Airline Fee Horror Stories: Are Worse Fees on the Way?

Rick Seaney dishes on airline fee horror stories and what's to come.

January 27, 2011, 3:13 PM

Jan. 28, 2011 — -- I'm not sure Jeff Hart will ever trust a travel agent again.

The Dallas-based businessman put himself in the hands of a professional for a big family trip to Australia -- and when I say big, this was for four weeks, and each person had two bags.

Upon arrival in the Land Down Under, the group began traveling on discount airline JetStar. And that's when the horror began.

"You only get one bag per person," the JetStar agent told the horrified Hart as he and his brood presented themselves at the counter, But there was a silver lining.

"She felt sorry for us," he said, "so she only charged us a fraction of the total excess baggage charge -- a mere $600."

However, the travel agent had scheduled the family for three more JetStar flights, and if no one else took pity on them, Hart would be out more unanticipated fees to the tune of $2,700.

Hart forked over the first $600, but later ground-shipped most of his bags to his final Australian destination. He figures he got off relatively easy since the Aussie post office only charged him about $300.

That's not the only horror story I've heard.

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A commenter on my website told me of being charged 2 percent of the cost of her flight for simply using a credit card to book it. I was a little skeptical, but when I checked with her carrier -- Europe's discount airline EasyJet, based at London's Luton Airport -- I discovered she was indeed wrong; she was actually charged 2.5 percent!

See for yourself on EasyJet's website: "Bookings made by [Visa, MasterCard, American Express, etc.] will incur an additional fee of 2.5 percent of the total transaction value, with a minimum charge of £4.95."

Good thing this doesn't happen on this side of the Pond?oh, wait. I guess that's what Allegiant Airlines' "convenience fee" of $14.99 is all about: A charge for using your card to book a flight on its website. Guess who that's convenient for?

That's nothing, however, compared to showing up at the gate with a carry-on bag for your Spirit Airlines flight, only to be told, "That'll be $45." Plus, if any of you women out there board Europe's Ryanair toting both a purse and a carryon, one of those items must be checked -- for a fee of $56.

Airline Fees Getting Worse?

One bright spot amid the madness: a judge in Spain recently ruled that Ryanair could not charge a fee (a hefty $53) to customers who arrived at the airport without a boarding pass; according to the ruling, this is something airlines are responsible for. Naturally, Ryanair plans to appeal.

Anyway, my fellow passengers, this is why it's so important to know-before-you-go -- you don't want to be gobsmacked by all these fees. Actually, legislators have been making noises for months about forcing more fee transparency on the airlines, to make it easier to find them on carrier websites.

That works for me, but what about fees that aren't exactly fees? Example: the "peak travel day" surcharge.

We saw these being added in a wholesale manner back in the autumn of 2009, to to popular Thanksgiving and Christmas travel dates; more recently, United and Continental added these surcharges to all future travel dates. Note: these surcharges are baked into the price of your ticket; unlike bag fees, you can't avoid them no matter what you do.

Bad as that is, though, it pales in comparison to the good old "change fee" of up to $150. You may not know about this fee if you haven't flown lately, or even if you have and simply haven't changed a ticket -- but alter your itinerary at your financial peril!

It could be worse, especially when you consider the buzz over the possibility of oil jumping to $100 a barrel this year.

My fee predictions for the year include: a charge for lap infants -- children under the age of 2 who share a seat with an adult (something we're already seeing this in Europe); a charge for overweight carry-on bags, which is already the practice at Hawaiian Airlines; and then there's the possibility of charging coach passengers for transoceanic meals, and charging them for water and sodas on domestic flights.


If that last one sounds familiar, it's because US Airways tried it back in August of 2008. It went over about as well as Ricky Gervais' Golden Globe performance (though he made me laugh out loud); apparently, the airline expected all its rivals would join in and when they didn't, US Airways quietly dropped the whole thing. I think someone else will try again this year, and soon the nation's airspace will be filled with the sound of flight attendants sweetly saying, "Diet Coke? That'll be two dollars."

Let's let the beleaguered Mr. Hart of the horrendous bag fees story get in a final word: "From now on," he told me, "I'm traveling light."

I suppose if anything can teach us to use a carry-on, the prospect of thousands of dollars in fees can.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and does not reflect the opinion of ABC News.

Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations that include ABC News, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg. His website,, offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deals.

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