6 Sneaky Fees That Are Making Airlines a Bundle
Life + Money

6 Sneaky Fees That Are Making Airlines a Bundle

REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

Air travel is becoming more frustrating every year, with flight cancellations, delays and long security lines all taking a toll on passengers.

Then there are the fees that airlines apply.  While fees have been a boon to the airline industry – U.S.  airlines posted record profits of $12.7 billion in 2013, up from $98 million in 2012, in part due to fees – passengers are getting hit on all sides and it’s not uncommon to discover new fees on your bill even as you board a plane.

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While 91 percent of travelers say the overall cost of flying is a very important or somewhat important factor in deciding whether to purchase a ticket, 71 percent of passengers strongly agree that airlines fees have become more frustrating over the last year, according to a survey conducted last month by the U.S. Travel Association.

The problem with fees is that airlines lack transparency with most of them, making it nearly impossible for travelers to compare flight options and to accurately budget for trips.

“Travelers have no choice,” said Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com. “People have come to the point where they accept the fees, so it’s working for the airlines.”

Either way, make sure you’re aware of these six airline fees:  

Checked-in baggage fees: “The bag fee is the bad one,” said Klee. “When you’re shopping for a ticket, you don’t see the bag price, so it’s difficult to compare.” Airlines typically charge $25 for the first bag, $35 for the second and more than $100 for the third bag. There’s one exception, though: Southwest  doesn’t charge for luggage and lets you check in two bags for free. JetBlue lets you check in your first bag for free, but charges $50 for the second bag and $100 for a third bag.

Carry-on baggage fees: Since it’s becoming more expensive to check bags, travelers are increasingly carrying on luggage – but now the boarding process takes much longer. Some airlines – Spirit,  Allegiant and Frontier – have  started charging passengers for carry-on bags. The fee varies depending on when you pay. With Spirit, if you pay when you buy your ticket, it will cost you $35, but if you wait until you’re at the gate the airline will charge you at least $50.

Preferred seat fees: “Airlines are increasingly charging for the best seats on a plane,” said Klee. In some cases, all window and aisle seats have an extra fee -- problematic  for families or other groups who want to sit together. Klee says the fee varies depending on the distance of your flight – it can  range from $9 to $80. There are a few perks attached to these fees, though, including the ability to board in the first group and sometimes extra leg room on the plane. “Now, every seat is a premium seat except for a middle seat,” said Ike Anand, senior director of strategy and business development at Expedia.

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In-flight fees: These can include entertainment systems, premium content on these systems, headphones, and lcohol and food. “Most of us don’t really bother to think about them, but they can add up,”  said Anand of Expedia.  Flyers actually spend more money on alcohol than on any other in-flight purchase, according to a study by onboard tech company GuestLogix.

Passenger security fees: These fees were set up after Sept. 11, 2001, to help cover the cost of the Transportation Security Administration’s baggage and behavior screening programs. Built into the total price of a ticket, these fees are going up later this month from $2.50 per flight to a flat rate of $5.60 each way.

Change fees: Most people don’t think about these fees, though they can cost you dearly if you need to change your ticket. Most airlines, with the exception of Southwest, typically charge $200 per ticket, up from $150 a year ago, just to allow you to change your reservation. Then you have to pay for the difference between your old ticket and the new one.

Travelers should research different fees for each airline ahead of time, so they can more easily compare airfares. They should also speak up. “Consumers should object and talk to agents or complain to the airlines or on social media,” said Anand. “Some fees should be basic amenities included in the fare.”

The only services you’re guaranteed to get for free are water and the use of restrooms – but how long it will remain that way is anyone’s guess.

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