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Posted: 6:00 a.m. Monday, Sept. 16, 2013

Fight back against airline junk fees

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Airlines add new fees in 2012 adding $36B to bottom line photo
Airlines add new fees in 2012 adding $36B to bottom line

By Clark Howard

ClarkHoward.com


For every dollar you spend on an airline ticket, you can expect to pay around 50% more in junk fees. But there are ways to dial back what you pay in fees.

The Department of Transportation estimates we all pay somewhere in the range of 40 cents in fees for every dollar we spend on air travel. Those fees include baggage fees, seat assignment, change fees, and more.

Last year, a report came out showing that Spirit Airlines collects $2 in junk fees for every $3 in airfare. The airline that charges the biggest amount of fees, however, is United. United collected $5 billion in total junk fees after customers already purchased their ticket in 2011.

Let's take a look at just one fee -- the fuel surcharge. U.S. airlines have raised this by more than 50% even though the cost of fuel went up just over 20%. So it's just a made up surcharge. That's why I love the court decision that requires full disclosure of all fees before you buy a ticket.

For example, I have no problem with Ryanair wanting to charge people to use the toilet, so long as it's disclosed up front. My point is, I don't care what the fees are. To me the important issue is do you know before you're already sucked in?

Who knows what fees will be next. Of course, this is not without precedent. If you remember People Express airlines, once considered the most innovative in the world, they had a fee for everything. I remember people were outraged when they would charge 50 cents to get a soft drink on a flight. But you can come with your own food on the plane, while somebody else may want to buy something on board. So I think the fee is fair. Just tell me what you want to charge.

Spirit, Allegiant, and Frontier all sell you a ticket and everything else is extra. Alaska, JetBlue, Virgin Airlines, Southwest, and Hawaiian all offer some level of discounts and less pain with the junk fees. For example, Southwest has no fee to change a ticket, cancel a ticket, or check in your bags. That's a real deal in my book, and it's the complete opposite of the full-fare airlines that charge $200 for a change fee!

So you just have to know that the initial price you see for an airfare is just the starting point. Before you click to purchase, you need to know what you're going to wind up paying -- not just the advertised price of the ticket.

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