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How to Cope With the Latest Airline Mania

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In addition to celebrity antics and Wall Street dips, new airline fees seem to be dominating the headlines recently. The latest proposed fee is for the pleasure of sitting in a window or aisle seat — a slap in the wallet for anyone who gets claustrophobic when flying.

These rising costs created the perfect environment for Sears to launch its vacation layaway site last week. The service offers travelers the option to put plane tickets and vacation packages on layaway, though details about interest payments and other fees aren’t yet known.

Despite Sears’ potentially positive option for travelers, most announcements coming from the airline industry are cringe-worthy. Here are a few more examples of airlines gone mad, and how to cope with them the next time you fly.

1. Pay Up to Pre-Board
United joined the likes of American Airlines when they recently nixed the perk of pre-boarding for those flying with children. This move may be part of the airline’s plan to charge consumers who want to board early, a fee many airlines have already imposed. American Airlines offers a service called Express Seats which charges $19 to $39 for each flight segment, and Southwest requests $10 for Early Bird Check-In. If you’re flying with small kids, go with airlines like JetBlue Airways, Delta and Virgin America, which still allow complimentary pre-boarding for families.

2. Carry-on Luggage Fee
Allegiant Air and Spirit Airlines are now charging for carry-on luggage, with Spirit announcing a whopping $100 carry-on luggage fee effective this November for those travelers paying for their bag at the boarding gate. If you prefer carry-on to checked bags, browse Freeshipping.org for deals on compact luggage from Macy’s and other stores, and learn to pack light. Otherwise, be sure to pre-pay for your carry-on when booking your flight.

3. Frontier’s Cookies
Once upon a time Frontier offered complimentary chocolate chip cookies. Sadly, they’ve eliminated this freebie in a cost-saving measure. Since many airlines are charging for once-complimentary meals, it pays to pack a picnic lunch. Just make sure it’s smoosh proof and doesn’t include liquids. Naturally, you’ll want to include your own cookie. A few airlines like JetBlue and Southwest still provide a free snack, so take that into consideration when pricing out flight and airline options for your next trip.

4. Frequent Flier Charges
It’s almost not worth signing up for frequent-flier programs anymore. Some airlines have moved toward charging fees just for booking flights with reward points. US Airways, for example, charges a $25 to $50 “processing fee” when redeeming miles for a flight. Check out this chart from AirfareWatchdog for a comparison of mileage redemption fees, and always review the airline’s frequent flier policy before registering for their program.

5. Wider Seats
According to Bloomberg, Airbus is promoting a version of its A320 jet that would have 20-inch-wide aisle seats in coach. Airbus estimates airlines will charge a $10 fee for the extra room, but that’s still a lot cheaper than paying for business or first class. Other airlines like Virgin America, Air Canada and Jetblue already charge a fee for seats with extra leg room, up to a whopping $60 per flight. If you’re tall, you may have to curl up in tighter coach seats to save.

6. Copays for Upgrades
Airlines like United, American and Continental now charge travelers a fee in addition to accrued miles to upgrade select economy seats. If you want to use your miles toward a seat upgrade, read the fine print to see if you’ll be charged a copay at the gate. Otherwise, save your miles and your cash by sticking with your original seats.

Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized consumer and money-saving expert who helps consumers live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. From smart spending tips to personal finance advice, Andrea transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers. She has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney, and many more.

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