Before You Book Low Fares, Consider Fees

07/10/2012 07:12 am ET | Updated Sep 09, 2012

After losing hours online, you've finally found what you believe to be the absolute best deal. Great! But before you commit, consider what you may have to cough up in fees. However small, they do add up and can quickly negate whatever low fare you've landed. There are fees for seat selection, to book an award ticket, to book a ticket over the telephone -- not to mention the fees you'll face once at the airport with baggage to check.

Not all carriers charge for checked bags, and hopefully you're booked on one. Fly on JetBlue and you'll avoid paying, at least for the first checked bag. Southwest does even better, offering two free checked bags. Just go easy on weight, as both airlines limit freebie bags to 50 lbs.

Even when flying fee-happy Spirit Airlines, you can avoid the fee for carry ons. Pack light! Just bring a small bag that fits under the seat in front of you. It might make for a tight squeeze, but after take off you're free to reshuffle and give your legs a little more room.

Travel with multiple pieces of heavy, oversized luggage, and there's a good chance you'll pay more to schlep your stuff than you paid for your own seat. If you really aren't in the mood to fuss with baggage, ship it! By doing so, heavy packers can dodge the triple set of fees charged by some airlines for first checked bag, overweight and oversized.

You can also apply for one of the many airline-affiliated credit cards that waive baggage fees. Plus, it's an easy way to bulk up on bonus miles just by signing up or making the first purchase. These cards are often free of annual fees for the first year.

Frequent fliers with elite status may be exempt from many of these extra charges, such as fees associated with using those hard-earned frequent flier miles and checking bags. You'll find a complete list of exemption perks here.

As for seat assignment fees, don't be coerced into shelling out extra just to select a seat. You'll get one eventually, and it will be just as uncomfortable as the one you would have paid extra to choose in advance. Unless of course, you have a preference for stretching out in the exit rows. And if you're traveling with a small child or someone with special needs and really need to sit together, call the airline directly and explain the situation. Or fly on Southwest, again, and pay for an "early bird" boarding fee ($10), which allows you to board ahead of most other passengers. True, it's a fee, but it's less than paying for a "premium" seat on other airlines.

Unless you're especially creative with Groucho Marx glasses and tiny sized trench coats, there's really no way around some fees, such as in-cabin pets or unaccompanied minors. But again, Southwest tends to charge less than the other guys, $75 per segment for in-cabin pets and $50 each-way for unaccompanied minors in addition to the cost of the ticket.

Recent passenger protection laws do make it easier to dodge fees for those willing to do their homework. The Department of Transportation requires airlines to better disclose fees by providing a link directly from their homepages. No more combing over teensy tiny fine print with a jeweler's loupe. Everything from baggage fees, beverage charges, unaccompanied minor fees and cancellation charges to the cost of checking extras like vault poles, dry ice and antlers has (in most cases) been consolidated to a single page. How handy! So before you book a seemingly low fare, take a sec to consider those additional costs.