Which Airline Charges the Fewest Extra Fees?

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FEES FOR FLYING

Online tools have made it easier than ever to compare airfares and find the lowest ticket prices. But if you don't factor in fees for "optional services," the overall cost of a flight can be surprisingly high. What used to come standard -- a carry-on bag, for instance -- may now come at a price. The Trump administration recently scuttled a proposed rule that would have required airlines to reveal baggage fees to consumers searching for flights. That means the additional charges remain buried elsewhere on the airlines' websites. In the spirit of transparency, Cheapism.com has compiled detailed charts of fees levied by 10 U.S. airlines for baggage and more. Here they are, ranked from worst to best, along with at-a-glance summaries of extra charges on domestic flights in the lowest fare class.

Spirit Airlines taking off from McCarran Airport in Las Vegas
Photo credit: Chris Parypa Photography/shutterstock

SPIRIT AIRLINES

Fees, Fees, and More Fees
Fans of Spirit's brand of "unbundled" airline pricing say: Why pay for what you don't need? But the rock-bottom ticket prices are accompanied by charges for virtually everything else -- a lot of which may not feel like it should be considered "extra." Spirit also has some unique fees that other airlines don't charge. A mandatory Passenger Usage Fee adds about $18 or $36 to a round-trip ticket, and an Unintended Consequences of DOT Regulations Fee tacks on another $7 each way.

Carry-on bag: $35-$65 (depending on when the fee is paid)
First checked bag: $30-$65
Overweight baggage: $30 and up (41 lbs. and up)
Oversize baggage: $100 and up (63 in. and up)
Pets: $110 (cabin only)
Unaccompanied minors: $100
Change/cancellation: $90 online, $100 by phone or at the airport
Booking by phone: $35
Boarding passes printed at airport: $2 or $10
Seat selection: $1-$50
Non-alcoholic drinks and snacks: $2 and up

Allegiant Air
Photo credit: Michael Rosebrock/shutterstock

ALLEGIANT AIR

Low Fares, Lots of Fees
This discount airline charges numerous fees, including $2 for non-alcoholic drinks and as much as $80 for the privilege of choosing a seat. Also, Allegiant assesses some fees by segment (one takeoff and landing), so travelers could end up paying multiple times before reaching their final destination.

Carry-on bag: $10-$75 (depending on route and when the fee is paid)
First checked bag: $18-$50 (depending on route and when the fee is paid)
Overweight baggage: $50 and up (41 lbs. and up)
Oversize baggage: $75 (81 in. and up)
Pets: $100 (cabin only)
Unaccompanied minors: $0 (under 15 not allowed)
Change/cancellation: $75 per segment
Booking by phone: $15 per segment
Boarding passes printed at airport: $5
Seat selection: $0-$80
Non-alcoholic drinks and snacks: $2-$6.50

Frontier Airlines taking off from John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, California
Photo credit: Philip Pilosian/shutterstock

FRONTIER AIRLINES

Bundles Offer Bargains
Some fees on Frontier are actually lower than many other airlines' ($99 for a change or cancellation, for instance), but unexpected fees for non-alcoholic beverages and any bags beyond a personal item are sure to aggravate some passengers. Many add-ons are waived with the purchase of bundles like The Works (from $59 each way), which, in addition to boons such as seat selection and priority boarding, offers a free carry-on and checked bag -- exemptions worth a minimum of $55 alone on this airline.

Carry-on bag: $30-$60 (depending on travel date and when the fee is paid)
First checked bag: $25-$60 (depending on travel date and when the fee is paid)
Overweight baggage: $75 (51 lbs. and up)
Oversize baggage: $75 (63 in. and up)
Pets: $75 (cabin only)
Unaccompanied minors: $110 (nonstop flights only)
Change/cancellation: $99
Booking by phone: $10
Seat selection: $6 and up
Non-alcoholic drinks and snacks: $2 and up

United Airlines taking off from McCarran Airport in Las Vegas
Photo credit: Chris Parypa Photography/shutterstock

UNITED AIRLINES

Least Transparent on Fees
There's little difference in fees among the transcontinental legacy carriers (United, Delta, and American), but United was the first to increase its change fee to $200 and currently charges up to $1,000. The airline also stands out for the extent to which it keeps its fees hidden -- don't expect to find easily accessible and clearly laid out charts on the website. United's Basic Economy fare (on select routes) is meant to compete with the stripped-down prices of ultra-low-cost carriers. Basic Economy passengers traveling with luggage must pay to check it -- no carry-ons allowed.

