All you want to do is bring your clothing, but on United passengers will pay $100 for a third checked bag on an overseas flight, while Delta is charging $135 and American Airlines is charging $150.
Think about that for a minute. A THIRD checked bag?
You should easily be able to pack clothes for a family of four into 4 wheeled carry-ons and two checked bags. Easily. I'm not sure whether the 'book your seat' fees are all that big of a deal either. After all, unless you want to sit in Econ Plus (or whatever the equivalent is on airlines other than United) you should have no problem booking seats.
Up until last year the wife and I had NO status. We decided to start travelling after speaking with friends and going on a few trips ourselves, now we're hooked. But it wasn't too long ago that we were right along side everyone else with no status and none of the freebies that come with that.
That said there are things you can do to alleviate these fees:
1. Plan ahead. - Book early, don't wait until the last minute. If it seems that flights are always full as it gets close to departure time it is because they are. And they should be. It's bad business to fly 1/2 empty planes. Just last February the wife and I took my Mom, my two sisters and my brother in law to Paris. I handled all of the bookings. We booked the trip in December and, while my wife and I used our Elite status to get seats closer to the front, I didn't have ANY problem booking the four of them together. I could have booked my wife and I next to them had I wanted to.
2. Pack light, but smart. You're allowed one carry on and one "personal item". Put clothes in the carry on (which will go in the overhead bin) and flight essentials in your "personal item". And make the personal item a backpack. You can fit a travel blanket, headphones, .mp3 player, e-reader, liquids (in a plastic bag) eye-mask, meal and a drink bottle (both of the last, you will have to purchase in the clean zone) into a well laid out back-pack. In the front pocket you can put your wallet, passport and other things as well. Bring a small travel bottle of Febreeze and spray your flight clothes with that once you hit your destination. Hang them up and they'll be ready to wear on the flight back.
3. Break down and get an airline credit card. You might also think about applying to the airlines FF program as well. If you're on a trans-oceanic flight the odds are, with the sign-up bonus and miles you receive, you'll be close to getting enough miles to score a free domestic ticket. Say you fly somewhere else this year, that's one less ticket you have to pay for. Also, most of the airlines credit cards allow for one free bag per ticket purchased. On some, you get two free day passes to the airlines lounge. You also get priority boarding with some, right behind those FF's that are getting so much negative press.
The problem is that the media isn't reporting this reality, they're taking the worst case scenario (the family with children who only travel once every X years) and holding that out as the norm. The reality is that MOST people flying have some type of status or, now, are using the credit cards. Yes, there are some airlines (Spirit, Allegiant etc.) who are taking the fee game to excess, but most of the legacy carriers are still offering free beverage service on most flights, free meals in economy, free blankets, free pillows and free on-board entertainment on trans-oceanic flights. What the discount airlines are doing is not the norm.
It's the exception, and it should be reported as such.