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Airlines Add Surcharge on Peak Summer Travel Days

Airlines have added surcharges of $10 to $30 on popular travel dates throughout the summer, much like they did this past holiday season. Charging more for popular travel dates is hardly a new idea, of course, and these surcharges allow airlines to target specific peak dates.

According to USA Today, the “five big airlines—American, Delta, Continental, United and US Airways— have surcharges on most flights on 73 of 74 days June 10 through Aug. 22.” Southwest and JetBlue do not have surcharges, and it’s not clear if other low-cost carriers are in on the surcharge game.

The cheapest surcharges, $10, are mostly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and the most expensive ones, $30, tend to be on Sundays. The rest of the days are usually $20. July 4 is the only day without a surcharge.

I’m ambivalent about these surcharges. I think they’re obnoxious—they made my list of the worst airline fees of the year for 2009—but in the grand scheme of things the airlines are just doing what they do: Charging more on the days people really want to fly. That’s business. Of course, in this case, the “days people really want to fly” is effectively the entire summer, and these surcharges therefore amount to a de facto fare hike. And unlike the holiday surcharges, the blanket approach taken here means the surcharges are unavoidable (unless you book Southwest or JetBlue).

But travelers are used to dealing with pernicious airline gimmicks. Do a thorough price comparison and choose the fare that works for you. And if you don’t want to pay the surcharge on principle, steer clear of airlines that have made a habit of using them. 

Readers, what do you think about these “holiday” surcharges? Are they worth getting angry about? Or are they the latest in a long line of mean-spirited industry scheming?

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