Why Airlines Are Nickel and Dime-ing You

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Making Reservations by Phone

The airlines don't want you to do this. It costs them money to hire a human to deal with your reservation, and their Web sites do the job cheaply. So most airlines will make you pay for the human contact (and remind you that phone reservations may not allow you to take advantage of Web site specials). Ryanair is free (aside from the cost of long distance), but others will charge anywhere from $5 (Northwest) to $35 (US Airways) just to make that one call.

Fee Chart

Take a look at the following chart, and see what else you pay for (including curbside baggage check-in fees that have really angered the Skycaps, since most people seem to think the fee includes the tip — it doesn't, folks, so add a couple of extra bucks for those hard-working luggage wranglers).

Take a look at the second bag charge heading in the columns above; that's a fee that really caught my eye. Remember when checking two bags for free was a given? Today, seven out of these 10 airlines will charge you for the privilege of checking a second bag (or they will starting next month). And Ryanair charges you for the first bag, as well as the second. United Airlines alone notes that this new $25 second-bag charge will add another $100 million per year to their bottom line.

Notice I haven't mentioned change fees; but then, they've been around for awhile. You know how it works: you have a ticket from Indianapolis to Los Angeles and, as you get closer to departure day, you decide you'd really rather fly into Burbank or you have to change the dates. The cost of changing the ticket is the difference in price of your new flight and your old flight after deducting the typical change fee of $100. But just this week, United Airlines has upped the ante; changing your plane tickets with them is now going to cost you $150, effectively removing the bulk of the residual value of most unused leisure tickets.

And now, United has decided to bring back the old Saturday night stay-price differential. Most airlines dropped these requirements several years ago, to the delight of business travelers who planned ahead but were penalized with higher fares because they preferred not to spend a Saturday night on the road. Look for more airlines to resurrect this old rule, all in the name of raising revenue.

So back to our riddle; I did a little experiment: I pulled out our bathroom scale, and loaded it with a few common items a man and a woman would pack for an overnight trip. My little pile consisted of the following:

A curling iron

A navy blazer

The latest Joseph Wambaugh bestseller (hardback thriller)

Small cosmetic bag

Pair of women's sneakers

Pair of men's dress shoes

Pair of jeans

Total weight: 12 lbs.

I was surprised. All that weight, and not much in the way of clothing or other stuff you might need on a multi-day trip. And that reminds me: wherever you travel, pack as lightly as you can (Honey, this means you!).

I smirked earlier this year when I read a German travel agency had announced a flight for nudists. Let's hope the idea of charging people for the privilege of wearing clothes doesn't cross the desk of any especially ambitious airline bean counters!

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