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Suitcase too heavy? That'll be $800

A new study showcases some sky-high international travel fees. How'd you like to pay $107 to print a boarding pass at the airport?

By Donna_Freedman May 6, 2013 9:23AM

Logo: Airport check-in (Corbis)Planning to travel with Lufthansa? Better weigh and measure that suitcase very carefully. Anything larger than 62 linear inches or heavier than 73 pounds will set you back a startling $800.

Although that's an extreme example, a new study from TravelNerd shows some pretty surprising fees on international flights.

What's really tricky is that some domestic carriers have different rules for flights outside the United States. In other words, even if you thought you were familiar with an airline's policies, you could be surprised when you get ready to leave U.S. airspace.

"International flights play by a different set of rules," says Annie Wang, a senior analyst at TravelNerd.

For example, most international flights permit you to check one suitcase for free -- but watch out for that second bag. Whereas in the U.S. you’ll generally pay $50 per second luggage item, you'll have to pony up anywhere from $75 to $200 on international flights. A third bag could run $100 to $250.

However, most Asian carriers allow two free checked bags per traveler, according to the TravelNerd study.

Or how about these charges: 

  • The Irish budget carrier Ryanair charges $107 to print out a boarding pass at the airport.
  • Snacks and meals on Air France range from $16 to $36.
  • Changing a ticket over the phone with Air New Zealand can cost up to $200.
  • An overweight bag on United Airlines will run you $400.

"Double-check all the (airline) requirements,” says Wang, who's seen people throw away things such as toiletries and clothing to avoid paying inflated baggage fees.

She also notes that some airlines won't take any bag they deem too big. That could be a real problem if, say, you book a golf vacation to Scotland and find out at the airport that the carrier won't transport your clubs.

It's the fuel economy, stupid

Why so many fees? Because airlines don't want to raise ticket prices to compensate for rising fuel costs, according to this MSN Money Top Stocks post. It's certainly effective: In the first quarter of 2012, the 15 largest domestic airlines brought in $816 million in fees; the second-quarter figure was $932 million.

There's another reason, too. In years past, we paid more for airline travel but it included things such as meals, reservations agents and checked bags. When no-frills airlines such as JetBlue and Spirit started offering low-price tickets, the established carriers had to match their ticket deals.

That meant making up the revenue some other way. Baggage and flight-change fees and other forms of ancillary revenue -- meal charges, seat upgrades, etc. -- are increasingly important to airlines both domestic and foreign.

"While some international carriers are still known for great customer service, there are numerous regional budget carriers that have strongly adopted the fee model. U.S. travelers should be prepared when traveling internationally," says TravelNerd Vice President Alicia Jao.

Angry customers

They should also get used to a fee-based world. In fact, two airlines announced another price increase in mid-April: 
  • United boosted its ticket change fee by $50. It now costs $200 to change a domestic itinerary and $300 for international ones.
  • US Airways upped the change fee from $150 to $200 on domestic flights and from $250 to $300 on tickets to South America only.

Change fees are a major revenue source. According to Scott McCartney of The Wall Street Journal's Middle Seat Terminal blog, airlines in the United States collected nearly $2 billion in reservation change fees from consumers from January through September 2012.

"Change fees often anger customers deeply," says McCartney, who points out that when airlines change their schedules they don't compensate the passengers. Yet when "life intervenes and plans change," consumers must pay up.

You can't predict injury or illness, obviously. But you can be extra-cautious in planning, which includes making sure everyone's dates are set in stone: yours, your traveling companion's, the dog-sitter's.

And if your plans do change right after you book? Many airlines -- but probably not the budget ones -- have a 24-hour leeway for ticket changes, Wang says. "If you need to change," she says, "do it fast."