Carry-on bag: $0
First checked bag: $25 (may depend on route)
Overweight baggage: $100 and up (51 lbs. and up)
Oversize baggage: $200 (63 in. and up)
Pets: $125 in cabin; $201 and up in cargo
Unaccompanied minors: $150
Change/cancellation: up to $1,000
Booking by phone: $25

American Airlines taking off from McCarran Airport in Las Vegas
Photo credit: Chris Parypa Photography/shutterstock

AMERICAN AIRLINES

Few Options for Savings
American charges roughly the same fees as the other big names for things like checked bags ($25 and up) and reservation modifications ($200). While the airline once offered travelers specialty fare bundles, like Choice Plus, which provided certain money-saving benefits like change-fee waivers and complimentary checked luggage for a nominal price upfront, those options have been discontinued. American has followed United's lead and now offers a downgraded fare option that doesn't include what many consider essentials (like a carry-on bag).

Carry-on bag: $0
First checked bag: $25
Overweight baggage: $100 and up (51 lbs. and up)
Oversize baggage: $200 (63 in. and up)
Pets: $125 in cabin; $200 in cargo
Unaccompanied minors: $150
Change/cancellation: $200
Booking by phone: $25

Delta Air Lines taking off from McCarran Airport in Las Vegas
Photo credit: Chris Parypa Photography/shutterstock

DELTA AIR LINES

Standard Fees, Stiff Award Penalties
With fees comparable to what the other transcontinental legacy carriers charge, Delta shouldn't surprise many travelers with its add-ons. Along with American and United, Delta waives certain checked-bag fees for customers with an airline-branded credit card. However, Delta loyalists must shell out more for any changes or cancellations made to travel booked with reward miles: All but the top-level members can expect to pay $150 for changes, and miles cannot be redeposited for cancellations made less than 72 hours before departure.

Carry-on bag: $0
First checked bag: $25
Overweight baggage: $100 and up (51 lbs. and up)
Oversize baggage: $200 (63 in. and up)
Pets: $125 in cabin; $200 in cargo
Unaccompanied minors: $150
Change/cancellation: $200
Booking by phone: $0

Virgin America taking off from McCarran Airport in Las Vegas
Photo credit: Chris Parypa Photography/shutterstock

VIRGIN AMERICA

Good for Over-Packers
Virgin America charges middling fees in general but is notably lenient when it comes to excess baggage. The third checked bag costs the same as the first -- $25, compared with at least $75 on most other airlines. In fact, Virgin allows travelers as many as 10 bags total without upping this base rate, and almost no one charges less for oversize and overweight bags.

Carry-on bag: $0
First checked bag: $25
Overweight baggage: $50 and up (51 lbs. and up)
Oversize baggage: $75 (63 in. and up)
Pets: $100 (cabin only)
Unaccompanied minors: $25/$50 (nonstop/connecting)
Change/cancellation: $100 or $150 (depending on route)
Booking by phone: $15

JetBlue Airways taking off from McCarran Airport in Las Vegas
Photo credit: Chris Parypa Photography/shutterstock

JETBLUE AIRWAYS

Loaded With Free Amenities
JetBlue joined the crowd charging for the first checked bag in 2015 but is still generous with the amenities it offers travelers at no cost. On JetBlue, expect free in-seat DirecTV, as well as Wi-Fi and complimentary snacks more substantial than the usual pack of pretzels. Change and cancellation fees are graduated based on the price of the flight and fare type.

Carry-on bag: $0
First checked bag: $25
Overweight baggage: $100 (51 lbs. and up)
Oversize baggage: $100 (63 in. and up)
Pets: $100 (cabin only)
Unaccompanied minors: $100
Change/cancellation: $75-$150 (depending on fare)
Booking by phone: $25

Alaska Airlines taking off from McCarran Airport in Las Vegas
Photo credit: Chris Parypa Photography/shutterstock

ALASKA AIRLINES

Low on Fees, Especially for Alaskans
Alaska Airlines waives many fees for residents of its namesake state through the free Club 49 program and keeps extra charges relatively low for everybody else. Change and cancellation fees, as well as baggage fees, are near the lowest, and Alaska has one of the cheapest same-day change fees ($25) of any airline. The only real oddity: a "left on board item return fee" of $20.

Carry-on bag: $0
First checked bag: $25
Overweight baggage: $75 (51 lbs. and up)
Oversize baggage: $75 (63 in. and up)
Pets: $100
Unaccompanied minors: $25 nonstop/direct; $50 connecting
Change/cancellation: $125 (free 60 days or more before departure)
Booking by phone: $15

Southwest Airlines
Photo credit: Chris Parypa Photography/shutterstock

SOUTHWEST AIRLINES

The Lone Holdout
Southwest is hands-down the best airline for travelers worried about fees. It's the only one that lets passengers check up to two bags at no cost and charges no fee to change or cancel a flight. Customers pay only the difference in fare. Add to this free non-alcoholic drinks, snacks, and live TV onboard, and it's easy to see how Southwest earned the top spot among low-cost carriers in J.D. Power's annual survey of customer satisfaction.

Carry-on bag: $0
First checked bag: $0
Overweight baggage: $75 (51 lbs. and up)
Oversize baggage: $75 (63 in. and up)
Pets: $95 (cabin only)
Unaccompanied minors: $50
Change/cancellation: $0
Booking by phone: $15

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