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Will the airlines ever stop adding new fees? Insert your favorite Geico commercial response question here. As long as airlines can dream up new fees, they’ll add new fees. And they’ll probably try to figure out new ways to merchandise the old fees, too.
The latest entrant is JetBlue’s new “Even More Speed” option that gets you into priority security lines at 14 of JetBlue’s most important airports: Austin, Baltimore, Buffalo, Charlotte, Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York/JFK, Newark, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington/Dulles, with Boston coming on board in July and others added later.
For now, JetBlue bundles Even More Speed with its older but somewhat improved “Even More Space” option for extra-legroom seats in the front of the cabins. The space option also now includes early boarding and therefore priority access to cherished space in the overhead bins. Together, JetBlue re-brands both options under the “Even More” umbrella, which will undoubtedly see future additions. Prices for the bundle start at $10 for a short flight and run up to around $100 for longer flights. JetBlue says it will sell Even More Speed separately “later this year.”
I expect that the Even More bundle will attract a good following. To me, the real value is in the extra legroom, which puts JetBlue at the very top of the entire industry in coach/economy seating. The closest rival—United’s Economy Plus—charges extra for legroom that just matches JetBlue’s no-fee seats.
Although many big airlines provide priority check-in and screening lines for premium class travelers and exalted level frequent flyers, United is the only other line I know that sells priority screening to anyone for a fee. It’s part of a laundry list of options United sells individually or in various bundles as premier travel. I expect other lines will copy the JetBlue/United bundled fee model.
Overall, you continue to see lots of ink and pixels devoted to complaints about airline’s hidden fees. To me, those complaints are somewhat misguided: Few, if any, are actually hidden in the sense that hotel resort fees are often completely hidden even through the final purchase process. But some fees are worse than others:
- The very worst are the fees Allegiant and Spirit charge to book through their own websites. Just about everyone agrees that online booking is by far the airlines’ lowest cost way of selling tickets. But the only way to avoid extra fees on Allegiant and Spirit is to buy at an airport counter, which means, for most of you, a separate schlep to an airport, with its accompanying driving and parking expenses. Obviously, that’s a nonstarter for most, and charging to book online is really a scam.
- Next worse are those “because we can” fees that charge for services that don’t cost the airline anything, but instead serve to advantage some travelers while disadvantaging those who don’t pony up the extra. That includes all of the early boarding, priority this and that, and other such fees.
- Fees for providing something that actually add to an airline’s cost are another matter. Even though baggage check, meals, snacks, and such were once included in the price of a ticket, those features do add to an airline’s cost and charging extra for them has some justification.
Even though most fees aren’t really hidden, airlines often don’t give you the particulars until well along in the buying process. Ideally, you should be able to specify what extras you want at the beginning of a fare search and find results with all the fees included. I really don’t understand why the big online travel agencies don’t already do that—as they do with rental cars—but so far they don’t. Last year I reported on Truprice.net, a startup outfit that was developing a search system incorporating fees from the start. Although it had a beta version up and running at the time, its website now just says “website under construction.” The idea was and is a good one; I hope Truprice can get it going again soon.