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Airfare Comparisons Confounded by Fee-for-All Pricing

Airfare Comparisons Confounded by Fee-for-All Pricing

USA Today has just released details of its airline fee survey, a handy snapshot of the current state of what many travelers still refer to as nuisance fees.

Of the many types of surcharges, the highest fees are those imposed for changing an international ticket. Delta’s change fees can be as much as $400. American and United’s top out at $300. All three charge $200 to change a domestic ticket.

The low-cost carriers are better. JetBlue charges between $75 and $150 to change an international ticket, and Spirit charges $115 if the change is made online and $125 if made by phone.

Southwest is the standout, with no change fees at all.

The article notes that 15 U.S. airlines reported revenue of $2.1 billion from reservations change fees during the first three quarters of 2013.

The fees to book flights by phone range from $0 (Southwest again) to $35 (Delta, for an international booking) to $100 (Spirit, to book within six days of departure).

The fees for the first checked bag also run the gamut. American, Delta, and United charge $25 for a domestic flight, but nothing for international flights. Spirit charges as much as $100 for both domestic and overseas flights. Southwest and JetBlue don’t charge for the first checked bag.

U.S. airlines made $2.6 billion in bag fees during the first three quarters of 2013.

The next time you hear an economist claim that the price of an airline ticket is a bargain, ask whether they’ve factored in the cost of services which were once included in the ticket price but are now charged separately. They probably haven’t. And not for lack of trying. It’s simply too complicated.

And therein lies the problem for travelers trying to price-compare airfares. In the time it takes to compute the real cost of a ticket, including the various add-ons, the base price will have changed.

Reader Reality Check

Have you learned to love the airlines’ fees-for-everything approach to pricing, or do you feel it’s little more than a license to gouge and disguise the true cost of a ticket?

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  • AUSSIEtraveller

    you can’t have your cake & eat it too !!!

    If you want low fares (in real terms much lower than 20 years ago), get used to paying for extras like checked bags. Do you really need 23kgs/50 lbs on that short trip ? No, but if you carry that much stuff pay for it & stop moaning, fuel is expensive.

    What we can’t understand is why the US govt doesn’t impose some more tax on fuel for cars, when most other 1st world nations do.

    In OZ, petrol is around AUD$160/litre or about USD$5.35/gallon. In USA country is broke, so you need tax revenue. Surely the govt could impose a small tax, that gets increased a little every year.

    You can nolonger afford to drive massive gas guzzling cars !!!

  • BobChi

    The real cost to me is the quoted price. I don’t check bags. Why the assumption that everybody does? I’m glad the cost of things that “were once included in the price of a ticket” can now be avoided. Those who use such services should pay for them, and not expect the rest of us to subsidize them.

  • BubbaJoe123

    “The next time you hear an economist claim that the price of an airline ticket is a bargain, ask whether they’ve factored in the cost of services which were once included in the ticket price but are now charged separately. They probably haven’t. And not for lack of trying. It’s simply too complicated.”

    Actually, economists HAVE taken this into account, as 30 seconds with Google would have shown you.

    http://www.aei-ideas.org/2012/10/even-with-baggage-fees-the-miracle-of-flight-remains-a-real-bargain-average-2011-airfare-was-40-below-1980-level/

  • Joseph Cellieur

    “Economists” are always the grandest form of ahole in a modern society. Men and Women who drone on and on about the relative valuation of other people’s money whilst never involving any of their own. They are akin to a beggar in a warzone who puts up a sign just to the side of the barbed wire that a platoon must face indicating that razors may cut you, oh and are quite cheap if purchased in packs of 5, on thursday, but only if you say Alibaba meeky meeky m0nk ba dunk before doing a dive roll into a thatch of shrubbery.

  • Callum Green

    Why would I be consulting an “economist” over whether a flight is cheap or not?

    I’m perfectly capable of figuring that out on my own, but if I was going to consult anyone it would be a travel agent!

  • Stuart Friedman

    I blame Expedia and all the web travel services. If they built a simple wizard that let me click boxes for the amount of luggage I’d like to take, the fact that I’ll probably need to pay the “bathroom usage fee” on the New York to Los Angeles flight, the seat belt buckling fee, water consumption fee, the boarding fee to use my ticket, and the airport arrival fee into my calculation they would detour these sneaky hidden fees that make a ticket price look artificially low. The same could easily be done with hotels. Include wifi, car parking fees, “facility fees,” in the click through wizard.

  • peterknight

    “The fees for the first checked bag also run the gamut. American, Delta,
    and United charge $25 for a domestic flight, but nothing for
    international flights.” The last time I traveled the big 3 charged $50/bag on international. In the beginning the first was free but now I believe they charge for all.

  • - -

    I used to hate it, but as someone who never checks bags, I’m kind of happy that I’m not paying for the privilege for everyone else. I am agreed that OTA’s should now include checkboxes for extras to help achieve a true price comparison a la Ebay “Sort by Price + Shipping”