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Some Fees Up by 50 Percent, Will it Ever Stop?

Fees go up from time to time, $5 here, $10 there. In isolation, none of these hikes make a huge difference—they’re more like little pinpricks than big slashes. But those small, incremental increases add up. USA Today reports that many fees are up as much as 50 percent since last summer.

Reading that, I thought to myself: Sounds about right. So I dug up a version of our fees chart from last July (the 24th, to be exact) to see some of those discrepancies for myself. Here are the highlights (or lowlights, more accurately):

  • Most airlines—notably AirTran, Alaska, Delta, Continental, United, US Airways, and Virgin America—charged $15 for the first checked bag last summer. But that number is around $23 or $25 now. Among the airlines that charge for the first checked bag, AirTran and Alaska have the cheapest fee.
  • Second-bag fees have risen, too. Most airlines charge between $32 and $35 now, up from $25 to $30 a year ago.
  • Spirit‘s fees have gone down in a few cases (members of its fare club pay $15 for the first bag, down from $19 a year ago), but obviously this is rendered largely meaningless by the airline’s carry-on bag fees, which didn’t exist last year (except, likely, in CEO Ben Baldanza’s dreams).
  • Virgin America‘s fee for additional bags has gone up as well, from $15 for bags three and beyond last year to $25 now.
  • Fees for overweight bags have gone up or, in some cases become more complicated. AirTran, for example, hiked its fee for bags between 51 and 71 pounds by $10. Midwest used to charge $50 for bags between 51 and 70 pounds and $65 for bags between 71 and 100 pounds; now it charges $75 for bags between 51 and 100 pounds. Similarly, United used to charge $50 for bags between 51 and 70 pounds and $100 for bags between 71 pounds and 100 pounds. Now the airline just hits any overweight bag with a $100 fee.

There’s good news, though: Some fees have gone down. I’m not kidding!

  • Frontier lowered its change fee from $150 to “up to” $100.
  • Alaska‘s second-bag fee came down $5, from $25 to $20.
  • Alaska lowered its fees for additional bags from $50 for bag number three and $100 for bags four through seven to $20 and $50, respectively. Spirit lowered its fees for bags three through five from $100 to $85.
  • JetBlue lowered its overweight bag fees from $90 for bags between 51 and 70 pounds and $175 for bags between 71 and 100 pounds to $50 and $100, respectively.

Make no mistake: fees are up, overall, and at best will be staying where they are. Having said that, it’s worth noting (get ready to knock on wood) that bag fees have been pretty stable since January, when most of the legacy lines made the jump I outlined above. A few airlines have matched in the months since, but by my count, this is roughly the longest we’ve gone without an across-the-board bag fee hike since bag fees became a part of our traveling lives.

What we have seen is all sorts of new fees for ancillary services—early boarding, seats toward the front of coach, and so forth. This, rather than bag fees, seems to be the focus right now, as airlines look to attach price tags to new items and services rather than hike fees already in place. Quite frankly, I’m not sure which is worse for the consumer. Certainly perks like legroom and early boarding are nice, but they’re hardly necessary. Better, I suppose, to charge for those than increase prices on services most people need, like checked bags.

Readers, what do you think about the state of airline fees? Do you think they’ve leveled off, or do you feel as if your wallet is still under siege?

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