7 On Your Side: Are budget fares the best value when you fly?

They lure you in with rock-bottom prices -- airlines are offering super-cheap fares that beat the competition but leave the frills behind.

7 On Your Side wanted to know if these budget fares are actually a good value, so we gave it an airfare fact check.

It was a last-minute ski trip and we found a low basic economy fare for under $400 round-trip. But after purchasing, when trying to book seats together, we learned the fare restrictions didn't allow advance seat assignments, you can't even buy them.

"It's a headache for us in the industry," said Josette Carizzo, President of Trips Away Travel in Cresskill. "Airlines are nickel and diming because the consumer doesn't understand what they're purchasing."

She advises most clients to steer clear of basic economy tickets. She says her team's received many complaints about the tiered economy pricing plan many airlines are offering.

"It means no changes, non-refundable," says Carizzo. "People aren't always aware of that."

We weren't. When we tried to fly home on an earlier flight, we were told it wasn't even an option for us to pay a $200 change fee. We would have to buy new one-way tickets because of our basic fare restrictions. We also got walloped with bag fees. You can't carry on a bag.

"You can only take a pocketbook because you can't use the bin above you," Carizzo said and warned this rule is being enforced at the gate.

Here's how it all added up:

The basic fare tickets were $400 apiece. It was $30 for that first bag we thought we could carry on, $70 for the second bag. It was $77 to purchase seats so we could sit together.

So our fares ballooned from $400 to $577 each.

We could have bought economy plus for less and got more in exchange.

"Maybe if you paid an extra $25 to $30 you get a seat assignment, check in advance, you don't have to pay for carry on," says Carizzo.

Carizzo says the basic fare is great for the business traveler who's flying with a briefcase looking to save money. But it's never a good options for families who need a certain type of seat or may need to change plans.

The big takeaway: Read the rules and figure out all your costs and compare fares.

Think about using a travel rewards credit card when you book. If we had used a family member's United Presidential Plus card instead of a debit card, our bag would have flown free.

And consider using a licensed travel agent. This is someone who can advocate for you if you miss a flight or have to make changes.

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