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Airline fees more confusing than ever

Carriers love them, others not so much

By Karen Datko Sep 14, 2009 10:59PM

That $29 or $39 one-way airfare sounds great, but before you buy, hold the phone until you've added in all the airline fees. Suddenly that ticket isn't such a great deal. (And don't buy it over the phone. That too will cost you extra.)


Airline fees are here to stay, no matter how confusing or annoying they are, USA Today reports. The story also says:

Sorting out the airlines' fees can be a time-consuming task. It took a week for a USA Today reporter -- who, unlike most consumers, was assisted by airline public relations staff -- to compile 28 different types of fees charged by 14 major airlines.

Holy buckets. Once you look at what reporter Gary Stoller compiled, you'll appreciate why it was a huge undertaking. Gary deserves our gratitude. (Of course, these fees are subject to change.)


That ticket purchase by phone? That's $20 extra with American and Delta, or $25 with Frontier, US Airways, Midwest and United. In other words, you'll pay extra if you don't have a computer.


The fee to change your ticket will make you think twice about modifying your plans: It's $50 to $150 depending on the airline, and jumps to $100 to $250 for international flights. (It's still $0 for Southwest, but even that airline, known for eschewing fees, is turning to them to increase revenue.)


The fee for checking one bag is generally $15 (still $0 on Southwest). On some airlines, prepare to pay more if you don't prepay that fee online. Overweight bags? That's often $50 on domestic flights and much higher for international travel.


The story raises the question of whether the à la carte, you-get-what-you-pay-for business model is hurting the airlines. They have reason to love it. US Airways expects fees to generate up to $500 million this year, the story reports, a big help when fewer people are flying and fuel costs are going up. But experts say it's bad business to alienate customers.


The fees get you coming and going, as the chart attests (though luckily no U.S. airline is mimicking European carrier Ryanair's plans to charge for in-flight bathroom use). The chart breaks them down into categories: those charged when you make a reservation or use frequent-flier miles, fees assessed in the airport and those charged in the air.


Thirsty? Most airlines don't charge for a simple beverage, but if you want a cocktail, it ranges from $4 (Southwest) to $7 (US Airways) -- a stiff price when you're not paying for ambiance. Taking Lassie along? That's usually $100 or more.


All things considered, it might be cheaper to drive.


Or consider this option: We took Amtrak from Point A to Point B and back this weekend. The cost each way was about what we would have spent on gas. The trip was very relaxing and comfortable, and the conversation was first rate.


Published June 22, 2009



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