A recent msnbc.com article posed a question most travelers and travel writers have been tossing around for years: “How many previously free services can [airlines] force fliers to pay for without risking a revolt?” At the moment, of course, we’re nowhere near an answer to this question. Airlines continue adding or raising fees while travelers, to the extent the economy allows, continue traveling.
The true crux of the fees issue is summarized succinctly by a quote from Richard Aboulafia, vice president of Teal Group, an aerospace and defense consulting firm. “Consumers love to bellyache and whine [about fees],” Aboulafia says, “and then, of course, they go straight to the Web site and click on the lowest price.”
While I might word that statement differently, I have a hard time disagreeing with it. After all, the very premise of SmarterTravel is to help people find the right trip at the right price, and years of experience have shown that the “right price” is almost always the lowest one. At the same time, our million-plus readers hate fees. We receive countless comments and emails chastising airlines for their laundry list of extra charges, and nearly as much praise for airlines like Southwest and JetBlue, both of which have fewer fees than most carriers.
All of this, of course, is what makes Aboulafia’s statement, and the premise of msnbc’s article, so fascinating: Which is the lesser of two evils, fees or fares? If United proposed to scrap most of its everyday fees (bags, food) in favor of a $35 across-the-board fare hike—essentially a return to the old way of doing business—would you prefer that? Are fees so obnoxious that you’d pay more to get more?
For me, the answer is a “sort of.” I’m a big fan of the JetBlue model, where enough substantial perks are included in the fare to satisfy a majority of travelers (the first checked bag, snacks, in-flight entertainment) and beyond that, you have to pay extra. This seems like a fair shake to me, and I would be willing to pay more to other carriers that adopted a similar approach.
So what about you? Would you pay more for fee-free travel? Or are you happier digging out the lowest fare and doing what you can to circumvent the fees? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts. Thanks!