It's a fact that airlines made most of their operating profit in 2010 from all those added fees that we love to hate. Indeed, without them, some airlines would have been in the red. So are the airlines done with new fees? We somehow doubt it. And although we're not encouraging airlines to do so, here are some new fees that we might see in 2011:
Infant Fees: Lap children currently fly for free on domestic U.S. flights, but will this always be the case? Europe's Ryanair, never shy about adding new fees, charges €20 (about $30 or so) each way for lap children. The U.S. is considering banning lap children for safety reasons, requiring instead that parents buy seats and place little ones in child-restraint systems. But if the government doesn't act, we might see the airlines make a move.
In-Person Check-in: You've probably already used an airport kiosk to check in and get a boarding pass, or you've done it online at home. Easy, right? But these conveniences also reduce airline personnel costs. What if airlines start charging a fee to check in with a live agent? You'll weigh and measure your bags at home, calculate and pay any fees online before leaving for the airport, print out a boarding pass or get one from a kiosk, and then drop any bags off with bag-check staff at the conveyor belt. Otherwise, you'll pay an in-person check in fee.
Using a Credit Card: Airlines abroad already charge small fees for ticket purchases -- unless you paid in cash. Could we see U.S. airlines do the same? No worries, you'll get a break if you use your airline-affiliated credit card.
Checked Bag Fees by the Pound: Many foreign airlines charge a flat fee for bags weighing up to a certain limit, and then charge by the kilogram or pound for anything over and above. Your bag could cost way more than your fare.
Name-Change Fees: Some travelers might actually welcome this, if the price is right. You bought a non-refundable ticket you can't use, so rather than throwing it out, you'll pay a fee to assign it to another passenger.
No More Refunds if a Fare Goes Down: This wouldn't make anyone very happy, least of all our friends at Yapta.com (www.yapta.com), but what if airlines stopped issuing any kind of refund if a fare went down between the time you buy and the time you fly? Short-lived Skybus (remember them?) adopted this practice and some foreign airlines follow it. Currently, only Alaska, JetBlue, and Southwest issue a full credit, but other airlines charge a change fee (typically $150 on a domestic fare). Will the "fee" go to 100 percent of your fare?
Carry-on Bag Fees: Last year, Spirit began charging for carry-ons that don't fit under the seat in front and seems to be still flying. Will other airlines catch on?
Fare Lock-In Fees: Continental offered this for the first time in late 2010 (you pay a fee, which varies depending on the route, to lock in a fare for three or seven days). Will other airline follow in 2011?
Internet "Convenience Fee": Whose convenience is this, anyway? Ryanair charges €5 per passenger each way to "cover costs associated" with its booking system. Several years ago, US Airways briefly charged $5 for booking online, and Allegiant Airlines also charges an online booking fee ($14.99). Who'll be next? Oh, and Happy New Year.
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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