Read the fine print about travel fees or be prepared to pay the price

Dear Traveler: After breezing through security with our boarding passes and carry-on luggage, my sister and I were in line at the Spirit Airlines gate to board a flight to Ft. Myers. Then we found out we couldn’t board — unless we paid $100 each for our carry-on bags! They explained that we should have paid in advance to check the bags or pay a carry-on fee. It was embarrassing to be pulled aside while the other passengers were boarding.

After taking into account the baggage fees plus airfare, my sister and I together forked over $900 for our flights — plus $3 for a can of Pringles. — Feeling Poor

Dear Poor: Only two airlines charge for both checked and carry-on bags — Spirit and Allegiant. And fees are steep for those who fail to read the fine print.

I have written before about Spirit’s business model that takes advantage of the naïveté of infrequent fliers. Don’t be one.

Always pay for baggage ahead of time. For carry-on bags, Spirit charges $35 if you pay when booking online, $50 at the airport kiosk or a jaw-dropping $100 at the gate.

Dear Traveler: I recently purchased four airline tickets to London for a summer vacation with my wife and two teenage boys. The economy tickets are on American Airlines but booked through British Airways.

As a result, my credit card company, US Bank FlexPerks VISA, charged me an extra 2% fee ($115) for booking with a foreign-based company.

Why was I charged the fee, especially since we will be on an American Airlines flight? — Feeling Really Poor

Dear Really Poor: It seems unbelievable that you could incur this charge when booking through British Airways’ U.S. website from your house in Michigan for a flight on BA partner American Airlines, but your credit card company views it as a type of foreign transaction.

It is common for buyers to see a 2% fee on their credit card for charges made in U.S. dollars with a foreign-based company or a 3% fee if the transaction is made abroad.

I asked colleague George Hobica, founder of, about this practice, and he warns that travelers who buy from foreign-based air carriers likely will get hit with this fee, which can really add up on business or first class fares.

Check your credit card’s policies before you book.

Dear Traveler: Last year, I joined Spirit Airlines’ $9 Fare Club for $59.95. I did not realize that in the fine print it automatically renews each year unless I cancel.

They apparently sent me a renewal e-mail back in January, which I did not read since I get two e-mails a day from them advertising fare sales and wasn’t paying attention.

After I was charged the fee, I called Spirit. They said there was nothing they could do except send me a $60 travel voucher good for 60 days. How can I get my $59.95 back? — Feeling Really, Really Poor

Dear Really, Really Poor: Do we sense a theme here today? When travelers don’t pay attention, they are taken advantage of by the prospect of “cheap” airfares that turn out to have hidden costs.

If you were assessed the $59.95 on a credit card, contact your credit card company and contest the charge. It is possible the charge will be reversed if Spirit fails to reply to inquiries.

Contact Ellen Creager, the Michigan Traveler: 313-222-6498 or Follow her on Twitter @ellencreager