Airline Fees: Six Ways They Say 'Gotcha'

Ever go to the airport and get a nasty surprise? Or maybe you get these "gotchas" online.

It happened to Stephanie Bowen of Washington, D.C., recently, while she was arranging a visit for her teenage niece who lives in San Diego.

Since her niece had never flown solo before, the family opted to pay American Airlines' unaccompanied minor fee -- a fee they somewhat naively believed would cost perhaps $25. The shock: It was four times that much, each way. "Five dollars for a blanket is one thing," Bowen said, "but 100 bucks to help a kid walk through the terminal? That just seems rude."

Actually, a blanket is $7 on JetBlue and US Airways. As for the unaccompanied minor fee, let's be totally clear: It's $200 per roundtrip flight, and that's standard on airlines like Continental, Delta, Spirit and US Airways (United gives you a break by only charging "only" $99 each-way, and yes, the sarcasm font is on).

Now, was this fee truly hidden -- a bonafide "gotcha"? No. It's there on the website if you search for it. But a lot of people don't find these fees or other "surprises," or don't find them easily or bother to look. The result: a nasty little shock.

Maybe you've been electrified yourself. Here are six of my least favorite "gotchas."

For more air travel news and insights, visit Rick's blog at: http://farecompare.com

No. 1: The Unexpected Fee

These are unexpected or "hidden fees" that are the bane of leisure travelers, especially for those who don't fly often -- like the previously mentioned blanket fee (upside: you get to keep the blanket, and it comes with a little pillow).

However, think twice before you pick up the phone to make a reservation: Most airlines will charge you for that convenience, anywhere from $10 (Allegiant) to $35 (for international reservations with US Airways).

Of course, if you have to use the phone because you're "online phobic," you may never know about this fee because where else are you going to find it except online?

One more unexpected fee, and technically it's really a targeted airfare hike: the "peak travel day" surcharge. Airlines have been adding this since last November (when it was called a "holiday" surcharge), and you'll find airline surcharges of varying prices every day through Aug. 22.

No. 2: The Total Airline Ticket Cost

I know you've seen this: An airfare is advertised at a great price, and so you decide to buy. But when you get to the end of the transaction, you find yourself asking, "What the heck happened to my bargain?"

The answer, often, is taxes, fees and fuel surcharges. On flights to Europe, for example, the average fuel surcharge is $230 and taxes are an average of $125, so you spend about $355 before you even purchase the ticket.

Now, airlines and others don't exactly hide these extra costs, but they often appear in small print. Since 1984, the government has required all airfare advertisers to reveal the full fare, but in practice, certain government-imposed charges have long been allowed to be listed separately from the total price.

However, changes may be coming: The Department of Transportation is considering going back to the original intent of the airfare rule, which states that any advertisement that "is not the total price to be paid by the consumer [is] an unfair and deceptive practice."

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