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Save $520 (or more) on your next flight with these 4 airfare hacks

Bargain flights grab headlines, but add-ons can send prices soaring. Follow these tips to stay on budget, and travel in comfort.

by Stephanie Thurrott /
Watch the fine print before you book your fare — some airlines charge baggage fees per leg. So, a round-trip flight with a stopover each way would have fees for four legs. Mardis Coers / Getty Images

Budget airlines are offering rock-bottom fares, and traditional airlines are fighting back with basic economy bargains. “It’s never been a better time to spend less money on airfare,” says DealRay founder Dan Kohn. Follow these tips before you book your next flight to keep your add-on costs from skyrocketing.

1. Beat the baggage charge

Savings: Up to $400 or more

Baggage fees are the biggest post-ticket hit to your wallet. Your fare might cover one “personal item.” That’s a small backpack or duffel bag that fits under the seat in front of you. With some creative wardrobe planning, you can fit everything you need in a bag this size. (Check size and weight limits on your airline’s web site — they vary.) If you’ll need to carry-on or check a bag, reserve it when you book your ticket. Prices climb if you add bags online later, at check-in, or at the gate, where they could be double.

Watch the fine print — some airlines charge baggage fees per leg. So, a round-trip flight with a stopover each way would have fees for four legs. If you’re traveling with other people, sharing a larger bag can keep your costs down.

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2. Bring what you need

Savings: $80 or more

Don’t assume your fare includes water, coffee, food, entertainment, wifi, pillows, blankets or charging outlets. If these amenities are available, they might carry a steep price tag. Bring a water bottle to fill once you're past security. Pack snacks and don’t count on buying food during a layover — long lines or tight connections could make it impossible. Load your (fully charged) e-reader or laptop with books, music, and movies. Print out and bring your boarding pass, or download it to your phone. Some airlines charge to print your boarding pass. (Really.)

3. Sacrifice the seat choice

Savings: $40 or more

Your seat is free if you let the airline assign it to you. Requests like an aisle seat or a seat next to your companion could cost you.

4. Price out perks

Savings: varies

If you typically fly the same airline, consider getting an airline-affiliated credit card. They do more than earn you points. Cardholders can get club access, seat and baggage upgrades, fee-free foreign transactions, and priority check-in, security screening, boarding, and baggage handling.

Not airline-loyal? If you fly often, an American Express Platinum card, with access to 800+ airport lounges, might be worth the hefty annual fee. “Access to these lounges completely changes the flying experience. It sets you up to feel full and rested before your flights,” says Jeanine Barone, the travel and health writer behind J The Travel Authority.

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