10 Tips to Avoid Annoying Airline Fees

Jul 27, 2018

This topic needs little introduction. Airlines charge fees. Lots of fees. In fact, in 2017, Canada's two biggest airlines — Air Canada and WestJet — earned nearly $2-billion in fees. So, in an effort to help you avoid those pesky baggage and change fees, here are our top 10 tips:

1. Make the 24-hour window your BFF

Even non-refundable tickets come with a 24-hour change or cancellation window.

Flickr/Guy Sie

So, if you find a deal that’s too good to pass up, don’t. You typically have 24 hours to get your plans together before you get penalized. Airlines are required by Transport Canada to offer 24-hour cancellations with a full refund. This policy applies to refundable as well as non-refundable fares. The exception is in the case of flights that are scheduled to depart within 24 hours of the time of booking (ie: same-day flights), where the cancellation fee per person will be charged, and a refund will be issued in the form of a credit. 

2. Same-day change fees can be cheaper

It depends on the flight and the airline, but sometimes, same-day change fees can be cheaper than changing your flight in the days or weeks prior. If you’re not comfortable living on the edge, this isn’t the tip for you, but if you have more flexibility in your travel plans, it could work out in your favour. For example, WestJet has a $100 change fee, but the airline will often allow travellers to fly standby on an earlier flight the same day as their scheduled flight. This policy isn't advertised by the airline, and it may not always work if cabins are full, but it does present a great opportunity to change for free. 

3. Do the math

Nothing is worse than showing up to the airport and facing sticker shock over baggage fees. If you’re buying a ticket because it appears to be the cheapest option, do the math to see if it’s still the cheapest after fees. Always factor in additional fees for ultra-low-cost carriers Swoop or Flair Air, as well as US counterparts such as Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant, and low-cost international carriers such as WOW Air or Norwegian Air.

4. Buy flexible fares

Unfortunately, the number of airlines that don't charge change fees in Canada is small (read: zero). Your best bet is to plan ahead, and if you think you may need to change as the date approaches, purchase a fare that provides more flexibility. WestJet's Flex fares offer itinerary changes at no charge as well as one checked bag and advance seat selection. Air Canada's robust fare program has several tiers that offer flexibility. With its Comfort fare, you can change any time anytime outside of 60 days prior to departure. Within 60 days, it's only $25 to make changes. Air Canada's Latitude fare is fully refundable, changes only require you to pay a fare difference, if any, and you can make same-day airport changes if needed. 

5. Fly when it's less busy

Extra legroom or a guaranteed window or aisle seat is a luxury in the skies these days. Advance seat selection on domestic flights cost anywhere from $19 to $100. However, if you book your flight for times when traffic is typically light — Tuesdays-Thursdays, earlier in the morning or later at nights — you’ll not only get a cheaper fare, you’re more likely to find an empty seat beside you. Also, remember to jump on the online check-in system exactly 24 hours before departure for better odds at snapping up a preferred seat.

6. Check one big bag

Since most airlines charge a checked bag fee, think about checking one larger bag instead of a bag per person. Be mindful of the weight, but if you are an efficient packer, this trick can work in your favour.

7. Think about travel insurance

In some cases, travel insurance covers changes or cancellations. Review the policy, of course, but individual trip insurance can be substantially less than the change fee. Several popular travel credit cards, such as RBC Avion and WestJet RBC MasterCard  include travel insurance. Additionally, you can bypass baggage fees by booking your flight with the airline’s preferred credit card. For example, if you pay for a flight with your WestJet RBC MasterCard, you and up to eight passengers on the same reservation each check in one bag for free. Both TD Aeroplan and CIBC Aerogold Visas waive the first baggage fee, plus you get priority check-in and boarding on Air Canada flights. 

8. Pick up the phone

If you absolutely need to cancel, try getting a real person on the phone. You might convince a kind soul to take pity on you and waive the fee.

9. Sometimes, it pays to pull a no-show

It can be cheaper to simply not show up for your flight rather than canceling and paying the change fee -- especially if you used miles or points to book, or if you only have to change one leg of the flight. It’s a bit riskier, but has been known to work.

10. Extra Water Bottles

Remember to throw an empty, refillable water bottle in your carry on so you can fill up after security. This is especially valuable when flying a low-cost carrier that charges for water.

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