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6 ways to turn a cheap flight into a nightmarishly expensive one

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- There are plenty of ways to mess up a flight; I know a couple who got so distracted by the antics of their young children in the airport that they failed to hear the boarding announcement. Yep, the flight took off without them. They were allowed to put the value of their ticket toward a flight departing the next day but also had to pay a lot more as the price had risen.

That’s one way to fail but there are plenty of other things that can turn a cheap flight into a nightmarishly expensive one. Don’t let this happen to you.

1. Only fly that super-cheap airline

Maybe your favorite carrier is Spirit or Frontier or Westjet or Ryanair because you think it always has the very cheapest fares and that’s where you always buy your tickets. Here’s the real story: Low-cost carriers often have the best prices but not always. Here’s an example for a round-trip flight from New York to San Diego, for travel June 1-8 found on my site in late March.

• American: $281 • Frontier: $363 • Spirit: $581

Surprise, the non-discounter has the best deal. One other point: When it comes to airfares, nothing is set in stone, which means if you fail to compare, you could pay too much. Maybe even way too much.

2. Change your mind

You booked your tickets. Then you had a change of heart. Now you want to change the dates or cancel altogether. You can do this, but it may cost you up to $200 in change fees (more if it’s an international flight). This is the best you can hope for:

• Change your mind within 24 hours of booking, and there is no fee. • Change your mind about a Southwest flight and there is also no fee.

Southwest is the only U.S. airline that does not charge a fee. When booking on others, be as certain about your dates as possible and if you must change, do so ASAP.

3. Follow out-of-date pet/animal rules

You can no longer waltz onto every plane with an emotional support animal in arms – not on Delta or United for example – without a lot more documentation than previously required. A growing number of airlines have tightened regulations governing these critters and as ABC News reported earlier this month, both Delta and United now “require documents certifying that their animal is properly trained to behave in public and forms detailing their animal’s health and vaccination records, in addition to signed letters from a licensed doctor or mental health professional.” This is a good time for a reminder that pet regulations can change with no warning, and so can possibly expensive fees for bringing animals on flights.

4. Security fails

If you’re not a member of the TSA airport security Pre-Check program, join now. It costs $85 but it’s good for five years and the time it will save you (standing in long lines) is priceless. If you fly overseas a lot, go with Global Entry; it costs a little more but helps ease your way through customs and also includes Pre-Check membership.

5. Be an indecisive packer

You don’t know what to pack so you pack everything. Bad idea; you wind up with a suitcase full of clothes you never wear plus you may pay a hefty bag fee (up to $50 round-trip), maybe even the heftier overweight bag fee (up to $450 each way on some flights). Suggestion: Pack light, use a carry-on, and don’t worry about an airline losing your bag.

6. Be too cheap

It can be tempting to look at posts extolling cheap destinations but if you don’t want to go, it isn’t a bargain. The good news is you can still save on flights that aren’t so cheap:

• Fly cheap days: For domestic travel, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are usually the cheapest days of the week to fly; elsewhere, look for better deals on weekdays.

• Add a stop: Sometimes nonstops are the best deals but often connecting flights are cheaper (and sometimes, significantly so). If you don’t mind a little inconvenience this can be an easy way to save.

• Always compare fares: You’ll never know what you might have saved if you don’t.

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