Carrier surcharges are an increasingly bad joke — and worth a look by Congress

Airline fees have been comic fodder for years — especially with budget and international airlines.

Carrier surcharges

Image courtesy of British Airways

I remember being in London over a decade ago and seeing a comedian do a great riff on Ryanair and equivalents. Those tickets cost maybe five pounds, but you ended up paying 100 pounds by the time you actually got on the plane. For transatlantic flights British Airways added a carrier surcharge.

In the U.S., Spirit is usually and justifiably the butt of similar jokes and presumably comic routines. And increasingly, companies like Ticketmaster and Stubhub get criticized, and may be facing legislation in Congress for fees that can more than double the price of a ticket.

But at times major airline carriers are almost as much of a bad joke. They deserve more investigation for carrier surcharges..

Airline fees are out of control. Watch out for carrier surcharges!

Get refunds in cash when airlines cancel your flightI have a client flying to Kauai in February for $398 roundtrip from San Francisco. A great fare in coach. Then they asked about getting extra legroom seats — not first class, but the same seats with a few more inches of space. That cost $348 roundtrip. Yes, $50 less than the price of the ticket. In theory, for $50 they could buy one more seat and have room to put their legs sideways plus an extra tray table and underseat space.

Then there’s what airlines used to call “fuel surcharges.” Quickly, they realized that they didn’t want to lower them when fuel prices went down. Hence, a name change.

A fare to London around Easter, including seat assignments, a checked bag, and potentially changeable, also from San Francisco — $925.00 coach. Not bad. But the fare itself was only $271.00 plus tax, with a $410 “carrier surcharge.”

It’s about as bad — or worse — in business class. A fantastic sale. $1488.00 roundtrip, again plus many taxes. And a $1910 “carrier surcharge.”  The total $3775.00

Now, originally the higher surcharges for business class was supposedly because business class seats took up more room and required more fuel. Or something. Now, it’s just “because we can.”

Carrier surcharges (especially on non-US airlines) are non-discountable and non-commissionable.

And again, in some ways who cares if the price total is the same? But the carrier surcharges/fees not only mean deceptive original pricing in some systems, but these surcharges are non-discountable and non-commissionable. So corporations and tour operators who contract with airlines, and travel agents with commission deals, get no discount or payment on the fees.

Also, as Congress increasingly investigates monopolies and oligopolies for anti-competitive, anti-consumer behavior, these surcharges especially are increasingly not random. As in to London, for example, British Airways and United Airlines have EXACTLY the same surcharge in business class: $1,910.00. Yes, the same $10 added to $1900.00.

In addition, and perhaps most importantly, while these “surcharges” keep growing, they are non-optional. If travelers are willing to accept non-changeable tickets, middle seats assigned automatically, no bag and no food, it is possible to buy a stripped down basic ticket, but these fees are included on every ticket.

Join Us for Cybersecurity BenefitsAnd if airlines are so detail oriented they match and/or collude down to $10 on over $1900.00, what else are they colluding on? In a divided, polarized Congress, maybe one thing we can get agreement on is reining in the airlines.

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