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Pay More to Get More? Most Flyers Say 'Yes'

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Change purse with $20 bill (Photo: iStockPhoto/Daniel Butler)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on July 24, 2008. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, baggage, frequent flyer, fuel, Molly Feltner, taxes and fees.

Earlier in July, SmarterTravel.com asked readers whether they'd prefer to pay higher base airfares if it meant they wouldn't have to pay all of the extra airline fees, or if they'd rather pay slightly higher fares that included free first-checked-baggage service. In the past, flyers in the U.S. have fiercely resisted fare hikes, so the other SmarterTravel.com editors and I weren't sure whether survey takers would now be willing to pay more. However, we wondered, as more and more travelers express their rage against extra charges like checked-baggage and frequent-flyer fees, might the tide finally might be turning in favor of increased base airfares?

Pay more to get more?

Indeed it is, according to the results of the survey, which a record number of readers completed. The majority of respondents (54 percent) claimed they would rather pay slightly higher base fares if they could check one bag for free. Other survey takers were split evenly (23 percent each) between those who'd rather buy more expensive but all-inclusive airfares (tickets that include everything from checked-baggage service to free meals and entertainment) and those who would rather book cheap base fares and pay fees for all extra services.

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When asked essentially this same question again, this time as a hypothetical (would you rather book A. a $250 ticket and pay fees for all other services; B. a $300 ticket that included free first-checked bags, movies, and snacks, but extra charges for second checked bags and seat assignments; or C. a $350 ticket with no fees except a second-checked-bag fee), we got slightly different results. Half the survey takers chose option B, the middle-of-the-road approach, while 32 percent went for the cheapest fare, option A, and only 18 percent selected option C, the most expensive but all-inclusive ticket.

From the comments respondents submitted, it seemed the first-checked-bag fee (American, Northwest, Spirit, United, and US Airways all added this fee recently) was weighing heavily on your minds. Most of you said you would prefer to pay more up front to avoid this hated charge:

  • Do not charge for checked baggage!!! Find revenue someplace else!!!
  • I don't mind bringing my own meals, snacks, food, entertainment, or the like. But, I simply draw the line at having to pay for my luggage as I do not feel that I should be penalized if I like to travel with clothes and accessories in two bags so that my trip is enjoyable. Given the choice, I will boycott airlines that charge for luggage if I can.
  • Checking one bag should be free, particularly with the liquids and gels rules. If checking a bag isn't free, you'll get folks trying to cram all kinds of things into the airplane as a carry-on or personal item.

A smaller but vocal group of respondents (many of whom identified themselves as business travelers or elite-level frequent flyers) said that cutting out all extra fees and raising fares to cover the real cost of flying (meals, baggage service, etc. included) would be their preference:

  • Nickel and diming people builds resentment and frustration. If people know to expect a higher fare they can plan and budget for it rather than have to deal with the stress of extra fees on the already stressful travel day.
  • I don't want to do a math problem every time I'm choosing a flight. Just give me one price.
  • I prefer all-in-one, honest up-front fares. No surprises! Nothing annoys me more than seeing a great fare advertised and then discovering it will increase by 30 percent or more due to all the hidden fees.

Another fraction of survey takers said they wanted to pay the cheapest fare possible and have the airlines charge fees for extra services:

  • I want a-la-carte pricing! If I don't use something, I shouldn't have to pay for it.
  • I am all in favor of charging for checked bags. I avoid checking bags whenever possible, so let others pay for the baggage handlers, carts, conveyor belts, and so on. Cost to the cost-causer!
  • Give me a cheap base fare and let me choose which extras I want to pay for!

Regardless of their preferred fare structure, respondents favoring each of the three options said airfare sellers should clearly display extra fees during the booking process so it's easier to compare the true costs. A number of readers also said that if fees weren't included in the base fare, you should be able to add them on to your ticket purchase so that you aren't hit up at the airport:

  • I far prefer a more standardized pricing structure for the convenience it offers. Customers need to be able to comparison-shop and know what they're getting up front. These new fee-added structures simply lead to greater distrust of the airlines.
  • Let us choose which added services we want during the ticket-buying process so they get rolled into the final price.
  • Each airline should be required to post an online chart or list for each reservation that itemizes the base fare and all fees and optional charges. Let the customer select those options that he or she wants. When the customer prints out his or her final itinerary/ticket, have the itemized bill print out as well all purchased options so ticket agents, baggage check-in personnel, and flight attendants know what services have been pre-purchased (this should also be visible on the ticket agent's computer screen).

Most annoying fee?

Surprise, surprise. Of all the recent new fees added by the airlines, respondents told us they were most annoyed by the first-checked-bag fee (41 percent). Other options generated less anger, including seat-assignment fees (23 percent), fees for guaranteed customer service in the event of a delay or cancellation (18 percent), fees to redeem frequent flyer miles (10 percent), charges for water and soda (8 percent), and charges for snacks and meals (1 percent).

A few readers actually suggested the airline should add more fees, namely charges for carry-on bags and fares based on body weight:

  • Add carry-on-bag fees. There's going to be warfare on planes over overhead bin space with all the checked bag fees. There are already issues.
  • Consider charging for carry-ons instead of checked bags. Passengers with oversize carry-on bags contribute to longer security lines and increase the boarding process for everyone.
  • The weight of the passenger, as well as the weight of any additional checked bag beyond a specified weight should be factored into the base cost of the ticket.
  • Charge by the combined weight of the individual and their luggage. It is only fair considering the price of gas, and I am tired of subsidizing the fat.

Yikes, this is a volatile topic! Didn't get to voice your opinion in our initial survey? Take our poll or post a new comment here.

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