Will extra airline fees disappear? That is the question.
There are two camps in this airline-fee battle. Some see airline fees disappearing. Others see them becoming a bigger part of the total airfare cost. As airfares plummeted during the pandemic, the percentage occupied by ancillary fees has increased. It only makes sense when the fees stay the same and airfares drop.
However, some airlines are now eliminating some fees in their customer quest. These are mainly the cancellation fees. I expect airfares will cost less and airline fees will continue to grow as a part of the overall travel costs.
Today, there is a fee for everything (only a few are being eliminated).
Whenever asking whether airline fees will disappear, we need to know how many fees there are. Though a major PR program is unleased with any fee elimination, remember there are scores of fees. Only one or two are ever eliminated. Unfortunately, the flying public has become used to rising extra airline fees.
Also note: These are fees for domestic flights. There are different fees for international flights and different again for international flights leaving from other countries. The rule is passenger beware.
- 1st checked baggage fees
- 2nd checked baggage fees
- additional baggage fees
- overweight baggage fees
- oversized baggage fees
- carry-on baggage fees
- telephone reservation fees
- airport ticket purchase fees
- same-day change fees
- change fees for domestic flights
- change fees for international flights
- international change fees for flights originating in US
- cancellation fees
- frequent flier fees
- seat reservation fees
- unaccompanied minor fees
- pet fees
- WiFi fees
- beverage fees
- upgrade fees
- boarding pass kiosk printing fee
- boarding pass agent printing fee
- priority boarding fee
- soon there will be a COVID testing fee
- I am certain that there are more …
All these fees are still with us (or coming), depending on the airlines. Some airlines have eliminated change fees, but ask and check carefully. Don’t fall for the airline benevolence act. The airlines’ most valuable fees are baggage and seat reservation fees. They will be the ones that either will stay or will be highlighted in future rulemaking.
Airlines are finally realizing that they can make money without some fees.
The fees are gone because carriers can make more money selling tickets to reluctant passengers who want travel flexibility than they can by imposing the change fees.
Some may question whether this latest giveback by the airlines on international change fees is a big deal. After all, it’s a flight credit, not a refund.
But as international destinations welcome US citizens today, and more Americans get vaccinated to protect themselves from COVID-19, fear of flying for most passengers has passed.
Are airlines becoming more altruistic when airline fees disappear?
I am certain they are not. Airlines are in the business of making money. Today, they think that by eliminating change fees, they will attract more passengers. They have done marketing studies and have assessed that many passengers will not make plans without airfare protection. Nonrefundable tickets are extremely expensive. So, airlines have determined they can at least make a quarter of their money by guaranteeing passengers flight credits instead of refunds.
This solution is ultimately good for the airline that gets money in the bank. And it is suitable for the passenger who gets insurance against a future pandemic-type situation. Of course, when the airline ticket is changed, the passenger is responsible for any increase in airfare that the new ticket may cost. Most passengers are willing to take the chance.
Domestic change fees were eliminated earlier for the major airlines.
American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines have all eliminated change fees for all but basic economy tickets and some international tickets. Southwest Airlines has never charged change fees. However, Southwest keeps the money in an online “savings account.” Those funds can be used for future ticket purchases. Read the fine print for all of these rule changes.
International change fees for flights departing from the US have also been eliminated for the time being.
Note: All change fees are not gone. International carriers (and, I assume, code-share flights) will still be subject to change fees. The airlines have not declared the international change fees elimination as “permanent.” They may come back once international traffic picks up.
In the meantime, remember the list of times you will still have to pay extra fees (see above).
Many airlines are very careful to match airfares from one city to another. On the other hand, they do not carefully match their fees or amenities. Therefore, make sure to read the fine print. Baggage fees differ depending on the airline. Cancellation fees are still imposed by many airlines. Other fees are all over the place; most are still collected by airlines.
The bottom line: Watch out for fees. Travelers United doesn’t expect them to disappear any time soon.
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past 14 years with Congress, the Department of Transportation, and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the first consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.