Tricky ways airlines get you to spend more money


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If you feel like every time you book or check in for a flight, or crave a snack while flying, that you’re being charged for something that used to be part of your airfare, you might be on to something.

What you’re experiencing is the financial pain of so-called fee creep.

Some fees charged by airlines, such as extra cash to check a second bag or piece of overweight luggage, leave you no choice but to hand over your credit card if you want to board the flight and get to your destination. But other charges, like paying for a seat with extra legroom or ordering a soda, are some of the discretionary purchases that airlines use to get you to press the buy-now button.

Here are a handful of ways airlines get you to spend and how to avoid them.

1. Variable ticket pricing

Have you ever searched for a flight one day only to have the prices increase the next day?

According to Joshua Hastings, the founder of personal finance site, Money Life Wax, temporary ticket pricing is a technique called variable pricing.

“Variable pricing means prices adjust based on location, need, etc.,” Hastings says. “Because of this, if consumers search for tickets one day and don’t buy an airline ticket, the next time they search for the same ticket the price will actually go up.”

The tactic eventually drives many travelers to purchase their tickets immediately without looking at other price options.

“In other words, the airline tricks unknowing travelers to spend more money than they would have had they shopped around,” Hastings says.

How do you get around this? Hastings says it’s simple. Just clear your cookies and web browsing data every time you buy airline tickets online or shop in an incognito window.

2. Unnecessary add-ons

After you’ve picked your flight online and right before you checkout, you will probably receive a series of pop-up offers that encourage you to spend more money.

That’s what happens quite often with unnecessary add-ons, such as reserving, say, a preferred aisle or window seat, for an extra cost, says Daniel Gillaspia, founder of the travel rewards blog Other add-on perks include getting a better boarding position and earlier access to overhead bins on the plane for your carry-on bags.

“One way that airlines get you to spend more is that they will offer add-ons that you can easily purchase at the time of checkout that are not always needed,” Gillaspia says.

“For example, Southwest offers the EarlyBird Check-In service, which automatically checks you in 24 hours prior to departure to help you get a better boarding position. However, the vast majority of passengers usually don’t need to purchase EarlyBird to get a desirable seat,” Gillaspia says.

Simply checking in online 24 hours before departure, he says, is enough to get a decent seat.

3. In-flight charges

So much of what used to be complimentary when flying, from blankets to soft drinks, now costs extra cash once you’re on board the flight.

Alex Tran, a travel blogger at, says often the problem is air travelers might not know that soda and snacks are no longer free. That makes it hard to plan ahead and board the plane prepared with your own provisions.

“I travel a few times a month and once on the plane, I am asked by flight attendants if I’d like to rent entertainment systems or buy alcoholic drinks or food, which costs money,” Tran says.

Tran recommends that you make a list of your flight must-haves, from Wi-Fi to pillows, drinks and snacks to an entertainment system.

4. Charging more for the best flights

Airlines, with the help of computer technology and past booking trends, know which flight times and travel days travelers are likely to want. This type of dynamic pricing allows them to raise prices for in-demand flights.

Airlines get you to spend more money, Tran says, by charging extra for more desirable flights with higher passenger demand.

“They all leave on the same day, but early morning and late evening flights are the most expensive because they’re the most convenient and desirable for most people working 9-to-5 jobs,” Tran says. “This is the same for people who travel over the weekend. Flights are usually much more expensive by then.”

If your travel times are flexible, you can find a cheaper flight by flying at a time that’s not as popular or busy.

5. Multiple fare options

When you find the airport you want to fly into and select the time you want to depart, the next decision you’ll have to make is the type of fare to book. Tran says that airlines try to get you to buy economy-like tickets that come with a lot of stipulations.

“Recently, Alaska Airlines launched their Saver fare deal. This is comparable to United Airlines’ economy tickets. The Saver fare deal is cheaper, but you also do not get any perks whatsoever,” Tran says.

“The main fare deal is valid for upgrades (with status or membership) and is around 20 percent more,” Tran says. Some people will take a chance and buy the main fare deal and hope for an upgrade. But if that upgrade does not happen, then it would have been a better deal to buy the Saver fare. It’s a great way to get people to spend more if they think there’s a chance they will get upgraded or better treatment.”

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