Once upon a time, an airline ticket guaranteed you a seat, the ability to take a bag with you and to schlep one onto the plane. With the flight came a meal, drinks and some sort of entertainment. In the modern world, people want to pay as little as possible so airlines began stripping out some of the options they used to include in an effort to reduce the base fare we pay. Then airlines began selling back to us what we used to expect for free. It seems to me there are six major types of airline fees for things we used to expect to be included into the ticket price:
1. Reservation ServicesThere are several types of fees for reservation services.
- Having a human to make the booking instead of doing it on-line yourself expect to pay more.This fee is usually between $15 to $60. Some are even more expensive. Ryanair charges per minute for a call to some of their reservations teams (depending on which country you are in).
- Credit Card fees which range from a fixed fee e.g. $5, $7, $10 to a percentage eg 1% or 2% of fare price
- Change fees for date changes, name changes or flight changes
- Cancellation Fees- cancel your ticket and you will be charged a fee. The cheaper the ticket, the higher the fee. Sometimes the cancellation fee is higher than the fare you will have paid
To avoid reservation fees: book the ticket yourself online and do not change anything after booking
2. Fuel Surcharges To deal with fuel price fluctuations over the last five years, airlines have been imposing fuel surcharges. Interestingly, when the price of aviation fuel goes up, the airlines raise their fuel surcharges but it seems that fuel surcharges have climbed faster than oil prices. Also, when fuel goes down, the fuel surcharges seem slower to fall ! Most airlines incorporate fuel surcharges into the price of the ticket. In many jurisdictions this inclusion is required by law and an airline cannot add the surcharge as an extra on top of the original flight price they have quoted. This is not always the case . Often, when you book a Frequent Flyer ticket, a fuel surcharge payment will be required.
To avoid fuel surcharges, don’t fly!
3. Preferred Seating Since airlines discovered people will pay for comfort, most now charge for any seats that have more space. These usually include bulkhead and/or emergency exit rows. Some airlines have created sections of their planes that while labelled “Economy” have slightly more legroom.
To avoid preferred seating charges: take any seat that is available or find an airline that does not have the charge for their “premium”seats or be a top tier frequent flyer who often (but not always) get this fee waived.
4. Luggage Fees Many airlines have begun to charge for checked in baggage. The extreme is Spirit Airlines who are now charging up to $100 for hand luggage for customers who have not pre purchased this option. Ryanair have vicious charges if you go over their strict limit. Southwest airlines, on the other hand do not charge for a bag and have very generous carry on limits.Here is Smarter Travel’s list of baggage charges for US domestic services (updated June, 2012) and Farecompare’s for international services. (updated January 2012).
To avoid luggage fees: don’t carry luggage or find an airline that does not have the charge or be a top tier frequent flyer who often get this fee waived or become a holder of that airline’s Credit Card e.g. United’s Explorer Plus offers free bag check in for first bag
5. Catering- most airlines still give you a drink (non alcoholic). Ryanair, Jetstar, easyjet give you nothing!. Some give a snack (eg Southwest) and some a meal (eg Qantas).
To avoid: catering costs: find an airline that gives free meals or bring your own from home onto the plane
6. Entertainment- some airlines will give free access to their entertainment systems and others will charge for the headsets or for the cost of certain channels (e.g. Virgin America) or for the cost of programming (e.g. Frontier). Most airlines charge for wifi when available.
Have I left any out? Check out the Smarter Travel ultimate airline fee guide for US services.