Just a few days ago, I arrived home from a vacation that took me to Las Vegas and Death Valley. When preparing for the trip, I used SideStep for finding the best fare that fit my schedule, settling on a flight from EWR to LAS on Continental Airlines. My flights were mostly full, so I decided to cash in on my travel over the past 10 years or so and use my miles to upgrade our return reservation to first class.
In the end, even first class was full, so we didn’t get to experience the better amenities. Continental still hasn’t refunded my miles, but that’s another story. Today’s story is about how the airline industry continues to find ways to “unbundle” services so that anything travelers have grown accustomed to are now offered only a la carte.
My last air travel was to celebrate my brother’s marriage last year. Flying Delta was not a perfect experience, including charges of $15 for pre-paying online for checked baggage, $20 for paying for baggage when checking in at the airport, and $8 or more for a meal on the flight. This more recent Continental flight included a $23 fee for checking a bag online ($25 in person) and a $39 fee for choosing a “premium” seat in the coach cabin.
JetBlue, another perennial favorite of mine because it flies direct to Long Beach airport, charges for pillows and blankets, admittedly a package I never use.
What other micro-fees can the industry deliver? Spirit Airlines answered that question in a recent press release. Somewhat hidden in the announcement of this airline’s new reduced fares is the fact that checked bags are no longer the only type of luggage subject to extra charges. Each carry-on item will now cost each Spirit Airlines traveler $20 when members of the airline’s discount club, where membership costs $39.95 per year, pay online in advance, $30 when non-members pay online in advance, or $45 when anyone pays at the gate.
Spirit has two goals. The first is to decrease listed fares in an industry where customers, like me, shop mainly for the lowest fare regardless of the carrier, not loyalty. The second goal is to create a disincentive for customers to bring more luggage into an already crowded cabin.
These new fees take effect July 1, 2010 for travel on or after August 1, 2010.
I don’t like being nickeled-and-dimed, but as long as I continue to live far from people and places I want to see, I’ll need to continue playing the airline industry’s game.
There isn’t much room to complain. Airfare, at least coach travel, is generally affordable. If you avoid overpaying for food in the airport, keep your schedule flexible, and search for the lowest fares, it can be one of the cheapest, and obviously fastest, ways to travel.
Nevertheless, the quest for lower fares invites these fees. Here are some more ideas for new ways for the airline industry to take our money:
- $1 for entering the lavatory
- $9.99 a minute for talking to a flight attendant
- $2 for the privilege of reclining your seat back an inch
- $1 to use a tray table
- $20 for access to fresher air for the entire flight
Any more suggestions?
Published or updated April 6, 2010.