'Free' airline award flights can be pricey

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A Scottsdale man says his free award flight to Europe came with some major sticker shock and other travelers could face the same surprise if they don't understand the true cost of booking award travel.

Here's the scenario: You accumulate a lot of frequent flier points over a long period of time and now you're stoked because you've finally earned a free flight. But if you're using your award for international travel, you better budget for the cost of that 'free' flight.

Cliff Smith and his wife moved to Arizona from the U.K. back in the 1970s. They often visit England and are heading over again next August for a wedding.  Smith thought one thing he didn't have to worry about was the flight.

"I knew that I had about 100,000 miles and I thought I could apply it to the airline," Smith said.

It was actually 120,000 American Advantage miles to book two round-trip tickets from Phoenix to London. Smith had that covered, it was the $1,040 in taxes and fees that shocked him.

"You go, wait a minute, this can't be right," Smith said.

But it is. Like most airlines, American Airline's Conditions of Carriage states taxes and fees are added to award flights. Some travelers, like Smith, have no idea how high the fees can be.

"What would it be if you were a family of four, two kids going, so it's not $1,040 anymore, it's $2,080," Smith said.

Smith has learned that a free flight doesn't really mean free. Smart travelers need to know about the taxes and fees and factor them into their international travel budget.

"And you've got to be very careful because depending on the route, depending on the actual airline that you're using, they could be staggering," Smith said.

Taxes and fees on award flights can vary based on how many legs you have to your journey and which airports you fly into, but the charges are generally your responsibility. It's the same with most airlines.

This information is available on airline websites but still some travelers are shocked when they find out how much they have to pay for their 'free' flight.

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