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11 airline fees you've never heard of...but that you could see soon.

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11 airline fees you've never heard of...but that you could see soon.

Posted by George Hobica on Thursday, July 23, 2009

Yes, it's true: more airline fees. American recently raised its first and second bag fees by $5, and no you don't get a discount for booking online, as you do with Continental, US Air, Delta, and United, all of which also raised their fees by $5. There's now a $50 to $55 second bag fee for flights to Europe, charged by most major airlines. But are more fees on the way? We think so.
 
If past experience is any indicator, Airfarewatchdog fears that several new ones could be tacked on to your fare, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday, soon, and for the rest of your flying life. The question is probably more when, than if. There are even rumors that Southwest, the lone holdout on baggage fees, may change course if it continues to lose money. After all, they did recently add that $10 each way priority boarding fee.
 
Airlines are making lots of money charging fees for checked baggage, ticket changes, frequent flyer programs and other services (see our updated chart), a lesson they learned from discount carriers in Europe, such as Ryanair and easyJet (at least Ryanair puts every single one of its fees in one handy chart, something that we wish all airlines would do). But these foreign carriers charge for services that would seem unimaginable in the US--until, that is, you start seeing them on your credit card. And if Ryanair ever flies to the US, which it keeps threatening to do, that may embolden US carriers to emulate them further.
 
No, you probably will never see a charge for using the onboard lavatories, at least not in the US (Ryanair insists they're serious about adding one) or for overweight passengers (another Ryanair threat). But here are 11 fees we won't be surprised to be paying as US airlines continue to lose millions....and learn from foreign-based low cost carriers.
 
1. In person airport check in. As of October 1, 2009, Ryanair eliminated airport check-in desks. You'll have to print your own boarding pass (fee: £5, or about $8). Misplace your boarding pass? No worries, Ryanair will gladly reissue at the airport for £40. (Pass in hand, you bring your luggage to a "bag drop" desk.) Will US airlines be watching this bold move very carefully? What do you think? Ditching check in counters would allow US airlines to eliminate staff and save millions. 
 
2. Online check in. As noted, Ryanair already charges £5 for this, and since you may soon have to check in online, there's no way around it. Or how about a "discount" for using an airport kiosk to check in, which would amount to paying a fee if you check in any other way?
 
3. Paying with a credit card. Several European airlines charge a fee for this already, and also charge (albeit a bit less) for debit card purchases. Only way around this is to pay with cash (not so hard to do with those $2 Ryanair fares). Maybe no fee if you use the airline's co-branded credit card?
 
4. Priority boarding fee. Pay a little bit extra (maybe $5) and after the parents with small children and elite frequent flyer members get boarded, you're next, with early dibs at the overhead bins.
 
5. Booking on line. One US airline, Allegiant, already charges for online bookings, as well as for phone bookings (only way to avoid a fee is to pay at the airport). They call it a convenience fee. Whose convenience, exactly?
 
6. Advanced seat selection. British Airways recently shocked the aviation world by charging a fee for advance seat assignments even for business class passengers. Several US and foreign discount carriers, including Allegiant of course, already charge for this perk. We wouldn't be surprised to see other airlines follow suit. 
 
7. More frequent flyer fees. You already pay to cash in miles on short notice, to redeposit those miles if you don't use them, to change your frequent flyer ticket itinerary and for other "services". How about a fee to preserve frequent flyer miles when there's no activity in your account (say per mile fee to protect miles from expiring, although you can do this if you make a purchase with the airlines' online shopping malls or use an airline credit card among other methods). Except for Delta, the big US carriers already charge hefty co-payments to upgrade from economy to business class (in addition to miles), and next year, United will start charging 
as well.
 
8. Name change fees. As long as you give notice far in enough in advance, might the airlines let you transfer a ticket you can't use to another person for a fee ($100? $150?). Ryanair, surprise, charges for this.
 
9. Carry on bag fee. They charge for checked bags, so why not for cabin luggage? This might actually help flights board faster, and save airlines money from time lost on the ground.
 
10. Infant fee. No more free rides on domestic flights for those lap riders 2 years and under. Ryanair currently charges £20 (about $33) per child. Airlines already charge 10 percent of the adult fare for infants on international flights.
 
11. Surcharges for musical instruments. Anyone who has seen that video about the broken guitar will understand why Ryanair charges £30 (about $50) for checking a musical instrument. Probably has something to do with the liability of transporting these fragile items. Or maybe, just maybe, it's to boost the bottom line.
 

There is some good news on fees, although it's not much. United and Delta recently lowered their in-cabin pet fees, and United eliminated its last minute frequent flyer "cash in" fee. But these reductions are the exception, not the rule, as airlines grapple for revenue any way they can.

To learn more, visit George Hobica's profile on Google+

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