TravelNerd Study Finds Over 50 U.S. Airline Fee Changes Since Last Year

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Most changes were a result of baggage fee increases, according to TravelNerd's new analysis.

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U.S. carriers are becoming creative at charging consumers extra fees.

There’s no question about it – airline fees are on the rise, straining travelers’ vacation budgets. Amadeus and Ideaworks estimate 2012 worldwide airline fee revenue at $36.1 billion. This estimated 11% increase over 2011 caused a lot of consumer uproar. While the figures are enormous, it’s not exactly clear how they affect the U.S. traveler. TravelNerd, the developer of the web’s only airline fees comparison and search tool, analyzed its data and found that U.S. airlines changed more than 50 different fees since January 2012.

Summary Findings

  • 36 out of the 52 fee changes are direct fee increases, with the remaining changes predominantly a result of:
  •     Bundling / unbundling of fees (e.g. instituting 1 fee for priority boarding and seating or instituting 2 separate fees for priority boarding and seating that were previously bundled into 1 fee)
  •     Increasing fee price ranges (e.g. Spirit changed its premium seat fees from $25-$75 to $12-$199)
  •     Redefining fee policies (e.g. Allegiant kept the same fee price of $50 for overweight bags 51-70 pounds but changed the fee policy to apply for bags 41-70 pounds)
  • 28 out of the 52 fee changes are related to baggage fees, 19 changes are related to service fees, and 5 changes are related to in-flight fees
  • Despite Spirit’s infamous $100 per carry-on bag fee, the majority of fee increases were within $5-$10
  • 18 out the 52 fee changes are attributed to Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air, ultra low cost carriers (ULCCs) notorious for charging fees
  • Lastly, a small ray of hope comes from United Airlines, who reduced its overweight bag fees from $200 to $100 for bags 51-70 pounds and from $400 to $200 for bags 71-100 pounds

“These changes have had a tremendous impact on U.S. travelers, especially on families. Travelers really have to be extra cautious when booking a flight. U.S. carriers are becoming creative at charging consumers extra fees,” says Alicia Jao, VP Travel Media at TravelNerd. “A new trend that we’re currently seeing is carriers bundling and tiering services. This practice is not only more confusing for travelers, but it also complicates price comparison. Even airlines that have touted fewer fees are joining the game, indicating only more fees in 2013.”

The TravelNerd study compared the fees (including announced upcoming fee changes) of 14 major U.S. airlines in January 2013 to those reported by the airlines throughout 2012, tracking each change. Airline fees were categorized as baggage fees, service fees, or in-flight fees.

Baggage fees

  •     Carry-on bag
  •     First checked bag
  •     Second checked bag
  •     Additional checked bags
  •     Overweight checked bag
  •     Oversized checked bag
  •     Pet in cabin
  •     Pet checked with baggage

Service fees

  •     Ticket change online
  •     Ticket change in person / over the phone
  •     Seat selection
  •     Preferred / premium seats
  •     Priority boarding

In-flight fees

  •     Unaccompanied minors
  •     Food and beverages
  •     Other (blankets, pillows, headphones, etc.)

TravelNerd included the following announced and upcoming fees in its study:

  •     Airtran’s checked bag fee increases (February 13)
  •     Allegiant’s checked bag fee increases (April 30)
  •     Southwest’s checked bag fee increases (February 13)

About TravelNerd
TravelNerd, a division of NerdWallet, is committed to empowering consumers to make the best decisions about travel planning and booking. From choosing the best airport transportation to finding the cheapest airline fees, TravelNerd focuses on helping travelers save time and money. The TravelNerd Airport app for iPhone® and iPad® and online tools have been featured in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Consumerist, LifeHacker, MarketWatch, CNBC, CNET, and Reuters.

iPhone® and iPad® are registered trademarks of Apple, Inc.

Press Contact
Jessica Ayala
jessica (at) nerdwallet (dot) com

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