Top Ten Most Obnoxious Hidden Airline Fees

George Hobica, September 21, 2007
Fares from Washington DC:

    Let’s face it. As an industry, airlines have never made money since the Wright Brothers. Because of this mismanagement, they’ve decided to try lining their coffers by coming up with a slew of obnoxious extra charges. We’re not so steamed about paying to see TV, or using the Internet aloft, or even paying for something to eat or drink. After all, planes are not flying restaurants or movie theaters, and why should we all pay for a movie that only some of us watch? And we’re not even peeved by those escalating excess baggage charges, which can sometimes cost more than your fare, although some airlines (especially international ones) clearly overdo it. But passengers overdo it, too, and an airline ticket should not entitle you to move your entire household by air. Let those who over pack pay for the privilege. However, the following fees seem nothing more than new profit centers for the airlines, and whatever additional costs these services could possibly impose on the airlines are clearly lower than what passengers pay.



    Let’s face it. As an industry, airlines have never made money since the Wright Brothers. Because of this mismanagement, they’ve decided to try lining their coffers by coming up with a slew of obnoxious extra charges. We’re not so steamed about paying to see TV, or using the Internet aloft, or even paying for something to eat or drink. After all, planes are not flying restaurants or movie theaters, and why should we all pay for a movie that only some of us watch? And we’re not even peeved by those escalating excess baggage charges, which can sometimes cost more than your fare, although some airlines (especially international ones) clearly overdo it. But passengers overdo it, too, and an airline ticket should not entitle you to move your entire household by air. Let those who over pack pay for the privilege. However, the following fees seem nothing more than new profit centers for the airlines, and whatever additional costs these services could possibly impose on the airlines are clearly lower than what passengers pay.

    1. Making a reservation on the phone or in person

    Fee: $5-$25

    Can it possibly cost them that much for a simple ten minute call? Surely they don’t pay their reservationists that much. United levies $15 for the privilege of speaking to a human. American, JetBlue, and Southwest $10 (for internet only fares in Southwest’s case, but they do make exceptions we were told). Northwest and Virgin America charge just $5.

    2. Re-banking frequent flyer miles

    Fee: $50-100

    If you cash in your miles and decide not to use your ticket, you’ll be hit with a fee to place the miles back into your account. Why? What cost exactly is involved here on the airlines’ part? These tickets are issued electronically, so what’s the big deal?

    3. Cashing in frequent flyer miles without sufficient advance notice
    Fee: $0-100

    Who says frequent flyer tickets are free? Some airlines will let you book a frequent flyer seat even up to the day of travel with no fee. These include Airtran, JetBlue, Northwest and Southwest. But others (Continental, Delta, and United) charge $75 if you book without enough notice (defined as 3 days on Continental but an unreasonable 22 days on Delta); and American charges an insane $100 if you book 6 days or fewer before departure.


    4. Bringing a pet onboard in the cabin
     Fee: $50-100 (each way)

    These fees have skyrocketed lately. Muffy and Buffy won’t be ringing the call button for a glass of milk, and they won’t be carrying bags or imposing on the airline’s bottom line in any way; but their fare might end up costing more than yours. Most airlines now charge $80 each way. On United you’ll pay $85 until May 5, but $100 after that and on JetBlue “just” $50.


    5. Checking luggage
    Fee: $3-25 (each way)

    We’re talking here just about checking even one bag, even if they’re not oversized or overweight (that’s a whole other story). Most major airlnes now charge $25 for a second checked bag, and we wouldn't be surprised if next they start charging for every bag. Spirit Airlines charges $5 for each of the first two bags if paid for online, $10 each otherwise. The third bag costs a whopping $100, more if it’s oversized or overweight.  Allegiant. charges $3 for the first, $5 for the second. Air Canada gives you a discount for not checking baggage, which is a sneaky way of charging you if you do.

    It’s not like the airlines are giving us bigger overhead bins, so that’s the big idea here? Don’t be surprised if you see other airlines following suit.

    6. Getting a refund when a fare goes down


    Fee: $25 to $200 or more.

    If you bought a TV from Costco or BestBuy and they lowered the price the following week, chances are you could get a refund no questions asked. Even Apple gave credits when they dropped the price of their iPhone soon after launching it. But most airlines either will refund nothing (British Airways and most other international carriers) or they’ll charge an “administrative fee” of up to $100 on a domestic ticket, and even more on an international one. What justifies this? Does it actually cost them $100 to spend a few minutes to rewrite your electronic ticket? I doubt it. Don't be surprised if eventually airlines go with a "you buy it you fly it" policy: if the fare goes down, tough.

    7.  Flying standby on the same day of travel.
    Fee: $0-50.

    Time was, if there were empty seats on a later or earlier flight on the same day as your original, the airline would confirm you for free. But now, most airlines charge to take an earlier or later flight on the same day as your original flight if you want a confirmed seat (you can still take your chances on many airlines and standby without a confirmation for free, but that's not the same thing).

    Southwest is a different animal altogether: there’s no fee to go standby as such, but you’ll have to pay the “walk up” last minute fare, which could be hundreds more than your original discount fare.

    8.  Paying for lap children  
    Fee: $10 to 10% of the adult fare (international flights).

    What on earth is the meaning of this? Your kid isn’t taking up a seat, and certainly isn’t partaking of the free food and booze (if any). Is the little tyke responsible for consuming extra jet fuel? On a fare of say, $1200, you’ll be billed $120 or more for the privilege of holding the child in your lap for 10 hours (on a business class fare of, say, $5000 you’ll pay $500).   By the way, if there's a fuel surcharge on your flight, your kiddie will pay that too: as much as $90 each way.

    9. Getting a seat assignment
    Fee: $5-$11 each way

    Air Canada, AirTran and Allegiant are some of the carriers that now charge for this “perk”.  AirTran charges $5 if you’re on a discounted coach ticket; Allegiant charges $11.  AirTran charges $15 if you want to grab an exit row seat and Northwest recently upped the charge from $15 to $20 (but I still think it's worth it).

    10. Using the lavatory
    Fee: OK, airlines are not installing pay toilets. Yet. But the way things are going….

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