The 5 Worst Airline Fees of All Time

We flyers hate airline fees, but they are here to stay. The future of airline fees is not only more fees, but the merchandising, bundling and subsequent discounting of these fees.

And oh, how the money rolls in. During the first quarter of 2011, domestic airlines raked in a record $1.38 billion in airline fees (for checked-baggage and change fees alone!) which was $59 million more than the first quarter of last year.

Top 5 Worst Airline Fees

Are some fees worse than others?

5. Checked-Bag fees

You knew this would make the list because this fee above all others drives passengers crazy. It may be due to the fact that we used to get baggage transport service for free – in fact, it was only back in 2008 that airlines began charging us for that second checked-bag, and American Airlines soon followed with a $15 charge for the first. These fees soon rose and today if you pack two suitcases, many airlines will charge you a combined fee of $120 round-trip. Add that up for a family of four and you’re talking real money.

Bag fees didn’t make the top of this worst list because you do get a service for your money – after all, Federal Express won’t ship for free. Then again, FedEx doesn’t lose many bags, do they?

Smart tip: Fly JetBlue or Southwest for the free bags, or take a carryon.

4. Unaccompanied minor fees

Most of us don’t mind paying a fee for an airline escort when a young child is traveling alone but it doesn’t cover much beyond some shepherding to the plane. Plus, airlines have been known to “lose” children – just a couple of years ago, Continental misplaced two solo travelers (ages 8 and 10) traveling to two different destinations on the same weekend. This is what you get for that extra $200 fee on top of the airfare?

Smart tip: If your youngster travels solo, read Four Important Tips for Children Traveling Alone.

3. Beverage fees

No more free meals in coach? Continental served up those final trays in the fall of 2010, and we’ve learned to cope with that. We’re even used to paying for snacks we once got for free. But Spirit and Allegiant charge for soft drinks, coffee and even water (from $2 to $3). US Airways briefly charged for soft drinks, but the backlash was too great and no other major carrier dared join them. Now they’re complimentary again. Wouldn’t it be nice if this was the case on every carrier?

Smart tip: Bring a credit card – these days no major airline accepts cash.

2. Carryon fees

Spirit Airlines charges between $20 and $45 for a carryon bag, depending on whether you pay for it online, at the airport counter or at the gate. What else is there to say?

Smart tip: This is the one time you might want to check a bag, since on Spirit, that large suitcase of yours can actually be cheaper than a carryon.

1. Change fees

You make a reservation, but later you have to cancel or delay your trip. Watch out: most airlines charge a “change fee” for altering your itinerary.

As Rick Seaney says, “I think the most egregious fees are the $150 domestic and $250 international change fees on non-refundable tickets. In many cases, these are folks who have to change plans at the last minute. They are not only hit by the change fee but also by the change in fare price, which is typically much higher.”

Smart tip: If there’s a chance you might have to change or cancel your trip, investigate the higher-priced “refundable” tickets. Or fly Southwest, which is the only domestic airline that does not charge a change fee.


Published: December 15, 2011