Airlines Took in $31 Billion in Fees in 2013 – But Some Fee Revenue Down

According to the latest annual CarTrawler survey of global airlines for the year 2013, ancillary revenue zoomed since the first report back in 2007 – by more than 1,200 percent.

Some Airlines See Fee Revenue Drop

The 59 airlines reporting ancillary revenue last year – better known as bag fees, early boarding fees, revenue from for-purchase snacks and more – collectively raked in $31.5 billion (statistics were compiled by IdeaWorks). But FareCompare took a quick survey of U.S. airline data from the Department of Transportation which shows the tide may be turning – at least slightly, and at least in the sector of baggage fees.

The chart below shows bag fee revenue from U.S. legacy carriers, comparing the first quarter of 2014 (most recent data) with the first quarter of 2013. Notice that only United took in more this year.


AIRLINE 2014 – 1Q Baggage Fees 2013 – 1Q Baggage Fees
Delta Air Lines $190,640,000 $191,986,000
United Airlines $147,157,000 $143,252,000
US Airways $128,934,000 $130,470,000
American Airlines $120,767,000 $123,115,000


Saturated Market?

It may be that the airlines have collected all they can from this particular fee sector. But baggage fees can and do change without notice, and a hike in baggage fees is not impossible (though we’ve seen nothing to suggest such a rise). Another possibility is more airlines adding fees for carry-on bags as Frontier did earlier this year, but again, no airline has indicated this will happen.

How to Save on Fees

The good thing about ancillary revenue fees is that they are optional. You do not have to pay them unless you choose to. Here are some simple ways to avoid them.

  • Always use a carry-on bag: Only Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit charge for them and you can even avoid their fees by using a very small bag that can be placed under the seat in front of you.
  • Fly bag fee-free airlines: There are two. JetBlue give you one checked-bag for free and Southwest allows passengers two free checked-bags.
  • Bring food from home: Airline food is not cheap and once you board the plane you’re at their mercy.
  • Get the best free seat possible: Many airlines allow you to choose your seat when making a reservation so choose the best available at that time but if it’s not to your liking, keep checking back. At precisely 24 hours before take-off, go back one more time and see if better seats have become available (this does happen). If so, select one you like immediately. You will have competition for this.


Published: July 17, 2014