April 23, 2008 — -- Here's a riddle for you: What do my wife's curling iron, the latest hardback thriller and my favorite jeans have in common?
The answer (which I'll reveal at the end) has to do with the way airlines are nickel-and-diming us to death these days. I am not talking about the plane tickets, though the cost of airfare is bad enough, what with the post-9/11 security fees, airport/government tack-ons and the increasingly nasty fuel surcharges.
These airline ticket charges alone can be like deciphering your latest phone bill — just when you think you've seen all the fees, you suddenly come to that last page with those 3,000 text messages your teenager racked up. But at least we know about the extras that make up our ticket, and once the ticket is purchased, that's it, we're done.
Only, we're not. Get out your wallet.
What I'm talking about are those hidden-in-plain-sight costs. Think of the free meals we used to get that we now have to pay for. The extra baggage charges. The headset fees.
And you know why it happens: it's a new stream of revenue for airlines who are trying just about anything to make a buck in order to keep their heads above water, with oil near $120 a barrel. Not to mention the added "benefit" to the airlines of making the "total cost" of the air portion of your trip harder to compare.
These "nickels and dimes" do add up. For example, last year American Airlines flew approximately 100 million passengers. If 15 percent of them checked a bag at the curb at $2 per bag, that's a cool $30 million in additional revenue.
So I decided to take a closer look at these fees on the following airlines: AirTran, American, Continental, Delta, JetBlue, Northwest, Ryanair (Ireland), Southwest, United and US Airways.
I broke down these costs into categories that I think we all make use of from time to time: food service, phone reservations, headsets, a second bag charge, curbside check-in fees and the cost of transporting pets. And this is what I learned:
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.