Tips from the pros

A few more fee-avoidance tactics:

  • Weigh your options. It might cost less to check a second bag than to exceed the weight limit on the first. Wang suggests packing a collapsible bag so you can split up your belongings; it will also come in handy if you buy souvenirs of your trip.
  • Book it yourself, online. Just like their domestic cousins, international air carriers charge a $20 telephone booking fee.
  • Pack lightly. Not everyone can travel abroad with a single carry-on bag. But if possible, limit yourself to one suitcase that you've measured and weighed to make sure it's within airline limits.
  • You can take it with you. Suitcase near the limit? The airline may let you carry on items such as crutches or walking aids, reading material, a bag of food, umbrellas and coats. "So if you are in a bind, take these items out of your bags and carry them onto the plane," says Cameron Huddleston of Kiplinger's.
  • Bring your own food. Things such as bagels, apples, beef jerky, protein bars, dried fruit, nuts and chocolate cost considerably less than a $36 airline entrée. You can have a bigger meal when you get to where you're going.

More on MSN Money:

May 6, 2013 2:18PM
I can drive to my daughters college in 8 hours. I flew last year once. Counting from leaving my house, drive to the airport, pass security and fly to Detroit. Then rent a car and drive to the college takes a total of  61/2 hours.  2 tickets cost $700.00. Gas and lunch costs $135.00. Why Fly anymore?
May 6, 2013 12:39PM

Talk to your lawmakers about implementing high-speed rail as a substitute for short- and medium-haul flights over land.  We need this viable (and much less stressful) alternative to air travel.


I'm flying from Orlando to DC in the coming weeks, with a layover in Atlanta.  I should be able to get on a high-speed train in Orlando and arrive in DC about 4.5 hours later--city center to city center.

May 6, 2013 2:14PM
Maybe a unified "no-fly" for a 60 day period, starting with Airlines "A" and after that 60 day period is up, rotate to Airlines "B".  People do not understand the power they yield within our capitalist society.  Just look at the balance sheets for the airlines.....they are all sucking up huge profits at the expense of the traveler.  Unite!
May 6, 2013 12:12PM
These fees and others are all spelled out in the carriers "Contract of Carriage" effective the date you bought the ticket.  The link is in the fine print at the bottom of your ticket.  It's best if you read it and understand it as well as carrying a copy with you on your travels.  In one case Delta wanted to change my return flight from first class to coach on one of their commuter airlines two days before I left on my vacation.   Contacting customer service I got the response that "I just did not understand the way airlines worked".  Referring to the "Contract", I politely informed Delta that if I arrived at the airport, they would place me on the next available first class seat of any airline, refund my ticket and pay a $100.00 or more penalty.  The ticket was corrected before I left.  Had I gotten on the return flight, I would have given up all rights to a refund or adjustment.  That's the way airlines work.
May 6, 2013 2:32PM
Its really amazing the airlines use the cost of fuel as the reason for all the new fees. They are still adding to those fees, even though they admitedly made billions the last two quarters. At what point do they feel they have recovered the extra cost of fuel!!?

We, the travelling public should start using auto's, the new bus's on the road, & of course rail where ever it applies, screw the airlines just like they are screwing the public. After a season or two of half-empty planes you will see a discounting frenzy that will warm your heart.


We have to learn to fight back instead of getting pushed & abused by these "greedy" corporations that control the very

lifelines that makes America "the land of the free, & the home of the brave". Stand up and repeat after me, I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore".                  HF 

May 6, 2013 3:37PM

I gave up flying for all those listed reasons.

Easier to drive and pack/eat what I want.

