Travel with an elite flier. Gaining tier status in a frequent-flier program gets you a host of fee waivers, but it’s not easy logging all that sky time. The next best thing: traveling on the same reservation as a high-status passenger. Your bags will fly free, and some programs will allow you to tag along through priority boarding without paying extra.
Get the right credit card. Chase’s OnePass Plus MasterCard offers one free checked bag and complimentary priority boarding on all Continental and United flights. The Delta SkyMiles card from American Express (the parent company of Travel + Leisure) grants one free checked bag for the cardholder and up to nine companions.
Avoid human interaction. Airlines are increasingly imposing fees for doing anything in-person or on the phone that can be done online, such as checking in or printing boarding passes. SmarterTravel executive editor Anne Banas recommends reaching out via social media if you have a thorny issue and don’t want to pay a surcharge for an agent’s help.
Choose your airline carefully. Southwest is best not only for travelers who can’t pack light (you get your first two bags checked free) but also for those with uncertain plans, since it doesn’t impose a ticketing change fee. The legacy carriers all have a $150 change fee on domestic flights.
Plan ahead. If you’re traveling with excess baggage, UPS or FedEx Ground may be more economical than checking. Want to book an award ticket? Do it at least three weeks ahead of time so you can avoid the rush fee that airlines tack on: it can add as much as $165 to an international ticket.