Beware The Hidden Costs Of Air Travel

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You can no longer rely on the price of your airline ticket alone to determine if you got a good deal on air travel.

That's because the price of the ticket is only one of multiple factors that you now have to consider when calculating the cost of your travel. Some discount tickets are a real bargain, while others come with hidden fees that make the ticket much more expensive when everything is calculated together.

Add in varying nonticket expenses associated with air travel, and all of a sudden that $100 bargain ticket can end up costing a whole lot more. As with most things financial, the real costs are found in the details.

When it comes to buying an airline ticket, many people are used to simply purchasing the ticket that costs the least. While this strategy could be used in past years without much of a problem, that is no longer the case.

Airlines know that people have formed the habit of picking their tickets primarily on price rather than actual cost, so they price tickets to reflect this. The result has been a large number of fee increases to battle the higher cost of fuel, while airline ticket prices haven't nearly increased as much as soaring oil would indicate that they should.

Despite the fact that these airline fees drive virtually everyone crazy, they will continue until consumers begin to take the time to look at overall costs rather than simply ticket price.

Looking at overall price starts before you even begin looking for your ticket. With fuel prices soaring, the cost of getting to the airport and back needs to be factored in.

One of the secret discount tricks of the past was to look at fares at different airports in the area -- such as Newark, New York-LaGuardia and New York-Kennedy -- since ticket prices can vary significantly.

It's still wise to make this comparison, but you also need to take into account the cost of getting to the airport these days. A lot depends on the transportation you take at what your ultimate expenses will be, but choosing a cheaper ticket at an airport that's farther away may not make as much sense as it did when gas prices were lower.

Then, it's essential to look at the numerous fees that are being added above the cost of the ticket by more and more airlines. So many fees have been introduced that it can be downright confusing to know what the actual cost of your air travel will be without a calculator.

Due to the ever-changing fees and the different costs of these fees between airlines, the editors of SmarterTravel.com, Airfarewatchdog.com and SeatGuru.com have combined their resources to create the Ultimate Guide to Airline Fees.

This guide lists the major fees that each of the major domestic airlines charge. Since people travel differently and therefore will likely incur different fees, this chart will allow you to go through and determine which fees are likely to be added to the cost of your airline ticket.

Many services which were once free now cost a fee which can come as quite a shock for anyone who hasn't traveled in the last year or so. All major domestic airlines now charge a fee for a second checked bag, except for Southwest Airlines (LUV). American (AMR), Spirit, United (UAUA) and US Airways (LCC) all have fees for the first piece of checked luggage.

These additional fees are only getting worse. US Airways recently announced that it will be the first airline to charge for soft drinks and water on flights. You can no longer get a reserved seat on Spirit Airlines without paying a fee with the more popular seats costing more: $5 for middle seats, $10 for window and aisle seats and $15 for exit-row seats.

It's also important to know about other fees that may affect your travel costs. The airline frequent-flier tickets you have been saving may not be all that free in the near future. Delta Air Lines (DAL) recently announced that it will begin adding a fuel surcharge of up to $50 for booking frequent-flier tickets.

Since airlines seem set on hiding many of the true costs of air travel in fees, it's up to the consumer to do the additional research and calculations beyond the cost of the ticket to make sure that the bargain ticket price is really a deal.

Understanding the cost-shifting games the airlines are playing and how they will affect your pocket book is the only way to ensure you don't end up paying a lot more for your travel than you thought you were.

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