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Even though, say, a United Airlines fare might look much cheaper than a Southwest Airlines fare on the same route, the additional fees United charges in addition to the basic fare might make the overall cost of booking the trip on United more expensive than the total cost of booking it on Southwest, depending on the circumstances of the trip.
updated 6/4/2008 1:44:45 PM ET 2008-06-04T17:44:45

In this new age of ever-increasing airline fees, shopping for airfares by the price of the ticket alone may not be the smartest strategy.

Sending the kids to visit their mom for the summer? Traveling with a lot of luggage, or a pet? Are your travel plans subject to change or cancellation? Are you flying on a frequent flyer ticket? If so, has found it pays to consider not just the airfare, but also any potential fees, and to add them to find the final cost of your ticket.

Let's say you’ve found a great fare on Delta Air Lines from New York to Atlanta for $138 round-trip plus tax. Competitor AirTran is charging $155 for your preferred dates of travel. So which should you buy? If you’re just carrying cabin luggage, then fine, go with Delta. But if you’re checking two bags and one of them weighs between 51 and 70 pounds, you’d better think twice. Delta will charge you an extra $210 round-trip; AirTran will charge as little as $78.

Or let’s say you wanted to fly your 10 year old son unaccompanied from Providence to Los Angeles to spend some with grandma. But there’s a chance you may have to reschedule the trip because your mom hasn’t been in the best of health this month. United has a great deal for $213 round-trip, but Southwest, usually the low fare leader, is charging $350.

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Easy, right? Not so fast. United will charge you $200 round-trip for the unaccompanied minor fee. And if you change your kid’s travel dates, that’ll be another $150, please. The fees on Southwest Airlines in such a scenario? Zip.

Nor are all frequent flyer programs created equal. American Airlines recently upped many of the fees associated with its AAdvantage program and they are now much higher even than those of some other mainline legacy carriers.

Imagine this scenario: you book a frequent flyer ticket at the last minute, then have to change the date of travel, but ultimately can't make the trip (illness, death in the family, whatever). Your total fees (assuming you want to redeposit the miles for future use) will be $405 without even leaving the ground!

That’s $100 for a last minute booking, $150 to change your flight, and $150 when ultimately you cancel the trip and re-deposit the miles. American even charges $5 for booking an award ticket online (or $30 to do it at the airport)! This same scenario with Continental’s OnePass program would cost you $175. That's still not cheap (nor is it particularly fair, in our opinion) but it is a lot less. And Southwest Airlines would charge nothing. has compiled two comparison charts that will help you determine the true cost of your next flight. One shows fees on various U.S. airlines for ticket changes, booking fares by phone or in person, unaccompanied minors, flying pets in the cabin, and other fees; the second chart compares checked-bag fees on various carriers.

Know before go and you’ll avoid the mistake of shopping by fare alone.

© 2013 Imaginova Corp.


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