Anyone who follows the travel industry knows that several airlines implemented a two-tiered baggage fee system last April—one fee if you pay online, and another if you pay at the airport. US Airways, unsurprisingly, led the way, with a $5 airport surcharge that raised its airport fees to $20 for the first bag and $30 for the second. United followed, as did Continental and Delta.
But nearly a year later, most of these fees have gone up (United is the notable exception). US Airways now charges $20 online and $25 at the airport for the first bag, and $30/$35 for the second. Delta and Continental's first-bag fees are now $23 online and $25 at the airport, and $32/$35 for the second.
And it's those latter fees, from Delta and Continental, that caught my eye. Not just because they went up, but because the gap between the online and airport fees shrank from $5 to $3.
This is odd, not only because it erodes the incentive to pay your fee online, but because the main reason for the airlines to do this (aside from making extra cash) was to reduce the number of people who utilize airport services. Fewer people paying at the airport results in a more streamlined (read: cost-effective) operation. So by making the online option less appealing, won't more people pay the fee at the airport? After all, it's more intuitive to pay when you check in.
For its part, Delta told me there is nothing behind the shrinking gap between the two fees; fees are going up overall, and this is the way they shook out. Fair enough, and honestly, it's just as likely that Delta and others simply need more revenue from their fees, which leads to the shrinking online discount.
Still, we know this much: Bag fees are still on the rise, and honestly there's no telling if, or when, they will level off for good. Check our Ultimate Guide to Airline Fees for the whole picture.
Readers, do you take advantage of the online bag fee discounts? Or have you started to travel with just carry-on luggage?