How to Navigate Airline Fees

At the beginning of this year Derek Thompson at the Atlantic reported that “Americans likely spent more than $6 billion in baggage, cancellation, and change fees, on top of their ticket price, in 2012”. And, according to Business Insider, 14 major domestic airlines introduced a staggering 52 fee-based changes last year as a way to capture this revenue.

Some fee models have been high profile – for instance Southwest’s recent move to charge an additional $40 for priority boarding, and American Airlines announcement late last year outlining fee bundles that, among other things, waive penalties attached to last minute flight changes. However other fees go largely unnoticed.

But what do all of these extra charges mean for travelers who simply want to compare the total cost of one flight against another? Well, similar to the chart that we created for domestic airline baggage fees, we have now created a chart that should help you navigate and calculate some of the more mainstream “extras” that domestic airlines are charging in addition to the cost of a seat. We have highlighted, in red, the cheapest fee for each category.

However, please keep in mind that there are a lot of other fees that may still be applicable to your travel. For instance U.S. Airways charges $50 if you want to convert an e-ticket into a paper ticket, and Delta charges a $100 non refundable processing fee for lost paper tickets.

At a Glance

  • When it comes to ancillary fees, Southwest Airlines leads the pack with the least amount of fees for baggage, cancellations and same day flight changes (so long as you book a refundable ticket)
  • For only $5 you can score priority boarding on Allegiant Air
  • Virgin America is the cheapest for in-flight entertainment
  • American Airlines, US Airways and Virgin America charge the least for Wi-Fi, if you want to wirelessly connect to the internet via your laptop
  • And for those looking to satisfy their hunger and quench their thirst for free, then Hawaiian Airlines is the airline for you

*Click on the chart below to access the complete table, which also includes in-flight TV and movie fees, Wi-Fi fees and food and beverage fees*

Not Everyone is Created Equal

It goes without saying that not all airlines are equal. While we have tried to report fees associated with seven primary categories, many airlines attach certain conditions to the fees that we have shown above. We therefore encourage you to check out the embedded airline links that we have provided, as well as do some research of your own.

The Good News

While airline fees – such as checked baggage – are often unavoidable, you can still save money on your next flight.’s Fare Calendars tool shows you the cheapest days to fly to and from any destination in the world. What better way to off-set the cost of your next in-flight movie, priority boarding and on board snack – especially as we have found that, for the top 100 routes, travelers can save an average of 25% on their fare when they choose a different day of the week to fly. And guess what? Fare Calendars and everything else on is FREE!

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