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TPG reader Hillary sent me a message on Facebook to ask about airline fees:

“Which airlines nickel-and-dime you the most on fees? I vote United, but I’d like to hear your take.”

Airline fees have skyrocketed over the past few years, ranging from relatively mundane charges like baggage fees to truly ridiculous add-ons like the fee just to sign up for the Qantas Frequent Flyer program. These fees have become a significant revenue stream for airlines, and while you’ll occasionally see them dropped (like Delta’s phone booking fee), I don’t think they’re likely to go away in general. Still, some carriers gouge passengers more than others, and I’m always happy to shame the worst offenders.

Hillary’s question singles out United, but other than a brutal award cancellation fee of $200 per ticket, the airline’s fees are generally in line with those of other major carriers. As you can see in this useful chart of airline fees, most of the charges United imposes have become pretty standard in the industry, so I wouldn’t characterize the airline as being a nickel-and-dime operation.

I think the most irritating and unexpected fees tend to come from low-cost carriers like Allegiant, Frontier and others both domestically and abroad. Long-time readers will know that I have no love for Ryanair, but Spirit Airlines gets my vote as being the worst — and based on this year’s report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index, that’s a popular opinion. Spirit is like the Domino’s Pizza of airlines, reveling in its terribleness and trying its best to make bad service seem charming. Unfortunately, there’s no charm in getting slapped with a $100 fee for a carry-on bag at the gate.

On the bright side, while most airlines are profiting enormously from these extra charges, some have made hay out of not charging fees. Southwest famously doesn’t charge passengers for the first two checked bags, and doesn’t impose fees for changes or cancellations (including awards). Other airlines have kept fees off the table in select situations, like American’s policy of allowing free award changes so long as the origin and destination remain the same.

Not all
When it comes to avoiding airline fees, Southwest is king.

There are plenty of strategies you can use to avoid fees or at least minimize their impact. For starters, several popular rewards credit cards offer annual airline credits, which you can use to cover fees (or airfare in some cases). Many airlines also waive fees for passengers with elite status, and there are plenty of shortcuts to earning those benefits that can help you save money.

In general, the best strategy for avoiding airline fees is to know the rules for each carrier. Even Spirit offers pretty good deals if you’re willing to pack light, sit where you’re told and print your boarding pass ahead of time. I think fees hurt more when you don’t expect them, so before you try out an unfamiliar airline, make sure you know what you’re getting into.

For more info on avoiding airline fees, check out these posts:

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at

Citi Prestige® Card

While Citi announced some negative changes to this card back in July — including a lower sign-up bonus, the elimination of Admirals Club access and the end of the free rounds of golf benefit — one of its most valuable perks still remains, which is the 4th Night Free perk.  This benefit alone can save you thousands of dollars a year if you use it to its full advantage.

Read more:

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • $250 Air Travel Credit each year, and receive a statement credit, up to $100 every 5 years, as reimbursement for your application fee for Global Entry or TSA Pre √®
  • 4th night hotel benefit for any hotel stay at hotels booked through the Citi Prestige® Concierge
  • Earn 40,000 bonus points after $4,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open.
  • Points are redeemable for a $532 flight on any airline or $400 in gift cards.
  • Transfer points to a variety of travel loyalty programs from airlines to hotels.
  • Earn 3x points on Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 2x points on Dining at Restaurants and Entertainment
  • 1 ThankYou® Point per $1 spent on other purchases
Intro APR on Purchases
Regular APR
15.74%* (Variable)
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.