Paying Nearly $1,000 in Fees for Two Checked-Bags: Airline Fees 3.0

Nothing sets tempers flaring like a rousing discussion of baggage fees, but what’s really fascinating to me is that just five years ago, no one talked about this because such fees did not exist.

And now, sad to say, they’re here to stay.

However, baggage fees and other airline fees do not remain static: they keep growing and morphing into bundles and other “options” for travelers. And they can cost you hundreds of dollars.

Read the Top 10 Dumb Things to do Before You Fly

Paying Nearly $1,000 for Two-Checked Bags is Possible

In the not-so-distant past, many vacationers would routinely pack two suitcases and jam in practically everything they owned; that would be a mistake today, because it could wind up costing you nearly $1,000 in baggage fees. How is that possible? We’ll use American Airlines as an example (and I’m not picking on them; US Airways charges the same on these particular fees and Delta and United are almost as high).

American Airlines Baggage Fees

Note that the prices you see below are for one-way travel only

  • Two checked-bags: $25 for the first, $35 for the second
  • One overweight bag: $200 (over 70 pounds)
  • One oversize bag: $200 (over 62 inches: add length plus width plus height)

Round-trip total: $920

Realistically, few of us will pack a suitcase that weighs more than 70 pounds, but you might pack one that weighs between 50 and 70 pounds, and in that case both American and United will charge an overweight fee of $100 each-way (Delta and US Airways charge ten bucks less).

Smart Tip: A hand-held luggage scale costs less than $20 in most big-box stores; buy one and use it.

Southwest Bags Fly Free? Not Always

It’s not just the legacy carriers that pile it on, either. Southwest is well known for its “bags fly free” slogan, and it’s true that there is no fee for two checked-bags. However, if one of those bags is overweight (50 to 100 pounds), you’ll pay a fee of $100 round-trip; if the bag is also oversize (larger than 62 inches), add an additional $100 round-trip. Even “free bags” can wind up costing you, if you’re not careful.

Smart Tip: When it’s time to replace your old Samsonite, make sure your new suitcase is not larger than 62 inches. Better yet, do what I do and travel with a carryon wherever you go.

Today’s Airline Ancillary Costs: Fees 3.0

The baggage fees, the overweight fees and all the rest are part of today’s new airline revenue stream that in some cases makes the difference between airline survival and bankruptcy. Without this money, some airlines would quit flying. So, the airline fees are here to stay, but they are changing. Here’s the timeline for you historians out there:

Airline Fees 1.0: This era officially began back in 2008 when American Airlines was the first major carrier to test bag fees. Other charges were soon initiated, even as we saw the end of perks like free meals in coach.

Read Five Strategies for Avoiding Airline Fees

There were hits and misses along the way, too, notably when US Airways began charging for Cokes and water. That initiative failed however when other airlines refused to jump on that particular bandwagon and the beverage fee was quickly rolled back.

Airline Fees 2.0: This was an era of increased fees; after all, consumers kept flying after the first round of charges were introduced so the airlines decided to see what else they add. They eventually came up with a sushi menu of fees including what were once elites-only type perks now offered to the masses for a charge (extra legroom, early boarding and more).

Airline Fees 3.0: This is the present day era, where airlines bundle two or three items together and offer them at a discount, or even for free to flyers who use a particular airline-branded credit card. Expect to see more of this.

Airlines Fees 4.0: The future; is it possible that airfares may one day be priced as eye-catching bargains of $1 each-way? Sure; then consumers will be zinged with taxes, fuel surcharges and airline fees that add up to $600 or so. It could happen, but we shall see and as always, I will keep you posted.




Published: September 30, 2011