An illustration of a paper airplane made out of a dollar bill

Airlines started charging extra for checked bags more than a decade ago—and seem to keep finding new ways to add fees.

That includes fees to select a seat, switch a flight, and book a ticket by phone. Adding just a few of these à la carte services can double the price of your ticket. And because charges vary among airlines, it’s hard to comparison shop.

But with a little planning, you can ease the airlines’ raid on your wallet.

More on Air Travel

Baggage Fees
These can run $30 for one bag, $40 for a second, and $150 for a third. Budget airlines such as Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit also charge extra for carry-ons, with prices ranging from $10 to $75. (The highest rung is for those who pay at the airport.)

The fix: Packing light and flying Southwest—which allows two free bags—are potential solutions. But if those aren’t options, some airline-branded credit cards cover bag fees among their perks. If you fly often on one airline, see whether it offers an annual subscription plan for checked bags. And if you have lots of luggage, consider shipping your bags; it can cost less and ease the aggravation of schlepping your stuff.

Seat Selection Fees
The pool of “free” seats available when you book your ticket is dwindling. And the price for a good seat, closer to the front or on an aisle, can be high: We found one as high as $139. If you’re traveling basic economy, you might not have the option of choosing a seat at all.

The fix: The further ahead you book, the better your chances of finding a good seat at no extra charge. Flying on Tuesday or Wednesday or at less busy times of the day can also help. If you travel on Southwest, which has an open-seating policy, you can pay an additional $15 to $25 to board ahead of the crowd.

WiFi Fees
Once airlines got WiFi to work (more or less) in-flight, most also figured out how to charge for it. We found log-on fees of around $7 or $8 for 1 hour to around $20 for an all-day pass. An exception: JetBlue doesn’t charge for WiFi and is also said to have one of the best services among domestic airlines.

The fix: If you fly a lot, save by signing up for monthly packages through one of the companies that provide WiFi to U.S. airlines, such as Gogo. Or consider this road-warrior hack: Preload movies or shows so that you don’t have to pay at all. And keep in mind that WiFi service on planes is still evolving, sometimes in your favor. Delta, for example, offers free text messaging on domestic flights.

Unaccompanied-Minor Fee
Airlines charge extra to supervise children ages 5 to 14 who who travel alone. (Children younger than that typically aren’t allowed to fly alone.) 

The fix: Shop around. American, Delta, and United, for example, charge a $150 fee for this service. But Southwest charges $50 per child per domestic direct flight.

If your child is between ages 15 and 17, the unaccompanied-child rules can vary by airline. If you think your teen needs the extra supervision, you can get optional unaccompanied-minor service on American and Delta for $150. On United, children in this age range don’t qualify as unaccompanied minors and will have to travel alone.

Traveling With a Pet
Traveling with a pet can be not just dangerous for the pet—there have been several recent reports of pet deaths in transit— but also complicated and costly. For example, some animal breeds—certain Persian cats, for example—might not be allowed to fly at all. Some aircraft are also not deemed suitable for pet travel. On American, for example, checked pets cannot travel on several Airbus aircraft. There are also rules about whether pets are allowed in the cabin or must be checked below deck. For example, Delta does not allow pets to travel as checked baggage and instead requires travelers to either take them as a carry-on or ship them via Delta Cargo, which means the pet travels on a separate airplane.

The fix: Here, again, shopping around can pay off. Prices for Delta Cargo service depend on the distance the pet is traveling. A recent search found that flying a 15-pound poodle on Delta from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Miami International Airport would cost about $300. American Airlines, on the other hand, allows pets to travel as checked baggage for $150 in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean, or as a carry-on for $125. Southwest charges $95 each way. 

What the Fee?!

Are you tired of the endless stream of add-on charges that appear on your bills? On the TV show "Consumer 101," Consumer Reports' expert explains to host Jack Rico how to avoid these pesky fees.

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the July 2019 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.