The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of New Airline Fees

Newark Liberty Airport

Newark Liberty Airport  (REUTERS)

With oil prices skyrocketing, airlines are getting creative when finding ways to meet their bottom lines - often through charging for new or previously free services. While travelers can benefit from paying only for services used, there may be expensive surprises when calculating the actual cost of the flight.

Fuel is the largest and most unpredictable expense for airlines, and rising costs have taken a large bite out of profits in recent times. Delta has gone so far as to buy their own Pennsylvania oil refinery in hopes of saving $300 million per year. Ticket prices alone are no longer enough to cover an airline’s operating costs to transport the passenger, even with the continued fare hikes. Ancillary fees helped some airlines stay above water, but more money is needed from new sources. Here are some recent additions in ancillary fees, coming soon to an airport near you:

The Good: US Airways extending elite privileges to the masses. Don’t have frequent-flier status on US Air? No problem - as of last week, the airline’s PreferredAccess program is for purchase.  Starting at $10 and up (no word on how far “up” goes), you can speed through the priority check-in and security lanes where available, plus get Zone 1 boarding privileges.

The Bad: Allegiant Air charging passengers to use the overhead bins. Following Spirit Air’s example, as of last month Allegiant started charging for carry-on bags that won’t fit under your seat. They already charge for checked baggage ($15-$30 if you pay online, $35 at the airport) and fees for using the overhead bin can go up to $35 but are expected to be $10-$15 on most routes.

The Ugly: Spirit Air’s carry-on fees rising to $200 roundtrip. Known for lower ticket prices coupled with numerous ancillary fees, Spirit Airlines will raise its fees this fall for luggage in overhead bins to a new high - sometimes more than you’ll pay for the actual ticket. The key to avoiding highway (airport?) robbery is to pay up early. The fees work on a sliding scale based on when you pay for the carry-on: at online ticket booking: $35, via phone booking or at online check-in: $40, at airport check-in counter: $50, and if you wait until you get to the gate, it’ll be $100.

While the power to choose which travel amenities you want to pay for potentially results in cost savings and better service, the airline might be getting a better deal. Case in point: Yes, Spirit’s airfare might only be $9, but when you add in fees for all the “extras” - some of which are not optional - ranging from reservation booking ($10), carry-on bags ($35-$100), checked bags ($35-90), oversized or heavy luggage ($25-$150), passenger usage fees ($8.99-$16.99 each way), charges for printing boarding passes at airport ($2-$5), and hefty ticket modification/cancellation fees ($100-$150), you may feel nickel-and-dimed rather than victorious.