Image: Group of business executives standing in a row at a bank counter © Purestock, Getty Images

A lot of companies tried to hit you with stupid fees in 2011.

There were baggage fees for travelers, resort fees for people who stayed in hotels, fees to pay a bill -- online or offline -- and even a fee for printing out your concert tickets at home.

So a fee really had to rise above the ordinary to win the mantle of stupidest. And the following surely did.

Not all of these fees were new in 2011. In fact, some have been around for a while. But they've all drifted to the top of my list of stupid fees for being even more ill-considered, counterproductive, anti-competitive or unfair than the rest of the fees we've come to know and hate.

Debit card fees

The most infamous fees of 2011 were some that had targeted millions -- but that few people actually ended up paying.


After Congress limited how much banks could charge merchants in transaction, or "swipe," fees to accept plastic, several banks announced plans to begin charging their customers monthly fees to use their debit cards. The banks said they were forced to do so to make up the revenue lost to the new caps. (Banks had been charging an average of 44 cents per transaction, although a Federal Reserve survey suggested their actual cost averaged 13 cents. The fees are now capped at 21 cents.)

The backlash to the proposed debit card fees was immediate and fierce. Politicians and pundits criticized the banks for being tone-deaf. A $4 or $5 monthly fee might not seem like much to a well-paid bank executive, but it was significant to a customer base struggling with high unemployment, a bad economy and a lingering resentment over multibillion-dollar bank bailouts.

The banks caved. JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo pulled the plug on the pilot programs they had planned to test in a few states. Two other banks that had started charging the fees, SunTrust and Regions Bank, canceled their programs as well.

Liz Weston

Liz Weston

The last to give in was Bank of America, which announced on Nov. 1 that it wouldn't begin imposing the fees in January, as it had planned.

Boarding pass fees

Spirit Airlines bills itself as a low-cost carrier, but it's found even more ways than most other airlines to boost its revenue through add-on fees. It was the first (and so far only) carrier to charge for carry-on baggage, in addition to charging a higher-than-average fee to check bags. Just booking a ticket incurs a $10 "reservations booking fee" and a $16.99 "passenger usage fee."

The airline recently slipped in a new charge: $5 for having your boarding pass printed out at the counter, rather than getting it from a kiosk or printing it at home.

Airlines have made a science out of charging for what used to be provided free with the cost of the ticket. The proliferation of airline fees has made it tough for consumers to get true apples-to-apples comparisons of flight prices. The better travel search engines add in any required fees and taxes, but they typically don't allow you to price out your luggage costs or factor in other fees that vary from carrier to carrier, such as charges to reserve a seat in advance. Too often, you don't know what you're really going to pay until you're at the airport.

Still, some airlines do seem to be trying harder than others to come up with new ways to gouge their customers. If you want a better (and ultimately cheaper) travel experience, you might want to go with an airline that isn't so interested in "gotcha" fees. Southwest Airlines comes to mind.

Early-termination fees for TV service

Pay-television providers are adopting a page from the cellphone carriers' playbook: walloping departing customers with fat early-termination fees.

Bailing on Verizon's Fios service before two years are up will cost you $230 to start, with a $10 monthly prorated reduction. The two major satellite providers, Dish and DirecTV, charge $17.50 and $20 a month, respectively, for each month of the two-year contract that remains -- which could leave you owing well more than $400.

The pay-TV providers say they need to make up for the high cost of the fancy equipment they're installing in your home, because charging you $75 a month or more just isn't enough. But some customers complain that they weren't told of the fees and that they didn't realize they were signing up for a two-year contract when they installed the service or got an upgrade. Some say they were charged even after it turned out the provider couldn't deliver service.

DirecTV, in particular, has run into trouble with regulators over its practices. Late last year, DirecTV reached a settlement with all 50 states and the District of Columbia on a variety of matters, including its cancellation penalties. Consumer advocate Mitch Lipka, who has called DirecTV "one of the most complained-about companies in America," says the settlement came almost exactly five years after the company reached a 22-state settlement over similar accusations.

Given the amounts of money involved, pay-TV providers need to do a better job of disclosing the fees and making sure people know what they're getting into. A bunch of teeny-tiny type buried on a website or at the bottom of a work order just doesn't cut it.