Last updated: 07:00 AM ET, Fri December 18 2015

Hidden Charges: 4 Airline Fees You Don't Know About

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | December 18, 2015

Hidden Charges: 4 Airline Fees You Don't Know About

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Airline fees have become a part of air travel. Most people grudgingly accept that they will get hit with extra charges when they check baggage on domestic flights or make changes to their tickets. Low cost carriers can even charge for things like priority boarding or choosing a seat. 

Airlines compete with one another on checked baggage fees. These are the charges that get the most coverage because they affect the most travelers. As everyone knows, these fees usually range from $20-$25 for a first checked bag. Southwest and JetBlue do not charge for the first checked bag. Both, but especially Southwest, like to make mention of this to hype their customer-friendliness. And then there are those airlines like Spirit and Allegiant that charge for both checked baggage and carry-ons. 

Because baggage levies get so much attention, other fees often slip under the radar, popping up to surprise people when they least expect it. Here is a glimpse at some of these lesser-known extra charges. 

Pillows and blankets

Unless they are flying coast to coast, most people don’t think about asking for a pillow or blanket on a domestic flight. But what if you want to cover up and catch a nap after a grueling business trip? Most airlines will accommodate you, right? According to data compiled by Smart Travel this past summer, some airlines will ask you to pay up before they give you a blanket and pillow. Virgin America charges $10, Air Canada $7 and JetBlue $5-$6. 

Phone booking charges

If you are one of those people who want to make absolutely certain that your booking is correct, you may be tempted to get your ticket over the phone rather than going online. Most airlines charge extra for phone bookings, often rolling this charge up with other miscellaneous fees and taxes and not even mentioning it. The cost for making your reservation on the phone ranges from $10 (Spirit) to $25 (all three legacy carriers). Southwest and Frontier do not charge for phone booking.

These charges might be justified. The airlines have to pay an operator to take your booking, so they are passing some of those cost on to passengers.  

Online booking fees

Carriers want you to book online, so they are not going to charge you for it, right? In almost every case this is true. If you book on an airline’s website, you do not incur any extra fees. There is one exception: Allegiant Air charges a $13 booking fee for both phone and online reservations. They call it an “Electronic Carrier Usage Charge.”  

Credit card transaction fees

Allegiant also charges a 3.2 percent fee (capped at $8) for credit card transactions. They explain the fee like this: 
“To cover merchant-processing costs, a surcharge of 3.2%, not to exceed $8 each way, per passenger, per transaction, will apply to credit card purchases.” People who use debit cards do not have to pay this fee.  

Why these fees won't go away anytime soon

On one hand, these fees can be frustrating, especially if you don’t expect them or you don’t see any way to avoid them. However, they don’t seem to be hurting business. Earlier this year, Allegiant Air, by most measures the worst offender when it comes to fees, announced that it had earned almost unbelievable profits. Its third-quarter earnings were up 213 percent compared to 2014’s Q3. As long as it doesn't affect the bottom line, airlines are probably not going to change their fee policies anytime soon.     


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