Holiday Surcharges Increase, Expand Deep Into 2010

When a handful of airlines imposed their so-called holiday surcharges—essentially $10 to $20 price hikes on popular travel dates around Thanksgiving and Christmas—people reacted mostly with shock and horror. The move smelled nefarious and sneaky (despite being well publicized and reported). My take at the time was that the airlines were doing what they always do: Raising fares around the holidays. They were just doing it in a new and, admittedly, annoyingly clever way.

Then the airlines took those surcharges and stretched them into 2010. And now Delta, Northwest, and United have taken those 2010 surcharges, expanded them to 41 days, and hiked some as high as $50. US Airways is even placing a 5 percent surcharge on all domestic flights starting May 8.

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So what the heck is going on?

It is, and has been from the beginning, a simple matter of supply and demand. Fares overall are not going up as the recession continues to keep travel sluggish. So the airlines are targeting high-demand dates in the hopes of wringing as much money from them as possible, all while leaving fares on other days untouched.

Of course, what makes good business sense doesn't exactly make good people sense. Think about it: We're in a recession, and folks are cutting back. So if people are going to splurge on travel, when are they most likely to do it? Holidays and long weekends, those "high-demand" days the airlines are targeting. The airlines end up hitting people where it hurts the most.

But that's business, right? And travelers can dodge these surcharges simply by knowing where they are. Bestfares.com has a nice list of dates and the corresponding surcharges. And remember to always compare airlines and dates to make sure you're getting the best deal.

Readers, what do you think about this new surcharge idea? Is is better to target specific dates and leave fares lower overall? How are you going to outsmart the surcharges? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

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