Good Airline Fees? Some Are Worth the Money
It's no secret the airline industry wants you to pay extra for everything.
And I really mean everything.
A fee to pay?
A water fee? It's hard to find a discount carrier that doesn't make you pay for soft drinks, including bottled water.
A fee to pee? Yeah,
But this isn't another story about airlines and their misguided fees. It's about the surcharges that are worth paying -- and why you should consider saying, "yes" to them. That's right, I said "worth it." While many fees are outrageous, some aren't entirely out of line.
If nothing else, fees are unbelievably profitable. The domestic airlines collected roughly
Most passengers I know don't mind paying fees, as long as they do all of the following:
They're optional. And it must be a real choice. Everyone uses a credit card, so a "convenience" fee to pay with plastic isn't a true choice. Neither is a fee for the first bag, because at a time when the TSA has banned toothpaste and hair gel in reasonable sizes from all carry-ons, almost everyone checks a bag.
They don't charge for something that used to be free. The best fees add something instead of taking away. For example, after 9/11 many airlines upgraded their in-flight menus and then began charging for food. Almost no one complained, because airlines had already done away with in-flight meals on most domestic flights. Taking a bag of pretzels that used to be free and charging for it would have been the wrong move.
They add value. JetBlue does this well. Whether it's pillows or movies, the airline seems to know that adding to the product is the best way to do fees -- not by removing amenities and services. I have a full interview with the airline in which its fee philosophy is explained. Giving passengers more for their money has made the airline profitable.
They're reasonable. Charging a
So why have so many bad fees prevailed? Probably because we've let them, says airline analyst
Or so it seems.
The trend toward bad fees is reversible if passengers would only pay the surcharges they believed in. I asked travelers to help me identify those "good" fees. Here's what they said:
In-flight wireless: This is yet another example of adding value. As long as the costs stay reasonable and the service is reliable, in-flight Wi-Fi is a winner, according to passengers like
I completely agree. I tested Gogo on a flight from
Sections with more legroom:
Other travelers I spoke with said they liked
Elite treatment: A fee that allows you to get preferential treatment without having to spend half of your life on a plane is a pretty good deal.
That's what readers like
How about the bad ones?
Seat and reservation fees: I've already touched on these ugly surcharges. Permit me to beat the horse until it's dead: Schemes that defraud passengers of
These seat fees aren't right because you're paying for something twice: once for the ticket, once for the seat reservation. Aren't they one and the same?
Convenience fees: Paying to pay is, as I've mentioned earlier, outright immoral. And it's not just Allegiant and Spirit playing this fool's game. Most of the big airlines charge extra to book by phone, another form of "convenience" fee.
Luggage fees and other nonsense surcharges: You know a silly fee when you see one. Unfortunately, most airlines don't.
Sharon Strelzer, a marketing manager from
Actually, not a bad idea. But carriers know that nothing sells seats like a low fare, so they're not going for it. Until they do, these absurd surcharges will probably keep popping up everywhere.
In a perfect world, if enough airline passengers paid for the right fees and avoided the wrong ones, then market forces would compel airlines to do the right thing. But it's not a perfect world. Some carriers have a near-monopoly in certain cities, making it difficult for markets to operate the way they're supposed to.
Jim Goyjer, a
"We need to re-regulate the airlines," he says.
Now there's an idea.
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(c) 2010 Christopher Elliott
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