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Never pay for baggage fees again and other ways to beat the airline industry

Daily Ticker

Remember when flying was something to look forward to -- no checked bag fees and free mid-flight meals? You could even look forward to a reclining seat with some legroom in economy. Now, "a premium seat can simply mean you're not sitting near the bathroom," says Stephanie Rosenbloom, "The Getaway" columnist for The New York Times.

Related: How to grab accidental airline fare bargains and other online pricing screwups

Rosenbloom stopped by The Daily Ticker to offer travel tips on how to fly with some comfort and a lot less hassle.

GETTING AROUND BAGGAGE FEES

Airlines made $6 billion in baggage and change fees in 2013 and are adding more fees in 2014, but there are ways to save on them. The easiest way to avoid baggage fees is to travel light but if that's not possible, Rosenbloom suggests:

  • Buy your ticket with an airline credit card linked to the airline you're flying (you won't have to pay for your first checked bag).
  • Become an "elite" traveler for a particular airline. You'll not only save on baggage fees but also qualify for priority boarding and priority seating. To qualify for elite status on most airlines, you have to fly a minimum 25,000 miles. Your status rises if you travel 50,000 or 100,000 miles on a particular airline. (Starting this year some airlines like United Airlines (UAL) are requiring a spending minimum to qualify for elite status).
  • Members of the military can qualify for a free checked bag.

Related: Flyer Beware: Southwest Bag Fees Coming Next Year?

SPEEDING THROUGH SECURITY

Rosenbloom says to enroll in Global Entry, a federal program run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, that allows for quick clearance of pre-approved, low-risk travelers entering the U.S. 

Related: Airfare Reality Check: Are Five Major Airlines Really Better than Four?

Enrollment requires a $100 application fee (that's good for five years) and a thorough background check that includes an online application, an in-person interview, fingerprinting and a photograph.

"If you don't want to give out all this information to the government, then it's not for you," says Rosenbloom.

Even better, Global Entry includes the TSA PreCheck program that lets you zoom through security checks before you board flights.

"Instead of having to take off your shoes or your belt or having to open your bag and have all your little toiletries spilling out ... [there's] none of that. You zoom through," says Rosenbloom, adding that there are times when it's not available.

 GETTING PRIORITY SEATING AND MORE LEGROOM

  • Rosenbloom advises all airline travelers to read the fine print when making reservations in order to get a better seat. "In some cases a premium seat doesn't necessarily mean more legroom," she explains. "If you're looking for more legroom be sure that it says more legroom."
  • Check your airline's website. If you are paying full-fare couch, you could be eligible for priority seating. "See what the rules are," says Rosenbloom.
  • As always, the best way to get a better seat is to be considered an elite passenger with an airline.
  • Download the ExpertFlyer app and sign up for its Seat Alerts. The site will will email or text message when a desired seat opens up.

Let us know what you think about these travel tips. And don't forget to follow The Daily Ticker on Facebook and Twitter (@DailyTicker)!

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