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Airlines Fees, They are a-Changin'

Delta Airlines

(tel. 800/221-1212; www.delta.com), soon to be the world's largest air carrier, has switched up their little bag of fees.
  1. It's adding a first checked bag fee $15. Premium class passengers, full fare coach passengers, and upper tier frequent flyers, are exempt. Effective Dec. 5, 2008.
  2. It's cutting in half its second checked bag fee, from $50 to $25. (If you've bought a ticket for travel on or after Dec. 5 you'll pay the previous rate).
  3. Fees for cashing in frequent flyer miles, ranging from $25 to $100 on Delta/Northwest, are eliminated, effective immediately.
  4. Northwest's "coach choice" premium seat fees will be added to Delta flights ($5 to $25 each way for certain aisle and exit row seats offering more leg room or easier access). Frequent flyer elites can book these seats at no charge.
  5. Delta has increased its in cabin pet fee from $100 to $150 each way, making it entirely possible for your pet's ticket to be more than your own.
  6. Clearly, Delta realizes that many pet owners will pay almost anything to have their dogs and cats with them in the safety of the cabin rather than in the hold.

In other pet fee updates: Continental now charges $250 RT (up from $190); Delta gouges a hefty $300 RT (a $100 increase); but United takes the cake, raising its fee from $200 up to $350 RT.

Unaccompanied minor fees have also gone up as well. Frontier now charges $50 per segment (so $200 RT on a connecting flight with one connection each direction), up from $40; and United now charges an industry leading $150 each way (connecting or nonstop), up from $99 each way.

United Rolls Back $50 Second Checked Bag Fee to $25

Hot on the heels of Delta's decision to cut their second checked bag fee to $25, United (tel. 800/241-6522; www.united.com) has decided not to implement its planned hike of a second bag fee to $50. It will remain at $25 for the foreseeable future. The first checked bag fee remains at $15. There are exceptions to these fees.

Plus, if you prepay your baggage fees online before departure, you'll save a whopping 20%. This discount applies through Jan 1, 2009 only and only to the first checked bag. Let's see. That saves you a whole $3?

USA3000 Resumes Milwaukee/Ft. Myers Service

On December 18, 2008, USA3000 (tel. 877/872-3000; www.usa3000airlines.com) will resume service from Milwaukee's General Mitchell International Airport to Ft. Myer's Southwest Florida International Airport. Service will be 6 times weekly and as always, USA3000 offers only nonstop flights. Grab some seats while they're incredibly cheap for winter travel away from the cold! At only $80 each way (plus tax and fees) it's a steal. Fares can be bought one way! Book on the USA3000 website and be sure to check the "flexible traveler" option to see the lowest fares. We were able to find some scarce seats from Milwaukee to Cancun as well. Those fares, starting at $249 each way plus tax/fees aren't quite so reasonable but may change so keep checking their site. In any event, they're nonstops as well and may help get you to sun and fun without any flight connections. We'd expect that down the line, the possibility of other destinations from the Milwaukee gateway may pop up as well.

One other note, while we're at it -- for USA3000's service from Chicago to St. Pete/Clearwater, Florida, also commencing on December 18, if you put the word "CHANGES" in the promo box on their website, you'll get an extra $5 off the already low $95 fare in each direction (January onward.)

Ryanair Rumor Mill

A recent resurgence of speculation about Ryanair's plans for expanding their successful barebones business model overseas by opening aggressively priced transatlantic routes to feed into their European network turns out to be nothing more than a slightly new spin on a fairly old story.

RyanAtlantic, as it may be called if and when it ever gets off the ground, has in fact been rumored for several years and still appears to be a couple years off at best. With airlines flopping left and right, surely now is not the time to start up such a risky new venture, although as we all know one man's, or airline's, failure can quickly become another's ticket to success.

Put it all down for now to Ryanair's hard-charging, rather mouthy CEO and his fondness for shaking things up and keeping his enemies on their toes and shaking in their runway boots. In fine Irish form, Mr. O'Leary enjoys telling a tall tale or two, and since his habit of dropping a well-placed hint now and then is enough to rile the competition, why not have some fun with it? That's why it's always best to take anything from the Ryanair rumor mill with a generous pinch of salt and wash it down with a pint of Guinness.

One surprising fact is that with or without intercontinental routes Ryanair has already become the world's largest international airline, but even this undeniable truth is a bit deceptive. Although Ryanair operates much like a domestic carrier on over 700 European routes, most of these flights and their sardine-packed passengers are still classified as international, flying fish or otherwise, and besides, Air France-KLM would be bigger still if they could just decide to couple their lovely figures.

Still, any way you look at the numbers Ryanair's success is impressive. In the same manner that Southwest has quietly and steadily grown into the world's largest airline, Ryanair has, perhaps less quietly, crept up the list to number 10 and is very close to overtaking Continental. Europeans are really just getting used to the sort of casual, no-frills, low-cost air travel that Americans have been spoiled with for decades, so Ryanair is likely to continue growing and making everyone else look over their shoulders. We'll be sure to let you know when you should start looking, and packing, too.

Everything You need to Know About Fare Classes

Recently, we gave you a primer on airline fare codes: What they look like, what they mean, and how they're different from airline to airline. So you know how to go about deciphering those codes once you've already searched a fare, but how about putting those fare codes to work for you? Find out here in the blog.

Additional Reporting by Andrea Bennett, Bo Borre, Alisa Brayman, and Tracy Stewart

George Hobica is a syndicated travel journalist and blogger whose website, www.airfarewatchdog.com, tracks unadvertised airfare wars and fare sales, including the most helpful and always updated Top 50 Airfares.