Consumers Question Airline “Discounts”

Although airline fares themselves may be dropping, it still may be difficult for some travelers to find bargain rates.  Why? Creeping surcharges and baggage fees are quickly and surely becoming the standard in the airline industry.

This last year alone US Airways, America, Delta, Continental, and United introduced a $10 surcharge on holiday flights, including Thanksgiving, New Years, Easter and Spring Break.

In addition, nearly all airlines are adding baggage charges for bringing more than one bag, with many charging for even a single piece of luggage. This last summer, a number of airlines added a surcharge of $5 for bags checked at airports, instead of checking them online.  While airlines claim that such charges are to encourage travelers to expedite their check-in process, others remain skeptical as they watch airlines struggle to stay in the air in this turbulent economy.

Some of the fees are more obviously geared toward specific customers and groups.  For instance, several airlines have increased unaccompanied minor fees up to almost $100 each way. Others just add charges to what the casual traveler has become accustomed to as a free service.

 Want to sit next to your family on that last minute trip you just booked?  Get ready to pay up to $90 to select seats on British Airways if you didn’t book that seat more than 24 hours in advance.

All of this has made it harder than ever for travelers to determine the true cost of their ticket, and easier than ever for airlines to conceal their fees.  So what does the  Department of Transportation say about this?  According to their website they have “no authority to regulate the prices that airline charge for air transportation services” and can only require airlines to clearly state baggage charges in ads and on websites.

So is there any hope for the consumer? Well, frequent fliers can escape many of the fees, with airlines offering many promotions to travelers who stay loyal their programs.  However, for casual travelers it’s buyer beware, and until the economy improves, extra fees are likely to become a mainstay of air travel.