Pledge To Hedge: Travel Tips "They" Don't Want You To Know

[This is the fifth installment of an ongoing series.]

By Keith Fitz-Gerald
Investment Director
Money Morning/The Money Map Report

I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of the airlines grumbling and whining.

I’m also frustrated with the endless list of new surcharges the airlines have come up with. Especially when there’s plenty of evidence that the airlines are just getting started and that they’re actually busy cooking up new ways to nickel and dime us.

Airline representatives and apologist analysts claim the new “fees” are necessary to help offset high fuel costs and to ensure the airlines’ survival. Baloney. The airlines can no more surcharge their way to profits than I can go to the moon.

The way I look at it, the “surcharges” that are being imposed are a sort of “management incompetence tax” that’s being foisted on us to make up for 40 years of airline mismanagement and perennially unprofitable performance.

It’s clear, to me anyway, that additional charges for water, boxed lunches, luggage, and booze are just the beginning.

Once passengers get used to these new “fees,” we can only expect to pay more. A lot more and probably for stuff we took for granted. Want a pillow? That will be $3. Maybe even $5 if you actually want a clean one. Blankets are the same deal. And if you actually want a cushion to sit on, that’ll be an extra $10 bucks, $20 if you want a seatbelt to go with it. 

Airline representatives will no doubt take issue with my observations and undoubtedly so will my fellow frequent fliers who expect to be “above it all.” Get over it guys. Try flying anywhere with your families in coach the way I do.

Gerald Kinder, a Florida Money Morning reader who has been keenly following this series – not to mention my family’s efforts to make each dollar count – shares my sentiment. And that’s why he sent me a video link to the classic comedy skit, “No Frills Flying,” featuring comedians Tim Conway and Harvey Korman.

The fact is that there are precious few alternatives to the airline’s new “fees” if you plan to keep flying.  But here are a few I’ve picked up in my wanderings that may be helpful:

  • Baggage Charges: Obviously the simplest solution is the most elegant – carry it on. But pack lightly. Newer airframes and cabin designers are taking steps to make overhead bins and storage areas smaller. If you’ve got to check bags, try flying one of the few remaining airlines with free first bag policies. And be prepared to shell out $15 to $50 for a second suitcase.
  • Drinking Water: Bring an empty nalgene water bottle and fill it at the drinking fountain after security. Many of the bottles come with clips you can easily attach it to your bag. If you can’t be bothered to carry anything else or simply don’t want to mess with it, there’s always bottled water in the terminals available for purchase. But those bottles are often even more expensive than the ones available on the plane.
  • Frequent Flyer Charges: Sadly, airlines are busy reducing the value of accumulated miles faster than U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke can print money. This means that even seasoned frequent flyers like myself are not immune. Case in point: Many airlines are now charging booking fees of $100 or more simply to claim award-based fares. At the same time, they’re increasing the number of miles necessary to obtain free flights. There’s really not much to do here except spend the miles on merchandise, which doesn’t seem to depreciate in the rewards bank as fast. If you’re determined to “bank” the miles for travel, now’s a good time to concentrate your efforts on a single program to build up miles as consistently as possible.

Just because airlines are sticking it to us, doesn’t mean we can’t save a little money.

[Editor’s Note: Money Morning Investment Director Keith Fitz-Gerald is on a mission to reduce his household energy consumption by 25% through conservation - without altering or compromising his family’s lifestyle.]

News and Related Story Links: