Beware hidden fees and fine print on airfare deals

January 3, 2012 4:22:28 PM PST
Planning a trip? Beware of those online offers that sound great.

When you see those great deals online, don't believe the hype until you see the final price. Consumer Reports says unless you are a savvy shopper, you can be quickly disappointed.

When you try to snag a great airfare online, sometimes it can vanish into thin air. That's what Consumer Reports' Tod Marks found when he investigated how to cut the cost of flying.

He said, "You see a lot of airfare deals out there that sound great. But hidden fees, fine print and blackout dates can make locking in a great deal as tricky as a soft landing in turbulence."

Take a Travelocity "deal" on a round-trip flight from Philadelphia to London for $277. Once you book, it actually costs almost $666!

"Spirit Airlines promotes flights that cost as a little as nine dollars," Marks said. "But to qualify you have to join its nine-dollar club, which costs around 60 bucks, and you also may be subject to a lot of additional fees."

Those additional fees could include up to $45 for each piece of checked luggage, up to $40 per carry-on, and $1 to $199 for a reserved seat.

Marks said, "Now there are ways to get a great deal on a flight. Ideally, you want to book in advance, and never within two weeks of travel."

Take advantage of alerts that many airlines and travel sites let you set up to track fares. And time your purchase!

"Experts tell us there really is a best time to book. And that's at 3pm Eastern Standard Time on a Tuesday," Marks said. "Believe it or not, that's when the greatest number of discount seats hit the market."

Consumer Reports says don't skip looking at airline sites in addition to Expedia, Kayak, and Priceline, and don't assume discount carriers are the cheapest. Major carriers can't afford to be more expensive than low-price operators because that lands them a lower listing in search-engine results.

Experts advise you to start looking three and a half months before you need to depart for domestic flights and five and half months before for international flights.