Do you pay too much in airline fees?



Traveling via airplane is a convenient way to get you to your destination in a short amount of time or sometimes it is the only way to get you to an overseas destination.   Planes have advanced so much over the years that more people are willing to fly to their destination and prices between airlines have become competitive.  But should this mean that you as the consumer have to pay for not only for your seat but to take your luggage, cancellation or changing a reservation, priority boarding, a snack, to use the bathroom, connect to Wifi, or upgrade to preferred seating.  These additional fees are called “Ancillary Fees” and most airlines are continually trying to figure out how to incorporate them into their business models.   Airlines are saying that the reason they want to charge ancillary fees is because it is better for the clients to “unbundle” these service from the base price as not everyone uses them.  It benefits the client who did not want that snack or have to use the bathroom on a long flight.


So where did all this start?  In 2007 the low cost airline Spirit decided that they wanted to charge their clients a fee to check their luggage to bring in additional revenue.  Quickly American Airlines followed by charging clients $15 per piece of luggage and like any snow ball effect, additional airlines started to get on board with charging clients to check their bags.  Today most airlines charge you to check at least your second piece of luggage and the fees can be really high, i.e. $200 plus per piece of luggage.  This means a lot of additional revenue for the airline companies.  From 2007 to 2014 baggage fees went from bringing in $464 million to $3.53 billion a year in additional revenue for the various airlines charging these fees.  The airline that profited the most from baggage fees is American/US Airways and surprisingly United did not make much of a profit from charging baggage fees. 


Now have you ever had to cancel or change your reservation?  The fees on this service can sometimes cost you more than checking your luggage.  Unfortunately, there are times in our lives when something comes up and we need to use this service.  Airlines again have profited from this ancillary fee.  From 2007 to 2014 cancellation/change fees went from $915 million to $2.98 billion in additional revenue for the various airlines.  I, personally, have always believed that you should be allowed one change in your reservation in case you need to take an earlier or later flight and not have to pay for this change.  I do understand that you would have to pay for any change in the cost of the flight but I do not believe that you should have to pay both for one change.


Do you like preferred seating?  I have personally used preferred seating for overseas flights.  The airline company that I have used give the client up to 6 inches in more leg room when you purchase preferred seating.  Now I did pay an extra $150 for my preferred seating but let’s be honest, on an overnight flight to Europe, I need that extra room to get comfortable to try and get some sleep. I have not paid for preferred seating on flights here in the US so I do not know how much extra room you get or if you even get extra room.  It seems like the flights that I have been getting on lately with preferred seating are those seats right behind first class but do not offer additional leg room.  Honestly, I feel like this should be called “second class” and then the rest of us in the back of the plane can be “third class.”  More airlines are starting to choose this ancillary fee for this service but consumers are not happy as it can force families with small children to either separate on the plane or make them pay this fee, especially when these are the only seats left on the flight.  Some airlines also have confused consumers with offering preferred seating first in the online booking process.  The consumer is confused if this is the only option left not knowing that if they decline they will be given a regular seat upon check-in.  If you are ever confused about preferred seating, call the airlines reservation line. 


The good news is that the United States Senate Commerce Committee took a look at all these ancillary fees and has decided they would like to make some changes.  Some of the recommendations that they want the airlines to take into consideration are:

  • disclosure of ancillary fees early in the booking process so it is easier for the consumer to compare flight pricing
  • checked and carry-on luggage fees are based on costs incurred by the airline, airlines should promptly refund fees for any checked bags that are delayed more than 6 hours on a domestic flight
  • airlines need to clearly state that “preferred seating” charges are optional
  • limit the amount an airline can charge for any changes.

These changes would really help the consumer understand what exactly they are purchasing when they want to take a flight.  Having all fees disclosed to you in the beginning of the booking process will help you understand what your options are and if you want to pay extra for the options.  There are many times that I don’t want to pay extra because I am just on a two hour flight.  When I take my 10 hour flights I may want to splurge a bit, but at least I would understand what exactly I am paying for what services to expect for on my flight.  Understanding your rights as the consumer is always important, especially when you are traveling.


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