Airline Fees Steadily Rising, says USA TODAY Survey
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It’s not surprising that U.S. airline fees are on the rise, and here to stay. According to the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 15 of the nation’s airlines reported revenues of $2.6 billion from baggage fees and $2.1 billion from reservations change fees during the first three quarters of 2013. Whether you fly a lot or a little, here’s what you should know about airline fees before booking your next flight.
Flyers beware: The cheapest airfare may not mean the least expensive flight. According to a recent USA TODAY's survey, four of the nation’s air carriers are charging up to $400 in extra fees — in addition to the base airfare.
For the survey, USA TODAY spent two weeks looking at airline fees, specifically those that apply to most coach passengers. In addition to increasing fees, the survey also discovered that fees are often hard to find or missing entirely on airline websites, and the rules and terms are often vague or incomplete.
The most expensive fees go to …
Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air claim the most expensive fees for a single checked bag.
Spirit charges $100 for a bag checked at an airport gate, while Allegiant charges $75 for an airport-checked bag for its Hawaii flights. You can save money on both airlines if you check a bag in advance and/or online.
Almost every airline charges for booking "free" frequent-flier award tickets over on the phone. Spirit charges $25 for a phone booking. Spirit’s online bookings are free, but charges an additional $100 if you book within six days of departure.
US Airways charges $90 to book an award ticket for an international flight on the phone. And US Airways customers who book online are charged $50 for a Hawaii or international flight.
International flyers, beware
International flyers, you’re looking at potentially big fees if you over pack. American Airlines charges $450 for a checked bag weighing 71 to 100 pounds on some international flights. A similar overweight bag on United Airlines’ international flights and Hawaiian Airlines' Asian flights will cost you $400.
And if you need to change a flight on Delta Air Lines, you’ll be paying $400 for some international flights — that’s $150 more than its 2011 flight change fee, according to USA TODAY.
Frontier announces more fees
In May, Frontier Airlines announced that passengers will now have to pay extra for carry-on bags in the overhead bin, and for advance seat assignments. That’s in addition to the $15 to $25 fliers will pay for their first checked bag. Last July, Frontier began charging $1.99 for soda or water on its flights.
The Denver-based Frontier is modeling itself after Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air, the only other U.S. airlines charging such fees. In exchange for these new fees, Frontier claims it is lowering its base fare by about 12 percent.
Frontier’s overhead bin fees range from $20 for frequent fliers who book online to $50 for those who wait to pay at the gate. Most will pay $25 if they check-in online or $35 if they check-in at the airport. Personal items fitting under the seat remains free.
You’ll also pay for your seat assignment, or risk sitting where they put you. Seat assignments now cost an extra $3 if you book online, $8 at check-in. If you don’t pre-reserve your seat, Frontier will assign you a left over seat. You’ll also pay more for seats with more legroom or those closer to the front of the plane.
The lesson for flyers from all this fee frenzy: Investigate online and call the airline way in advance to make sure you’re aware of potential fees.