Cheap Tickets

Airlines have a variety of fares. In recent years, discount airlines have introduced different business models to lower airfare costs, sort of. Part of many of these business models is to charge for many "a la carte services". To compete, most major airlines offer similar discount fares. These can be very good in some circumstances, but the restrictions and/or costs can make them not worth while in other cases.

Things to watch for in any ticket you buy:
  • Included carry-ons (cost for more)
  • Included checked baggage (cost for more)
  • Ability to select seats.
  • Ability to change cancel / make changes (including fly standby on an early flight)
  • Any other "fine print" restrictions that matter to you (boarding order, in-flight food / entertainment, etc.)
Before discussing each of these, I want to point out that some airlines offer ways around some of these restrictions if you have (and use) their co-branded credit card, or sometimes are simply a member of their rewards program (other times you have to have elite status with them). In the majority of cases, these exceptions will not apply... but if it does, you're in luck!


Most economy tickets in the US allow for 1 carry on + 1 personal item. A carry on (small suitcase) is defined as a bag measuring 22 x 14 x 9in or smaller (Alaska Air, it can vary among carriers). A personal item (purse, laptop bag, backpack) is an item measuring 17 x 10 x 9in (most airlines - some don't specify).

WARNING: Many "cheap tickets" ONLY include a personal item, and you are expected to store that item under the seat (not in the overhead compartment). In some cases you can pay extra to bring 1 carry-on with you, others (like United "Basic Economy" fares) do not even allow you to pay to bring a carry-on -- you must pay extra to check your carry-on to the final destination.

The cost for checking what normally would be considered a carry-on can be significant. It can also be confusing as to how much it will cost to check. The cost to check baggage can vary by where you are traveling, the size and weight of your bag, and of course which airline(s) you are traveling on. Even with the increased cost for checking a bag, the "cheap fares" may still be a good option because of the significant cost savings -- but be sure to add in this cost when comparing! On a September 2018 trip from PDX -> Split, Croatia and back, the baggage fees for 1 carry-on-sized bag cost approximately $220 (this included WOW airlines which was particularly expensive for checked bags).

Checked Bags

Today, most airlines DO NOT allow you to check bags for free. If you have an airline credit card, or elite status with an airline, you may may be able to check a bag or two for free -- but most people do must pay extra to check a bag.

To be continued...

WARNING: When checking your bags, you must be aware of when you need to pickup your bags. Before an international flight, you normally need to claim your bag, go through security, and recheck your bags. This is also true for some fares where the airlines do not automatically transfer them between connections. When you check your bags, you will be told when / where you have to claim your bags.

Seat Selection

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