What's Included in the Price of an Airline Ticket? Five Surprises

As I wrote in a recent news column, an airline ticket is a “complicated stew of taxes, fees, surcharges and other costs you may not be aware of” so I thought, why not simplify some of this?

LISTEN: Travel expert Rick Seaney is all about simplifying airfare.

Airline Tickets Unmasked

These are by not means all the costs embedded in a ticket, just some of the more interesting ones.

1. The cost of your flight

Most assume the cost of a flight is the same as the price of your airline ticket. No – the cost of a flight, called “base airfare” is just a part of the ticket. And sometimes not even a very big part.

Cost of base airfare vs. Cost of total ticket

Domestic route: Los Angeles – Dallas International route: New York – London
Total ticket cost: $285 Total ticket cost: $1,026
Base airfare: $256 Base airfare: $311


Wow. What’s going on with international tickets? This brings us to surprise number two.

2. The airline’s international fee

The New York-London base fare of $311 is dwarfed by a $458 surcharge referred to as the non-optional Carrier-imposed fee. It’s supposed to reflect the cost of jet fuel (and is often called the fuel surcharge) but in practice airlines impose it to reduce travel agent commissions and it often has nothing to do with rising or falling fuel prices.

3. Airport security fees

You may have seen reports about a rise in fees to cover TSA expenses and wondering when it’s going to hit. It already had but you may not have noticed since it’s embedded in your ticket (plus it’s only a few bucks more than the original capped at $10 fee). By the way, the airlines are suing to get it rolled back but don’t bet the farm on that. And speaking of farms —

4. Agriculture fee

Another charge for international travelers, the $5 APHIS fee (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) helps funds the Department of Agriculture’s work keeping as many pests and diseases out of the country as they can.

5. The Spirit fee

Since 2012, every Spirit ticket includes a $4 round-trip charge called the Unintended Consequences of DOT Regulations fee. The ultra-discounter added this non-optional fee after the Department of Transportation’s passenger protections including transparent pricing went into effect. Many saw protections as a breath of fresh air but not Spirit which branded them “misguided and expensive” and promptly passed the costs on to customers.


Published: August 8, 2014