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9 Signs You’re Paying Too Much for Airfare

Flights can be the most expensive part of any trip, but there are ways around a budget-busting experience. For starters, avoid these common mistakes!

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luggage on airplane shelf overhead passenger seat
Surachet Jo/Shutterstock

You’re paying for hidden fees at the airport

Did you read the fine print when booking that super cheap economy flight on Spirit? Frontier? Allegiant? If not, by the time you got to the airport, your wallet could take a heavy hit before even getting to your destination. Some of these airlines make you pay up to $80 to check a bag or even stash a carry-on in the overhead bin. Usually, you can pay less if you opt to purchase baggage services at the same time you book your ticket online; wait until you get to the airport and you can expect to pay even more at the counter.

Meanwhile, picking a seat can prove a hefty cost as well, so too can printing a ticket at the airport (you can avoid the fees by downloading the airline’s app and using a digital ticket). And once you’re on board? Water isn’t even free. Your best bet is to take out the calculator and weigh the options before you book your ticket. Find out the other airport mistakes you need to stop making.

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Man using a smartphone in an aircraft.
Angyalosi Beata/Shutterstock

You’re not using the right apps

Expedia, Google Flights, Kayak… These are a few of the staple flight search engines, and, when compared to booking on an airline’s site, ticket prices can seem much more reasonable.

But it’s 2018, and travel is bigger than ever, so you can bet that savvy techies are creating apps that work even harder to beat the system!

The Points Guy’s top five apps for booking cheap flights are: Hopper, Skyscanner, Hipmunk, Skiplagged, and Kiwi. These all go above and beyond the basic. Take Skiplagged, for example; the app uses “hidden city ticketing” to provide you the cheapest fares. This means you may end up booking a flight beyond your actual destination, but you’ll get off at the “layover” and save some serious cash. You still have to do the legwork, though; comparing on multiple apps is important, since fare rules, ticketing systems, and partnership agreements all vary between price aggregators.

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Passenger jet plane in the sky. Airplane flies high above the clouds.

You’re not taking advantage of the points system

If you love to travel, you know frequent flyer miles are a blessing. But racking them up can prove a lengthy process. Thankfully, credit cards and other programs can accumulate your miles in no time. Want to earn 40,000 miles in a snap? Some companies will pay you that much just to sign up and make your first purchase, while others will get you there by meeting a required minimum spend, which ranges from $1,000 to $5,000. The Delta Air Lines rewards program offers plenty of ways to rack up flight miles—the Skymiles Ticketmaster and Skymiles Starbucks programs are some of our favorites. Find out more secrets to traveling cheap.

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You’re forgetting about social media offers

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have become incredible platforms for business to consumer communication where a large number of people can be reached with just a few characters, making it a must for companies to get the word out quickly. Airlines often post bonuses and promotions via social media, whether it’s earning extra miles for liking a Facebook post, revealing a 72-hour sale, or giving you the opportunity to enter contests with prizes of thousands of points. Never worry about discounts again with the highest-paying jobs in each state. 

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image of people picking up suitcase on luggage conveyor belt in the airport

You’re purchasing travel insurance

According to the Insurance Information Institute, a typical international travel insurance package will include trip cancellation, travel delay, lost or delayed baggage, medical, dental, emergency evacuation, 24-hour traveler assistance, and accidental death. The cost will typically be around 5 to 7 percent of the price of the trip—and you may not even need it. Check with your credit cards, as well as your homeowners, auto, life, or health insurance, to see if you have travel coverage, otherwise, you’re wasting your money.

If you don’t have coverage, ask yourself what you really want it for. For instance, if you’re going hiking or skiing abroad, and are simply worried about hurting yourself, a medical-only travel insurance policy may be your best bet. Lastly, don’t buy a travel insurance policy from travel agents, as they will likely take a commission from the sale.

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Man in airplane with passport in hand waiting for next flight

You’re searching and booking at the wrong time

Research conducted by Hopper.com in 2015 found that the time frame consumers use to search for the best deals often creates a spike in price by about 4.5 percent. The results found that, on average, Americans start searching for flights 39 days prior to departing, and book 27 days out. This 12-day span boosts an increase in price by about $10 to $15.

If your destination is flexible, pick a leisure market, such as Hawaii, that doesn’t see major fluctuations in pricing, giving you more time to book. Business markets, on the other hand, like New York City, are bound to have jumps in prices if you wait too long. Take a look at these 13 things airlines won’t tell you.

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flights information board in airport terminal

You’re not taking the cheapest routes

This may sound like a bit more work, but if you’re looking to score a deal, it’s important to be picky about your route, especially if you’re flying with a layover. When you do a search on different apps or websites, say, from Los Angeles to Boston, the engines will typically only show you direct flight and layovers the airlines have chosen. You can work the system by picking your own layover location in the multiple city search key, and ultimately save yourself hundreds of dollars.

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African-american male hands typing on laptop keyboard. Unrecognizable black businessman working on computer with blank screen for copy space. Man sitting on the bench outdoors, having take away coffee

You’re not clearing your Internet cookies

There’s been a lot of back and forth about whether airlines and travel agencies use your Internet cookies to their advantage. FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney wrote for USA Today that it’s merely a myth, but that, “more than a dozen of the world’s biggest airlines are in the midst of getting government approval to augment the current airline pricing technology into something more akin to the urban legend about cookies and higher prices.”

Meanwhile, William McGee, an aviation adviser for Consumer Reports, conducted a 2016 study that carried out 372 searches on nine airline ticketing websites on two different browsers—one with its cookies stored, and the other with them scrubbed. The results revealed that when the searches differed, the fares changed. “Our takeaway advice is that consumers shop around, and … if its possible, to search on at least two different browsers,” McGee said. “If you see different results … you clearly want to go with lower ones.”

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You’re not flexible enough

As simple as it may sound, sometimes it’s just about you. A red-eye flight, a 6 a.m. takeoff, a journey with a layover … these are all likely to be cheaper options, and if you’re trying to avoid breaking the bank, you ought to consider stepping out of your comfort zone. Be sure to opt for vacations during the off-season, too. Next, find out the 11 travel booking secrets travel agents don’t want you to know.

Alexa Erickson
Alexa is an experienced lifestyle and news writer currently working with Reader's Digest, Shape Magazine, and various other publications. She loves writing about her travels, health, wellness, home decor, food and drink, fashion, beauty, and scientific news. Follow her travel adventures on Instagram: @living_by_lex, send her a message: [email protected], and check out her website: livingbylex.com