4 Reasons Not to Hate the Airline Fees

I thought I’d try to shake things up a bit by looking on the bright side of airline fees. Yes, they’re easy to hate, but there are pluses to some of them. Unless we’re talking about ultra-discount carrier Spirit. The only way you can avoid most of the steep fees on that particular airline, is if you’re willing to fly naked.

Okay, I’m joking – kind of.

Listen as FareCompare’s Rick Seaney gives editor Anne McDermott his take on ‘worst fee ever’:

A Carry-on Bag May Cost You $100 on Spirit

1. Fees Keep Airfare Prices Down

If you think your plane tickets for this summer are expensive, try to imagine what they’d cost if the airlines didn’t have all that fee money – which as of last October, was close to $9 billion a year.

Without that revenue you’d pay more for your flights – maybe much more – assuming you could afford to fly at all. Which brings us to #2:

2. Fees Keep the Airlines in Business

Remember the spring of 2008? It seemed as if every time you turned around, another airline was going under: Aloha, ATA, Skybus and more. These carriers raised fares as high as they dared and when that wasn’t enough, they shut their doors. That’s because the modern fee era we’re in now hadn’t quite been invented yet.

Southwest: No Free Bags on AirTran Anytime Soon

It wasn’t until a couple of months after Aloha said goodbye that American Airlines started it all with a first checked-bag fee of $15 (since raised to $25). As I said back then when oil prices were heading to the $140 per barrel mark, “Desperate times beget desperate measures, and this is in the Hail Mary category.” Fees have been with us ever since.

3. Fees May Keep Us Healthier

OK, this is a bit of a long shot, but consider the average airline’s food-for-purchase selection in coach. Okay, now that you’ve considered it, do you really want it – even if it was free? My advice: bring something from home, something that’s tasty and good for you. Better and cheaper.

Chart: U.S. and Global Airline Bag Fees

4. When it Comes to Fees, You Do Have a Choice

I hope I’m not going to sound like ultra-discount carrier Spirit’s crack marketing team (“We empower customers to save money”) but when it comes to most fees, you do have a choice: pay or don’t pay. Don’t want to pay $50 round-trip to check a bag? Use a carry-on (and I’ve used one in Europe).

American Airlines’ 5-Star Service – For a Fee

Other ways to avoid fees:

  • Avoid overweight charges for checked-bags and carry-ons by packing light; buy heavy toiletries at your destination
  • Avoid costly seat upgrades, especially on shorter flights
  • Planes can be chilly, but save on the blanket fee by bringing a jacket or sweater
  • Bring an iPod for entertainment – no Wi-Fi charge required
  • Drink free sodas or coffee – alcohol will cost you

More from Rick Seaney:

What Airlines Don’t Want Us to Know about Fees


Published: May 8, 2012