If your bank account balance looks as if there was a massive explosion at the branch that destroyed every last dime you had, you probably just bought an airline ticket.
As if you needed anyone to tell you, airline travel is expensive – and it's getting more so. The average domestic airline ticket is currently $379, only up a dollar from 2012, but a $44 jump from the $335 average ticket price in 2009, according to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Fortunately, even with the rising cost of jet fuel, some analysts believe airfares won't rise until the federal lawsuit designed to stop the proposed merger of American Airlines and US Airways is settled. (If American or US Airways raise prices, that may give the federal government more of an argument to stand in the way of the merger. It is concerned the merger will cut competition and lead to higher fares.)
Airline fees are also on the rise. IdeaWorks Company, a Shorewood, Wisc., consulting firm, reported that in 2012, airlines made $27.1 billion from airline fees alone. That's double what they made in fees just four years ago, says Brian Hoyt, spokesperson and writer for coupon website RetailMeNot.com, as well as a former executive with the travel site Orbitz.
"The government in the United States does not require airlines today to disclose those extra fees – for baggage, extra legroom, Wi-Fi, premium seat placement or in-flight food and entertainment – to consumers upfront in their air booking fee via their travel agent," Hoyt says. "And these fees can add hundreds of dollars to the price of an airline ticket."
[Read: 11 Easy Ways to Slash Travel Costs.]
Meanwhile, more optional costs are popping up for air travelers. The Transportation Security Administration is expanding its expedited screening program to 60 more airports; by the end of the year, there will be 100 airports where people can board a plane without first taking off their shoes. The cost to join is $85, which is probably worth it for frequent fliers, especially since enrollment lasts for five years before passengers need to reapply.
So as you start planning holiday trips, here are some creative strategies for trimming air travel expenses.
Wear your luggage. If you check out the website Jaktogo.com, you will quickly get the idea. The site sells wearable luggage. Yes, these are suitcases that you put on your body and wear like clothes. Or perhaps they are clothes you wear but use like suitcases. It is hard to decide. In any case, you will look ridiculous, and we can't speak for the comfort or what passengers sitting next to you will say or think, but it may save you money in fees you would otherwise incur if you checked luggage.
Choose an airline that doesn't charge for checked luggage. With most domestic airlines, the first checked suitcase is $25; the second checked bag is typically $35. After that, prices get somewhat cruel, ranging from $75 to $150 for that third suitcase. It's pretty easy to see where that $27 billion comes from.
Travel website FareCompare.com offers a Worldwide Baggage Fee Chart (farecompare.com/about/worldwide-baggage-fee-chart) that is easy to read. It may help you the next time you're booking a flight and debating which airplane ticket is the cheapest. Obviously, if you're packing heavy, you may want to choose an airline that is more generous with checked baggage policies, such as Southwest Airlines, which allows two free checked bags, or JetBlue, which allows one.
Ship some of your excess or oversized luggage. Maybe. Prices can vary, and keep in mind that airlines' oversized and extra luggage fees, as high as they are, may still beat the prices of companies that ship luggage. But if you're really dreading carrying those skis or golf clubs on a plane, you may feel that the extra cost is worth it. The U.S. Postal Service, UPS and FedEx all ship luggage, and some companies specialize in it. Ship Sticks (shipsticks.com) specializes in shipping golf clubs to a traveler's hotel or the golf course. LuggageForward.com ships luggage, golf clubs and skis. Lugless.com (get it?) also specializes in shipping oversized luggage like surfboards and bicycles (provided they're in a bicycle box).