8 money-saving tricks the big airlines don’t want you to know

Air travel is on the rise, and so are prices. In fact, NerdWallet reported that prices increased by 34% since the summer of 2019. It’s not just standard inflation that’s causing prices to rise. Airlines are getting sneaky about how they earn more, including adding fees on things that used to be free or raising fares on existing costs. While some of these things are unavoidable, there are money-saving secrets that can improve your bottom line.

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Having to cancel a flight happens for all kinds of reasons. In these situations, know that you often have recourse. For instance, Dan Gellert, travel expert and COO of Skiplagged, notes that the US government requires airlines to provide a 24-hour free cancellation policy (as long as the flight is at least seven days). This means you can cancel within 24 hours of booking any flight.

“In addition, many airlines have changed their prices in the event of a flight change or cancellation,” he adds. “You have to check each specific airline, but many now allow you to change or cancel your flight for free, as long as it’s not a Basic Economy ticket.”

Understanding these cancellation policies can save you money in the long run by not losing the amount you spent in scenarios where you have to adjust a flight time or cancel altogether. You can also cancel and rebook a cheaper flight, which can save you hundreds of dollars.

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Some airlines do not allow changed or canceled tickets. If so, and if you are outside this 24-hour window, do not cancel the flight.

“It’s better not to show up than to call to cancel,” says travel expert Justin Johnson, co-founder and CEO of Gouvy. “In the event of a flight cancellation or schedule change—[which has been on the rise recently]— you may be entitled to a credit or refund. If you had canceled the ticket, you would not be entitled to anything.”

It’s a bit risky, but it could save you money in the long run. In the event of a delay or cancellation, call the airline to request a refund. Johnson says it will likely be in the form of credits. Also call the airline afterwards if you have a return flight, as they may cancel the return if you don’t show up without an explanation.

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A hidden city flight is a flight where you get off in a layover city from the airline’s final destination. Let’s say you need to get to Phoenix from New York. The ticket can actually go as far as San Francisco, but has a stopover in Phoenix.

“The average traveler who buys a hidden city ticket saves $128, and many save thousands of dollars,” Gallert notes. The Skiplagged search portal is actually dedicated to finding these fares for you, making the process a breeze. Just be aware that you can only bring carry-on baggage when taking a hidden flight in town.

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Be aware of federal regulations and specific airline policies regarding canceled flights, changes, and missing/delayed baggage. The US Department of Transportation (DOT) requires a full refund in the event of a flight canceled by the airline, as well as a refund in the event of major schedule changes or delays.

You are also entitled to a refund if your class of service was changed or if you were unable to use a service you paid for, such as checked baggage, seat selection and in-flight Wi-Fi that was spotty or unavailable.

There are also many remedies in the event of an MIA or lost suitcase. Not only are airlines required to reimburse you if baggage is reported lost, but many also have policies in place that offer you some form of compensation. For example, American Airlines reimburse for necessary items you need without your bags (like clothes and toiletries), and United does the same and will pay a flat rate $1500 per lost bag.

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In the same vein as above, be sure to report serious damage to suitcases caused by airline handlers. Many airlines have policies in place that will reimburse you for damages or provide you with a check for the cost of new baggage. There are some exclusions, such as normal wear and tear, but if your suitcase is badly damaged or largely unusable, file a claim immediately.

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Airlines make a good chunk of their money on fees. In 2021 alone, fees brought in billions on everything from checked bags to seat selections.

“We recommend doing a bit of planning to know exactly where the airline is going to charge a fee and planning as much in advance as possible to avoid these fees,” says Gallert. “Charges may include printing a boarding pass at the airport, overweight bags, or charging for headphones or airplane snacks.”

Many airlines won’t show mercy to even the smallest thing, like a pound or two overweight bag, so be aware of the rules they set. A little planning can go a long way to saving you money. In some cases, you can use your airline miles to pay for things like seat upgrades, and being an airline credit card holder often comes with perks like free checked bags.

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You may have heard that booking a flight on a specific day or time will save you money. It’s not a rule of thumb, says Johnson, so expand your search times so you have more visibility into price fluctuations, then book when the cost is at its lowest.

Flight aggregation websites like Kayak and Skiplagged have price tracking features that let you keep tabs on fluctuations, and they’ll even send you an alert when prices to your destination drop.

READ NEXT: Never forget to do this after takeoff, the stewardess warns.

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It may sound like a “scare tactic” to push you to book, but be careful when an airline notes that there are only a few fares left.

“There are dozens of different fare classes, not just first and economy class,” says Johnson. “When you see the ‘one ticket left at this price’, it really means there is one ticket left in that fare class. Once it’s gone, it moves to the next fare class and you’ll see a price jump .”

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