May 6, 2013 2:51PM
If people boycotted these greedy airlines and there fat fees this would change quick,ever notice that this and gas prices are way out of control and the government does nothing? Why would you want them to step in since they do nothing anyway? Stop flying for a month or two and see how fast they change their tune!!!! As for gas make it a front problem and bombard these elect officals and maybe we can get some meaniful laws passed!
May 6, 2013 3:46PM
It has nothing to do with the fuel price. The cost of jet fuel has been relatively stable since March 2011. The fact is that the airlines want to use the lifting capacity of the airplane to haul freight which can be charges at a higher per pound basis. People are becoming a secondary business.
May 6, 2013 3:37PM
High speed rail sounds like a great idea until you find out what it will cost. The highly vaunted European Rail system charges staggering rates. The cost of building a reasonable system here will  make the space program look like a drop in the bucket.
May 6, 2013 3:54PM
The airlines are getting just as bad as the Taxman, finding every excuse to squeeze more money out of passengers, the heavier the luggage or passenger the more it cost...its just like the post office, the bigger the package the more it cost, and look at their business now, its going down the drain.
May 6, 2013 4:16PM
My wife was going from California to Texas, we checked and a plane or train ticket was almost the same. When rail becomes more popular the price will rise and the government will do nothing. Until you can donate to their elections campaigns like big business don't expect your elected officials to look out for you, they follow the money.
May 6, 2013 11:07AM

I`m not sure I want the government to take over the airlines, but they couldn`t

do a worse job.Airline prices have went way up, while gas prices are down.I

wonder if I`ll get loaded on a pallet for my upcoming flight.

May 6, 2013 4:14PM
Southwest's boarding process leaves something to be desired, but at least they treat you decently and let you check your first bag free.  Spirit charges for carry on bags.  I flew them a couple of times out of Atlantic City.  Never again.
May 6, 2013 4:14PM

I believe that the reason for all these fees and add-ons is that the airline business model is dead. We just don't know it, yet. The whole deal was based upon cheap fuel. Those days are over. Airlines know that if they raised ticket prices to accurately reflect actual operating costs (mainly fuel costs), that business would drop like a rock.


Like everybody, they have been trying to hang on, gouging the customer to death with all these extra charges while hoping that fuel will come back down. Ain't ever going to happen, ever again.


When even taking a carry-on bag will cost big bucks, forget about packing a suitcase. People will travel with only the clothes on their back, a smart phone, wallet, and flash drive in their pockets.


Professional discard companies will spring up, organized to outfit the traveler for their visit. You will rent a whole wardrobe, buying only the unmentionalbles. Then, when it is time to come home, the traveler just hands everything back.


When buying your clothes upon arrival at your destination is cheaper than paying two, three, four times what they worth to take them with you, a professional outfitter will seem like . . . a rip off . . . and everybody will stop traveling.



May 6, 2013 3:52PM
The facts are: people will never stop flying no matter how much the airlines charge. All they can do is find smart ways to get around them like printing the tickets at home, only take one carry-on that fits under the seat (or none). Like gas prices. People did not stop driving. They are driving "smarter" ( driving only to where they need to go, planning their outings, etc...). Unfortunately, the ones hurting are the hotels, restaurants, theaters, etc.. where people's discretionary income would go to.
May 6, 2013 5:01PM
"It's the fuel economy, stupid"

Is anyone else offended by this statement in the article? The writers at MSNBS have really sunk to a new depth, calling their readers "stupid". I guess you have to be stupid to read these articles, so touche'. Anyway, I think I've been insulted enough today. First by the way the writer feels the need to "explain" why these prices are higher. Of course it's the "rising gas prices". But they conveniently fail to mention the value of the dollar dropping too. But ultimately, being called stupid. Incredible.
May 6, 2013 2:44PM
Air Travel used to be an adventure, now its like a trip to the dentist.  I had planned a Disney cruise for the grandchildren, but the recent problems with Carnival have got me shy of that one also- besides, Disney scheduled their departure for May 20- most schools do not get out until June- who was in charge of that??
May 6, 2013 4:59PM

Americans fly because unlike the rest of the world, we have less "holiday" time than our counterparts.  That, and our infrastructure of trains and public transporation, leaves much to be desired.


I do think if people started driving more, or taking other forms of transportation which left a plethora of empty airline seats, it would cause some rethinking of the ridiculous fees some carriers are charging.


I like a seat assignment, but I can take Southwest just about anyplace I need to fly in the continental US, and there 2 bag free policy is what keeps me in their seats.

May 6, 2013 4:18PM
I've never paid a dime for food or snacks on Air France - and that includes alcoholic beverages.
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