The airlines call them ancillary revenues. Travelers call it nickel-and-diming. By whatever name, the dizzying array of fees that airlines now impose for everything from checked bags to carry-on bags to seat selection to ticket reissues is big business.
And it’s getting bigger.
A new study by industry consulting firm IdeaWorks found that the airlines’ ancillary fees had increased by almost 1,200 percent between 2007 and 2013, from $2.45 billion to $31.5 billion.
Although the overall trend is clear, and inescapable, not all airlines are equally oppressive when it comes to tagging every imaginable atomic particle of air travel with a surcharge. There are more and less egregious gougers.
According to the report, on a per-person basis, the airlines imposing the highest fees are as follows:
- $55.61 – Jet2.com
- $51.22 – Spirit
- $45.67 – Qantas
- $44.87 – Allegiant
- $44.43 – AirAsia
- $40.97 – United
- $38.93 – Korean Air
- $34.41 – Wizz Air
- $33.92 – Virgin Atlantic
- $32.61 – Alaska Air Group
Semantics matter here. The definition of “ancillary revenue” includes both niggling fees (Spirit’s fee to redeem miles within 180 days of departure) and fees for legitimate add-ons, like hotel or rental-car bookings made through the airlines’ websites, as well as revenue from the sale of frequent-flyer miles.
That explains why Jet2, a British leisure carrier that packages its flights with hotel stays, manages to top the list without incurring the high levels of consumer acrimony that Spirit does. And it partly explains why United, which last year booked $2.9 billion from the sale of MileagePlus miles, is identified as a high-fee airline, even though its a-la-carte pricing isn’t generally considered overly onerous.
In other words, the study requires plenty of reading between the lines to get an accurate picture of which airlines are gouging and which are delivering fair value.
What the IdeaWorks report makes clear is that consumers need a new and different report, one that shines a clear, bright light on just those fees that travelers find particularly vexing.
Until then, fee-gouging is like pornography. We may not know exactly how to define it, but we know it when we see it.
Reader Reality Check
Which of the airlines’ ancillary fees do you find most annoying?
This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.