If your bank account balance looks as if there was a massive explosion at the branch that destroyed every last dime you had, you probably just bought an airline ticket.
As if you needed anyone to tell you, airline travel is expensive - and it's getting more so. The average domestic airline ticket is currently $379, only up a dollar from 2012, but a $44 jump from the $335 average ticket price in 2009, according to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Fortunately, even with the rising cost of jet fuel, some analysts believe airfares won't rise until the federal lawsuit designed to stop the proposed merger of American Airlines and US Airways is settled. (If American or US Airways raise prices, that may give the federal government more of an argument to stand in the way of the merger. It is concerned the merger will cut competition and lead to higher fares.)
Airline fees are also on the rise. IdeaWorks Company, a Shorewood, Wisc., consulting firm, reported that in 2012, airlines made $27.1 billion from airline fees alone. That's double what they made in fees just four years ago, says Brian Hoyt, spokesperson and writer for coupon website RetailMeNot.com, as well as a former executive with the travel site Orbitz.
"The government in the United States does not require airlines today to disclose those extra fees - for baggage, extra legroom, Wi-Fi, premium seat placement or in-flight food and entertainment - to consumers upfront in their air booking fee via their travel agent," Hoyt says. "And these fees can add hundreds of dollars to the price of an airline ticket."
[Read: 11 Easy Ways to Slash Travel Costs.]
Meanwhile, more optional costs are popping up for air travelers. The Transportation Security Administration is expanding its expedited screening program to 60 more airports; by the end of the year, there will be 100 airports where people can board a plane without first taking off their shoes. The cost to join is $85, which is probably worth it for frequent fliers, especially since enrollment lasts for five years before passengers need to reapply.
So as you start planning holiday trips, here are some creative strategies for trimming air travel expenses.
Wear your luggage. If you check out the website Jaktogo.com, you will quickly get the idea. The site sells wearable luggage. Yes, these are suitcases that you put on your body and wear like clothes. Or perhaps they are clothes you wear but use like suitcases. It is hard to decide. In any case, you will look ridiculous, and we can't speak for the comfort or what passengers sitting next to you will say or think, but it may save you money in fees you would otherwise incur if you checked luggage.
Choose an airline that doesn't charge for checked luggage. With most domestic airlines, the first checked suitcase is $25; the second checked bag is typically $35. After that, prices get somewhat cruel, ranging from $75 to $150 for that third suitcase. It's pretty easy to see where that $27 billion comes from.
Travel website FareCompare.com offers a Worldwide Baggage Fee Chart (farecompare.com/about/worldwide-baggage-fee-chart) that is easy to read. It may help you the next time you're booking a flight and debating which airplane ticket is the cheapest. Obviously, if you're packing heavy, you may want to choose an airline that is more generous with checked baggage policies, such as Southwest Airlines, which allows two free checked bags, or JetBlue, which allows one.
Ship some of your excess or oversized luggage. Maybe. Prices can vary, and keep in mind that airlines' oversized and extra luggage fees, as high as they are, may still beat the prices of companies that ship luggage. But if you're really dreading carrying those skis or golf clubs on a plane, you may feel that the extra cost is worth it. The U.S. Postal Service, UPS and FedEx all ship luggage, and some companies specialize in it. Ship Sticks (shipsticks.com) specializes in shipping golf clubs to a traveler's hotel or the golf course. LuggageForward.com ships luggage, golf clubs and skis. Lugless.com (get it?) also specializes in shipping oversized luggage like surfboards and bicycles (provided they're in a bicycle box).
Consider taking two airlines to get to one place. Andrew Coggins, a clinical professor of management at Pace University, teaches courses in subjects like tourism management, but he doesn't stay in the classroom year-round. Every year, he goes on 30 to 70 flights, and he suggests that if you're on a long flight, taking two different airlines is often cheaper.
For instance, if you want to go on a trip from New York City to Singapore, a ticket might cost $2,500. But you may find that to fly from New York to Hong Kong is $1,600 and then from Hong Kong to Singapore, on another flight, is only $400, Coggins says.
But don't get too cute, because of the next point.
Look out for taxes, especially when traveling internationally. That's a suggestion from Caroline O'Connell, who owns a public relations firm in North Hollywood, Calif., and is the author of "Every Woman's Guide to Romance in Paris," which, among other things, offers travel advice. If you fly internationally, O'Connell says it's important to consider the taxes before take-off.
O'Connell will be flying to Paris in the near future and says she was choosy in the airline she picked. "If I'd flown on British Air or Air France, the taxes would have been $400. On IcelandAir, they were $100," O'Connell says.
[See: 10 Ways to Avoid Airline Fees.]
It's not just airlines that charge taxes, however; airports do, too. According to a World Economic Reform report released earlier this year, the country of Chad is the worst place to go if you don't want to spend a lot on ticket taxes and airport fees. England comes in second, where taxes sometimes can be as high as 184 pounds ($291, as of this writing). Even just flying into the London airport for a stopover can get pricey. Some travel guides actually suggest, if you're traveling to England, that you fly into Ireland instead - and then ferry over to England. So before you cash in frequent flyer miles or click the "pay now" button, take a look at the taxes.
And, of course, don't forget all the obvious strategies for lowering your travel costs, all of which may or may not help your bottom line: traveling in the middle of the week, finding odd hours to depart, bringing snacks instead of buying them at the airport, looking for low-cost parking, bundling airline, hotel and car rental costs with travel sites, using a travel agent and, of course, booking far ahead of your destination date.
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