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Fee-Free Flying

You did the right thing and shopped around with several carriers to find the lowest fare. Awesome. You even went back and compared fares post-booking to see if you qualify for a low-fare guarantee refund. Smart. But how do you avoid those annoying flight-related fees? $5 for a sandwich, $7 for a sleep set, $4 to wash down the regrettable salty cold-cut sub, and $12 for Wi-Fi. By flight's end, you've spent more money than you saved by comparison shopping.

I'm not suggesting you risk deep-vein thrombosis and forgo the longer seat pitch if you're as tall as an NBA player. Or, if your bladder is more like a leaky valve than an organ, break down and fork over the $5 for an aisle seat. But tacking up to $35 to your bill because you booked your airfare over the phone instead of online? Thanks, but no thanks.

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Other fees that can easily be avoided with a small amount of advanced planning include:

Baggage

  • Familiarize yourself with SmarterTravel's Airline Fees: The Ultimate Guide before booking your flight. For example, if you'll be checking in two bags, you may find that the $20 airfare savings with Spirit is negated by the low-cost carrier's bag policy: $25 for each bag checked at the airport.
  • Check in for your flight before heading to the airport, and while you're at it, check in your baggage via the web. Depending on your provider and destination, you can save as much as $20 by doing so.
  • Instead of packing goodies this holiday, look into having the retailer ship them to your destination.
  • I'm sure you look good in them, but do you really need three pairs of jeans for a weekend trip? Learn how to Avoid Fees With a Well-Packed Bag and get tips on how consolidate, eliminate, and economize space in your luggage.

Wi-Fi

  • Challenge yourself. How long can you go without being connected? Remember books: those odd rectangular dinosaurs from long-ago? Well, grab the one you're using to prop up the dining table and get lost in the written word.
  • If a book is just too twentieth century, preemptively download games, music, and apps galore before you fly and you won't miss an e-beat.
  • Don't forget to bring your own headphones so you won't have to pay for low-quality earbuds you'll just toss after the in-flight movie.
  • If you must notify all your Facebook friends of your layover boredom, look for free wireless, available through January 15 at more than 45 domestic airports.

Food and Drinks

  • Expect to pay between $2 and $11 for a lackluster snack or meal while onboard. And the moonshine will set you back as much as $10 a pop. You can, of course, take advantage of the numerous food court options at the airport, but why not simply brown-bag it? Tuck in your carry-on a healthy amount of your favorite snacks, especially if you're traveling with small children.
  • Stave off dehydration by bringing a bottle of water—an empty one, that is! Just remember to fill it at any water fountain past security.

Holiday Surcharges

  • Aim to avoid the seasonal surcharges imposed by several carriers by flying on off-peak dates.
  • I wouldn't be surprised if these fees make a reappearance during peak-travel holidays again next year, so plan ahead and start booking your spring and summer travel now, before the seasonal fees are reinstated.

Do you have any tried-and-true techniques for avoiding those pesky airline fees? Share them here! Karma just might thank you with a few more tips you weren't already aware of.

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