How to avoid the worst of the airline fees this summer

Good news! As of last month, Spirit passengers who wait to pay their carry-on fee at the gate get a break: What once cost $100 is now a mere $65.

While you’re digesting that, let’s look at other fees and ways to avoid them.

Change fees

These are the worst and usually biggest fees. It can cost up to $200 on large airlines to make any changes to a ticket for a domestic flight and $400 (or more) for international itineraries. We are talking about the usual nonrefundable tickets; refundable airfares are very expensive. What to do?

Be certain of your dates: This is especially important when planning a trip with friends or family. Make sure everyone is in agreement about the itinerary before you book the flights.

Fly the no-fee airline: Southwest is the only airline that does not charge a change fee.

Change your mind quickly: A Department of Transportation rule says shoppers may change (or cancel) tickets within 24 hours of purchasing them with no penalty.

Throw yourself on the mercy of the airline: A few legacy carriers still allow cancellations in extreme situations (such as a death in the family), but not all airlines do. If you think you have a special case, by all means, call the airline and explain the situation. You might get lucky, you might not.

Food and drink fees

Delta and American offer meals in economy on some routes. Others offer a little something free like soft drinks and a tiny package of peanuts or pretzels, but you won’t get even that on Spirit, Frontier or other ultradiscount carriers. So don’t forget your credit card.

A better idea: Buy something at the airport (fairly expensive, but at least you won’t go hungry), or even better, take some food from home. You won’t look odd, because everyone does it. Supersavvy travelers take an empty plastic bottle through security to fill at a water fountain or those water-filling stations found in many airports.

Baggage fees

Which airline still allows you to check a big bag for free? Only Southwest. As for smaller carry-on bags, they’re free on most airlines, with the exception of Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit. Another exception is flying basic economy on American and United. (Passengers with those tickets may not take carry-ons and must check them for a fee.) What to do?

Check size allowances: Some airlines, including Spirit, allow travelers to take a very small bag if placed under a seat, and this could work for a weekend trip.

Check the difference in bag fees:

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