United takes airline fees to a new altitude

The latest twist involves a variety of annual subscriptions that cover baggage check-in and extra legroom.

By Aimee Picchi Jun 4, 2013 2:42PM

Airport check-in (© Corbis)United Airlines (UAL) has devised perhaps two of the most meta-level fees ever concocted: subscription plans that allow consumers to sidestep those irksome checked-baggage fees and to get more legroom. 


The rates aren't low. For a year of extra legroom, United is charging $499. To avoid checked-baggage fees for a year, you'll have to shell out $349. 


That means the annual basic rate to gain what travelers took for granted just a few years ago -- seats where your dining tray doesn't press against your knees and baggage check-in that's covered by the cost of your ticket -- will now set you back almost $850. 


United becomes the first carrier to offer subscriptions that guarantee these "benefits," CNBC reports. It's also a sign that the airlines continue to innovate in at least one area: how to wrangle more money from travelers. 


It's noteworthy that the $349 baggage subscription is the airline's lowest rate, covering only one free checked-in bag in the U.S. and Canada. Want to get coverage for two bags checked anywhere in the world? That will set you back $799. 


So does it make sense to buy the subscriptions? Only if you make eight round-trip flights a year in the U.S. and always check a bag, according to FareCompare. (The man who is credited with devising the checked-luggage fee, by the way, flies his own plane or uses a carry-on, bypassing his own brainchild.)


Unless you're a die-hard United customer who always checks a bag, the subscription probably doesn't make sense. 


For the airlines, though, fees provide billions of reasons to continue. Last year, the industry raked in a record $6 billion in airline fees, with United alone collecting $706 million in bag fees, FareCompare notes. 


Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi


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126Comments
Jun 4, 2013 3:03PM
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If people would start boycotting the airlines and use other means of transportation maybe we could force the airlines to give us back what we had years ago......at no extra charge. Amtrak is very comfortable.
Jun 4, 2013 3:35PM
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All I know is that from the time I graduated from High school in the late 80"s we've been overseas fighting some stupid war..heck. I even served in one...I haven't seen a break from that  yet... and everything just got more expensive. I was offered a job with a company after college in 93 starting @ $27,600....why the heck are the starting salaries where I work now $27,600??? explain that growth... at one point they were asking for $220K for 1500 square feet??? I thought I'd never be able to buy a house...I gave up for a few years.. then.. the burst... thank the almighty I was saving for a rainy day... well.. just in case my health got bad so I took a shot and bought a house because the rent kept creeping up near or over $1000 a month everywhere I moved...... Health insurance scared me more than anything else... I used to get single coverage for $50 when I was 22.. now.. with family coverage it's almost $400 a month... how the heck do you get ahead when inflation and stupidity from elected financially well off idiots like Eric Cantor (Mr. Cut and grow nonsense) out pace personal financial growth for the everyday working joe? Saving for retirement... it's a struggle just saving for the month... bottom line.. it's expensive to live... (in a decent neighborhood with good schools, decent paying jobs and a finding opportunity)  I have a budget.. no bills expect for a mortgage. It"s good to have power and water and we  have a powerful need to eat .. so please don't tell me to just save for retirement... it's not that easy. Student loans damn near choked me to death.. lucky I joined the military and managed not to be divorced or suffer a health scare... it's just not cut and dry.. take that into consideration when judging the rest of us... I am GEN X..
Jun 4, 2013 3:13PM
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United is the suckiest airline by far anyway.

 

This is just like anything else in America these days, people need to finally get fed up and get their heads out of the sand on many issues and complain, I agree!

 

Jun 4, 2013 4:00PM
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Why Is no one complaining that they just raised the fee to change your ticket to $200?

 

Jun 4, 2013 3:35PM
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If you have their credit card, you get a free checked bag per flight and it costs $95/year.  Something doesn't make sense here.
Jun 4, 2013 4:24PM
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These Airlines are driving me CRAZY.  How have we (the consumer) allowed this to go this far??  Please someone explain how we've gotten to having to PAY for luggage and on top of that the weight allowed is lighter.  How are you suppose to go on a 7 day trip with 50lbs as your max. Heaven forbid you buy anything while you are on your trip. And forget about a pillow or blanket.  So you cant carry anything on and they aren't giving you anything BUT we pay for everything and more. 
Jun 4, 2013 5:14PM
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Face it. Flying has devolved into traveling that is no different than sitting in a Greyhound bus. It's faster, but it's just as nasty. Airline seats are nasty. The air is nasty. Gawd help you if you eat the food.  It's transportation. After I get out of the sardine can, all I want is a shower.

Jun 4, 2013 3:59PM
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Just put pay toilets on the planes and be done with it.
Jun 4, 2013 4:31PM
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How far off are we from pay toilets
Jun 4, 2013 4:36PM
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It is time for humanity to devise another mode of transportation. We're all getting screwed over and over by the airline industry and getting nothing in return, except to get from point A to B.
Jun 4, 2013 4:43PM
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Sorry but the airlines don't own all the blame - When you search for an airline ticket do you look for the best airline or the lowest price ???  Most people just search their chosen online travel site for the lowest price and then complain when they have to pay extra for other services - well duh, why do you think the price you found is the lowest - because they strip the free services to lower the ticket cost and then charge extra for the services.

 

Pay me now or pay me later - nothing is free

 

Jun 4, 2013 4:58PM
Jun 4, 2013 5:00PM
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This is just another cheap ploy to separate more customers from more of their money over something that USED to be free. I have a nice alternative to this "suggestion" - I'll never again fly on United, even if using another airline requires twice as long. I am NEVER going to "reward" an airline for extortion!
Jun 4, 2013 4:29PM
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The average price of an airline ticket, adjusted for inflation, was about $470 in 1990. Today it is around $350. Still a great bargain. My only regret is, as recently as 3 years ago, I could reserve an aisle ticket in the last row, and be almost guaranteed that I would be alone in that row, spreading out and enjoying the flight... no more... :-(
Jun 4, 2013 4:58PM
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Every other company gives you a refund if they don't fulfill their part of the bargain except the airline.  I am willing to submit to a lot of indignity and BS, but what I hate the most is putting up with the cancellations and delays with no credit or refund.  Does anybody think FED-EX or UPS would get away with that crap? 
Jun 4, 2013 4:22PM
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Supply and demand people. Pissing and moaning is not part of  the equation.

Jun 4, 2013 4:41PM
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They should send their staff to marketing 101 to see how all these juvenile fees effect the moral of their staff (because the staff are the ones that have to deal with the complaints), and more important, to realize how the airlines are now one of the most hated industries in the world with their customers. I'm waiting for them to develop the Star trek "Beam me up Scotty" so that airlines become obsolete, with the added advantage of improving the ozone drastically through less emissions from the planes and doing away with the airlines current corporate sleaziness which would also make the air cleaner as there would be a lot less stink coming from the mouths of American airline management.

Jun 4, 2013 4:43PM
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I wonder if the Airlines are flying their routes with less fuel to save money?? Someone should check into that!

 

Jun 4, 2013 4:56PM
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If United puts in pay toilets, will the seat back pockets still be free?
Jun 4, 2013 5:20PM
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They made $0 off of me for baggage fees last year, and they never will. This is no different than what banks used to do with THEIR bull$hit fees. I guess it's always been about "tricking' us rather than just being upfront and charging more so we can simply make an informed choice when buying a plane ticket. I don't 'need' to travel, so I'll  be sure to NOT fly any airlines that pull this kind of crap. 
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