Think the airlines are done with new fees? Not likely.
If past experience is any indicator, several new ones could be tacked on to your fare, maybe not today, but not tomorrow, but someday, soon, and for the rest of your flying life. The question is probably more when, than if. After all, Continental, Delta, and United have just added an extra $5 checked bag fee for anyone not pre-paying online, a move that will reduce labor costs at the airport, but with the added benefit of driving traffic to their websites at the expense of online travel agencies.
Airlines are making lots of money charging fees for checked baggage, ticket changes, frequent flyer programs, and other services (see the Airfarewatchdog blog for an up-to-date list), a lesson they learned from discount carriers in Europe, such as Ryanair and easyJet. (No matter what you think of Ryanair, at least it puts every single one of its fees in one handy chart.) But these foreign carriers charge for services that would seem unimaginable in the U.S. -- until, that is, you start seeing them on your credit card. No, you probably will never see a charge for using the onboard lavatories, at least not in the U.S. But here are some we won't be surprised to be paying for as U.S. airlines continue to lose millions ... and emulate foreign-based low cost carriers.
1. In person airport check-in. European carrier Ryanair will soon be charging you if you need human intervention to get a boarding pass at the airport (in fact, they're getting rid of airport check agents in entirely). Ditching check-in counters would allow U.S. airlines to eliminate staff and save millions. So you'd get a boarding pass online before heading for the airport, pay for your bags online, put them on the conveyor belt yourself, then head for the gate.
2. Online check-in. Ryanair already charges £5 for this, and since you'll soon have to check-in online, there's no way around it.
3. Paying with a credit card. Several European airlines charge a fee for this already, and also charge (albeit a bit less) for debit card purchases. Only way around this is to pay with cash.
4. Priority boarding fee. Pay a little bit extra (maybe $5) and after the parents with small children and elite frequent flyer members get boarded, you're next, with early dibs at the overhead bins.
5. Booking online. One U.S. airline, Allegiant, already charges for online bookings, as well as for phone bookings (only way to avoid a fee is to pay at the airport). They call it a convenience fee. Whose convenience, exactly?
6. Advanced seat selection. Several U.S. and foreign discount carriers already charge for this perk. We wouldn't be surprised to see other airlines follow suit. British Airways stopped offering advance selection on its cheapest fares (essentially charging a fee in the form of a much higher fare).
7. More frequent flyer fees. You already pay to cash in miles on short notice, to redeposit those miles if you don't use them, to change your frequent flyer ticket itinerary, and for other "services." How about a fee to preserve frequent flyer miles when there's no activity in your account (say per mile fee to protect miles from expiring, although you can do this if you make a purchase with their online shopping malls or use an airline credit card among other methods)?
8. Name change fees. As long as you give notice far in enough in advance, might the airlines let you transfer a ticket you can't use to another person for a fee ($100? $150?). Ryanair, surprise, charges for this.
9. Carry-on bag fee. They charge for checked bags, so why not for cabin luggage?
10. Infant fee. No more free rides for those lap riders two years and under. Ryanair currently charges £20 (about $33) per child.
11. Surcharges for musical instruments. Anyone who has seen that video about the broken guitar will understand why Ryanair charges £30 (about $50) for checking a musical instrument. Probably has something to do with the liability of transporting these fragile items. Or maybe, just maybe, it's to boost the bottom line.
Not that we want to see these new fees, nor are we encouraging airlines to add them. But if they do, you heard it here first.
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.
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