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posted: 1/6/2013 6:00 AM

Savvy travelers can avoid airline fees

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Dave Johnson is one of those people who gets a real charge out of flying. It's not that he looks forward to long security lines and flight delays. He's talking about the fees the airlines add to the cost of travel.

"Last week, while flying home after the holiday, my bag was 3 pounds over the allotted weight," Johnson said. "It cost me an extra $50. That added nearly 25 percent to the cost of my ticket."

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Lisa Cross agrees. When she flew from California to New York, there was no time to grab a snack at the airport. She spent $10 on the airplane so she could dine on a stale sandwich. And water cost her $1.

And if you're like Bob Bond, whose computer crashed and forced him to make a reservation by phone, it could cost you an extra $100.

There are ways to fight back and avoid some of the airline fees. Here are a few:

• Lose weight. Before checking your bag, weigh it. Jean Cowden travels with a luggage scale. It doesn't take up much space and has saved her a lot of money. If she has added pounds on a trip, she ships the extra home or shifts it to her carry-on bag.

• Choose lightweight luggage. Luggage companies have developed bags that are virtually weightless, which could increase your allowance by several pounds.

• Be careful what you pack. Limit heavy items. Shoes and boots add weight and bulk. So do hardcover books. When flight attendant Nancy travels, she limits herself to a pair of black slacks and one skirt. She accents outfits with lightweight scarves. Because she loves to read, she packs several books -- all of them on her Kindle reader, which takes up little space in her carry-on.

• Brown-bag it. Nutritionist Kaley Todd packs everything from popcorn for the in-flight movie to a three-course meal in her carry-on. She also brings an empty bottle. She fills it at the drinking fountain before she boards the plane.

• Book it electronically. When Dave Kuffner's computer was stolen, he had to make flight reservations by phone. For 20 minutes he listened to static music while waiting for an operator. When the operator came on, she was harder to understand than the music. David had to wait another 20 minutes to speak to a supervisor who spoke clear English. She sold him the ticket. But the "personal service" cost him an extra $50. The key is to always book online. And check the airline's fares. The airline's website fares are often lower than ones posted by the search engines.

The airlines continue to pinch your pennies with extra charges for things like window seats, carry-on luggage and early boarding. But you have the right of refusal. Before you travel, check your airline's website. You're bound to get a real charge out of it.

Gail Todd, a freelance writer, worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached via email at gailtodd@aol.com.

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