Hidden airline fees: how to avoid paying extra for your flight

Learn how to save money on your next flight with momondo’s guide to hidden airline fees, including expert tips on what to look out for when booking your ticket

Do you know which hidden fees to look out for?

Do you know which hidden fees to look out for?

Category Tips & tricks

Contributor Samantha Fanelli

Date 1st August 2017

Most travelers will agree that saving money on flights is a crucial factor when booking their next trip. In fact, according to momondo’s 2017 International Travel Survey,* 49% of all respondents said that price was the most important factor when it came to booking flights. While finding cheap flights is great, being hit by hidden fees is not.

To ensure that we are able to compare the best prices, momondo requires that all of its travel suppliers (the companies that provide the actual tickets) include all mandatory fees in the price that we show on our website – so there are no surprises.  We display the lowest prices available, including all mandatory fees, because every traveler has individual needs – whether it’s to check in baggage, eat a meal on board or book a specific seat on the plane. Any additional fees such as these are optional and some airline companies charge extra for these services.

Have no fear, we’ll break down these fees and show you the best ways to save money while sharing our best tips on how to avoid additional charges on your next flight.

Luggage fees

A group of travellers wait patiently for their bags to arrive on the carousal
A group of travelers wait patiently for their bags to arrive on the carousal

It’s very common to find cheap flights that do not include a checked bag, especially with low-cost carrier airlines (LCCs), meaning if you want to bring more than just a carry-on you will have to pay extra. Even though tickets appear cheaper at first glance, they can potentially end up costing much more given the extra bag you will have to check, should you decide to.

The sure-fire way to avoid this fee is to travel with a carry-on bag only. However, if you simply cannot do without your checked luggage, try to pay for the bag online, as it is typically much cheaper to purchase your bag on the airline’s website rather than pay up front at the check-in counter. Be aware that maximum carry-on size varies from airline to airline, so to avoid having to check and pay for your bag in case your suitcase is too large, always make sure to check the luggage rules of your specific airline.

Read more: Hand luggage only? Learn how to pack light

In general, it’s a good idea to weigh your bag before getting to the airport. For most airlines, the carry-on maximum weight ranges anywhere from 15 lbs to upwards of 50 lbs and checked bags can usually be a maximum of 50 lbs. If you go over these limitations, you could face charges up to $100 per bag in some cases.

If you’re traveling with someone else who typically travels much lighter than you, i.e. does not bring their entire closet with them, it’s worth it to combine forces and share the baggage space. If your travel partner has the extra room, go ahead and store some of your stuff with them so you can avoid the risk of having to pay extra fees for overweight bags once at the airport.

Pre-selected seats

When travelling as a group, make sure to book all the tickets together to ensure you are all seated near each other on the plane
When traveling as a group, make sure to book all the tickets together to ensure you are all seated near each other on the plane

If your ticket does not have the option to choose your own seat free of charge (which is very common with European Low Cost Carriers and varies for American carriers), there is usually the option to pay an additional fee to choose your seat. When traveling in a group, try to buy all the tickets together so that you will all be automatically seated together. In the rare case you are not seated together, make sure to call or email the airline’s service center directly to fix the problem.

Should you decide to splurge on seating, take advantage of apps such as Seatfrog, which allows you to bid on upgraded seats last minute – typically leading to cheaper prices than those you would find online.

Meals and drinks on board

Who said you had to go hungry on your long-haul flight? © alecco69
Who said you had to go hungry on your long-haul flight? © alecco69

Each airline has its own policy when it comes to food and drink on board. Some will offer free drinks and maybe even a light snack, while others will offer nothing at all unless you pay for it. Most long-haul flights are required to provide at least one meal to all passengers free of charge (technically included in the ticket price). But to be on the safe side, it’s a good idea to double check the conditions of your specific ticket.

Although expensive compared to what you might find in the city center or other parts of the city, the food and drinks at the airport are typically much cheaper and of better quality than the food on airplanes, which can have added salt and chemicals to keep fresh in high altitudes. If you prefer to purchase something on board, there is also the option to pre-buy a meal or snack online, which is usually cheaper than buying food spontaneously while on the flight.

You are free to bring your own bottle of water or other beverage on the plane, but make sure to wait and purchase it until you are through security. It would be a shame to have to throw out a perfectly good bottle of water because it doesn’t fit the 3.4oz requirement to pass through security!

Credit and debit card charges

When you are ready to purchase your ticket and are redirected to the final payment page, you might notice that the price increases slightly depending on the type of payment you choose. You will typically see a range of convenient options such as credit and debit cards, to bank transfers and online services such as PayPal – choose the one with the lowest fees if available to you.

US law prevents airlines and OTAs from adding on credit card fees to transactions, so you shouldn’t expect to see any fees when you move forward to payment. If you are booking with a non-American airline or OTA you might experience a fee. However…

momondo requires all our travel suppliers to list at least one widely-held credit card that can be used without an additional charge, so if you happen to own the card that shows zero additional card fees, go with that one. If you only have one type of card, it might be worth your while to consider signing up for additional cards to increase the chance of avoiding the fee.

We also do not allow travel suppliers to add extreme credit card fees once the user redirects to the final ticket price page. If you do see what looks like an outrageous fee from one of our travel suppliers, please get in touch with us so that we can fix the issue as soon as possible.

Travel and cancellation insurance

Travel insurance is worth thinking about...just in case you decide to do any extreme sports during your holiday
Travel insurance is worth thinking about…just in case you decide to do any extreme sports during your vacation

Often airlines and online travel agencies (OTAs) will offer you the chance to purchase cancellation insurance and travel insurance during the ticket purchasing process. At a very basic level, cancellation insurance will protect you in the case you need to cancel your flight for some reason, while travel insurance covers you during your travels. For more in depth information about the different types of insurances and what they cover, check out our article on how to buy the best travel insurance.

If you know that you do not want travel or cancellation insurance, go ahead and click the option that says no. Before you consider adding insurance, double check whether you are covered already for travel or cancellation insurance through your bank or home insurance. This will ensure you’re not paying double for insurance you might already have.

momondo tools to help you avoid extra fees

Fees are constantly changing and we do our best to always display the most updated airline fees. If you’re ever confused about which fees are included in your price on momondo, check out our helpful estimated additional fees icon the next time you are searching for flights.

Once you click on the button, you’ll get an overview of the potential extra service fees you have the option to buy.

To be on the safe side, it’s always a good idea to check the terms and conditions of your specific ticket purchase, but this icon will give you a heads up to some potential fees before you book your ticket.

*For the 2017 ITS questionnaire, momondo asked 24.700 people from 23 different countries about their travel habits.
For even more momondo expert tips, check out how to book the best connecting flights and how to get your money back if your flight is delayed or cancelled

Originally published

1st August 2017
Samantha Fanelli

After completing her first book at the age of five, stick figure drawings and glitter glue included, Samantha pursued a life in journalism and landed her role as momondo’s Data Journalist. She has an insatiable hunger for creative storytelling, travelling and good pizza. She also has no problem waiting hours in line at the latest foodie hot-spots.