Hidden Excess Charges on Airlines

George Hobica, April 01, 2007
Fares from Washington DC:

    A: Airlines are still losing money, and these extra charges are bringing in badly needed cash, but consumers can hardly believe their eyes when they get the final bill.  And yes, the latest insult is charging for checked bags (Spirit Airlines has begun doing this and is also charging for soft drinks and other beverages that used to be free). Consider yourself lucky that you didn't pay even more. In addition to the fees you mentioned, you might have been charged extra for booking by telephone ($5 to $10 is typical) or buying your ticket at the airport ($15 on most domestic carriers), or for curbside baggage check in ($2-3 and that's in addition to any tip you might proffer). Northwest Airlines offers exit row seats, which have extra legroom, and coveted aisle seats for a $15 upcharge (although I think this is well worth paying for).

    Q: I flew recently and was surprised at how many surcharges I had to pay. My fare was $98 round-trip, but came out to $153 with taxes and fees. Then I was hit with a $25 fee because my bag was overweight, and I had to pay $5 for a snack, and $5 to watch the in-flight TV system. Now I hear that one airline will be charging for each and every bag checked.


    Air Canada charges for advance seat assignments on its lowest fares, and a recent report in USA Today suggests that Southwest is weighing this option as well. And those free frequent flyer tickets aren't free anymore, either: you could pay up to $100 to have one issued, depending on how soon in advance you book the flight. Need to change that award ticket after issue? Not until you fork over $50 on many airlines. Want to redeposit those miles in case you can't use your ticket? Up to $100 on some carriers. Charges have gone up for bringing a pet onboard: pets carried in the cabin are charged $50 each way on JetBlue, $75 on Air Canada, and $80 on American, Northwest, and United (Your furry friend's round-trip ride can easily cost more than your own ticket). As you discovered, excess baggage fees have been increased as well: most airlines now charge $25 extra if your suitcase weighs over 50 pounds (JetBlue charges $50) and $50-$80 for each bag over the generally allowed two pieces. Sending an unaccompanied minor on a flight? Expect to pay between $50 and $90 each way, depending on whether the flight is nonstop or connecting, domestic or international. Frontier charges $5 to watch their DirectTV service (JetBlue's is free, except for premium channels). And even infants riding in your lap are no longer free in some cases: JetBlue charges $12 each way for flights to the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic. 

    Add it all up and the extra costs can be enormous. An unaccompanied minor traveling on a "free" frequent flyer ticket booked at the last minute, bringing the family pet along for the ride, checking a bag weighing over 50 pounds at curbside, and buying a snack and a headset to watch the movie would be charged nearly round-trip $300 in extras.
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