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7 surprising factors that go into airline ticket prices

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There are other costs you may not be aware of when you buy an air ticket. (Reuters)

In 2012, the Department of Transportation began requiring airlines to advertise the full price of an airline ticket, with all mandatory taxes and fees included.

Yet, an airline ticket remains a complicated stew of taxes, fees, surcharges and other costs you may not be aware of. 

While you can spend hours on the Internet to find reasonable fares have you ever considered factors that influence the fare?

What follows is by no means a complete list of everything included in the price of airfare, just some of the more interesting charges.

1. Base airfare

Don't confuse a $300 economy class airline ticket with 'base airfare'. Base airfare is the cost of the flight alone and on a $300 domestic ticket, that's about $250. The rest is non-optional taxes and fees. If that sounds like a lot, here's the breakdown on a recent international fare on American in mid-October from New York to London:

  • Base airfare: $311
  • Final ticket price: $1026

2. Carrier-imposed fee

The final ticket price for that New York to London ticket above includes several taxes and fees but towering above them all is a hefty carrier-imposed surcharge of $458. In theory, this charge is supposed to reflect the cost of fuel (in fact it's sometimes referred to as a fuel surcharge), but in practice it's a way for airlines to reduce commissions to travel agents and in many cases has no parallel to jet fuel prices.

3. TSA fees

The proper name is for this charge is the Sept. 11 Security Fee and it funds the TSA. The fee increased last month from $2.50 per flight segment (with a cap of $10) to a flat $11.20 per round-trip ticket. Carriers are not happy about this and the trade organization Airlines for America is suing to roll this back (but don't hold your breath).

4. Agriculture fee

Going overseas? Then you pay the $5 APHIS fee which stands for Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. As the Department of Agriculture website says, "APHIS is on the job 24 hours a day, 7 days a week working to defend America's animal and plant resources from agricultural pests and diseases."

5. Passenger Facility charge

Often referred to as the airport fee but formally known as the U.S. Passenger Facility charge, this $9 round-trip tax helps the Federal Aviation Administration fund airport projects such as noise reduction. If those take-offs at the local airport have quit disturbing your sleep, now you know why (and thank yourself since you're paying for it).

6. Unintended Consequences of DOT Regulations fee

This unusual $4 round-trip fee will only be found on Spirit Airlines tickets. The discount carrier blames it on the Department of Transportation's 2012 Passenger Protections which forced airlines to give shoppers 24 hours to change their minds about a ticket purchase without a penalty. Spirit claims the only way to cover the expense of making this change was to pass it along to customers as a 'consequences' fee. We've known about this consequence for two years now, but the fee remains.

7. Online fee

You know about calling fees; that's the extra charge (generally from $15 to $25) added to a ticket when reservations are made by phone. Some airlines, however, take it a step further. Allegiant, for example, charges an online booking fee of $10 per flight segment; it can be avoided but only by going out to the airport and making the reservation there. Your third option with Allegiant is to pay the $15 phone fee.

Rick Seaney is an airline travel expert and the co-founder of FareCompare.com, an airfare comparison shopping site