliance silver status — but you only need 4,000 miles on the alliance’s newest member, Greece’s Aegean Airlines. Not all fares on United earn 100 percent mileage in Aegean’s program, but right now it gives you 1,000 miles just for signing up. I’m sure if most of you looked at your flight history in the past year, you’d see that you could have qualified had you kept your miles in the same place.

Second, relying on Travelocity or Priceline to tell you which airline has the cheapest ticket and go to a different carrier every time is not the best way to fly in the current environment. Even if you had to pay a bit extra to stay within the same alliance — but if you managed to secure elite status — at the end of the year you most likely spent less money because you didn’t pay luggage fees.

There is no question that airlines should make all those extra fees more transparent earlier in the booking process. There is also little doubt that their frequent-flier programs were created to make money. But they do reward their loyal customers, so if you are going to give them your money, why not learn how to benefit from your loyalty as much as you can?


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