Have the Airlines Gone Nuts? More New Fees

PHOTO: A Delta airlines aircraft takes off from the Ronald Reagan National airport as the sun rises in Washington, DC, June 9, 2011.

Lots of festive events coming up in July, including one for travelers.

There's the Fourth of July of course, along with Canada Day, Bastille Day and lesser-known celebrations like National Ice Cream Day (July 21) and National Nude Day (no, I never heard of it either but it's on July 14).

The one of special interest for travelers falls on July 1 and I call it, Pay-for-soft-drinks-on-Frontier Day. Actually it's more than a single holiday since that'll be the airline's new policy from that day forward (if you purchase the airline's cheapest tickets).

And you thought they were done nickeling and diming us. Hardly, and Frontier is not alone with new or newly increased fees. Have they all gone nuts?

RELATED: Frontier Airlines Will Charge Some Customers for Carry-Ons, Introduces a Fee for Soft Drinks

For more travel news and insights view Rick's blog at farecompare.com

Maybe "nuts" is not the word. Brazen comes to mind, but so does survival.

Let's look at Frontier again since they asked for it by charging two bucks for a Dr. Pepper (not to mention water and coffee). And how about Frontier's new carry-on fee? It doesn't apply to all Frontier flyers but for those affected, it rises to a mind-blowing $100 if you wait to pay at the gate (yes, just like Spirit Airlines).

Frontier's spin: the new bag fee "improves the travel experience" for loyal customers. Motley Fool's Brian Stoffel calls that an insult to our intelligence. "Come on, guys," he wrote, "Why not just say that you need the money?"

The new fee is a penalty for booking offsite. Book on Frontier and carry-ons are free. Or are they? You may face a much harsher financial penalty if you don't use a comparison shopping site (such as Travelocity, Orbitz or Expedia) and that penalty can be paying a lot more for tickets than you have to. This can and does happen if you don't compare prices.

I'm not picking on Frontier. Look how American, Delta, United and US Airways have all raised change fees from $150 to $200, which has the potential to affect most flyers since most buy non-refundable tickets, far and away the cheapest ones available.

RELATED: AA, Delta Match Change Fee Increase of United, US Airways

Even easy-going Southwest is getting fee-friendly. They used to let you miss a flight without bothering to notify them and you could put that unused ticket toward a future flight, but no more. This fall, its new no-show policy kicks in so call ahead when you have to cancel or your ticket's worth zip.

And now, a riddle: How can a baggage fee cost $800? Easy, just fly round-trip on United with a bag that weighs more than 70 pounds to Mexico or the Caribbean, that's how. And don't yell at United since Hawaiian does the same thing on many of its international routes.

Plenty of fees have changed but you may not know it; airlines don't exactly do PR blitzes on fees and the media only take note of sexy ones like bags (and even the relatively activist Dept. of Transportation is having a hard time keeping up with disclosure requirements). If you have any doubts, check with your airline before you fly to avoid nasty surprises, especially this summer. If you were planning to vacation with Fido, for instance, you may not know US Airways no longer accepts animals in cargo and its in-cabin pet fee now costs $125 each way.

Rising fees is thoroughly international trend, by the way. We've all heard the horror stories: If you show up for your Ryanair flight without a boarding pass, they'll be happy to print one out for you - for $108! Meanwhile, Air India just lowered its baggage allowance while raising overweight charges so a bag that used to be free now costs fifty bucks.

I could go on and on, but what's really changed is how airlines look at fees. They're today's cash cows and hate them if you must but there is a certain brutal honesty to them: You pay for what you use. Don't take a pet, don't buy a drink, don't load up a big suitcase with rock specimens and you won't pay a dime extra.

For airlines, fees are what it's all about today, revenue-wise. Consider that back in 1990, almost 88 percent of airline revenue was received from airfares. Makes sense, right? But last year, fares were only 70 percent of revenue. Guess where the rest came from?

Still, it's painful. One fee-furious commenter says he expects the day will come when buying a ticket will get you - well, just a ticket: "You will have to pay extra," he predicted, "to actually go anywhere."

Meantime, maybe we can take a tip from the National Nude Day celebrants. No clothes* means no annoying baggage fees.

*A German charter actually advertised a 'nudist flight' a few years back but for some reason it never got off the ground. Perhaps there was concern about spilling hot coffee during turbulence.

The opinions expressed by Rick Seaney are his alone and not those of ABC News.

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