BBB Advises Travelers on New Fees as Airlines Scramble to Contend with Rising Fuel Costs

  
     
July 02, 2008

Jet fuel prices have risen 83.6 percent in the last year, according to the International Air Transport Association, and almost every airline has found every opportunity to pass this cost on to consumers through a wide variety of fees or charges for what used to be free features and services. Clearly, summer travelers are in for a few changes at the airport – including new or increased fees – and Better Business Bureau is offering a heads-up on what travelers can expect when flying this summer.

Home prices and the Dow Jones Industrial Average are falling, and mortgage foreclosures, gas prices, food costs, unemployment and inflation are all on the rise – and yet Americans are still taking vacations. For example, more than 25 million Americans will travel abroad this summer – a 2.6 percent increase over last year – according to AAA’s summer forecast for foreign travel. 

“It appears that neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night – nor the demise of every leading economic indicator – will cause Americans to call off their vacations this summer,” said Karen Nalven, BBB spokesperson. “This is a supply and demand issue. Americans want their vacations, but airlines are finding it harder to accommodate travelers and keep ticket prices low, and so to contend with rising fuel costs, airlines are looking for creative ways to stay aloft – in most cases that means more fees and restrictions for travelers.”

Consumers and airlines are both feeling the pain at the pump. United Airlines, for example, stated earlier this month that it will pay $9.5 billion for fuel this year – $3.5 billion more than last year. In addition to raising rates or cutting back on staff, many airlines are opting to charge travelers additional fees or institute new policies on travel. Following are some of the new fees and restrictions airlines are imposing that BBB is advising travelers to be aware of:

Luggage Fees
Earlier this year, United Airlines decided it would charge customers $25 if they choose to check a second bag. United has now decided it will charge customers $15 for the first checked bag, effective for tickets purchased after June 13. Fees for special handling or overweight bags will also increase. United estimates the baggage fees will generate an additional $250 million in revenue.

United isn’t the only airline to start charging for checked bags. American Airlines is already charging customers $25 for a second checked bag and, effective June 15, will begin charging customers $15 for the first checked bag. Continental Airlines will begin charging $25 each way if a customer wants to check a second bag. US Airways will begin charging $15 per checked bag for flights booked on or before July 9. JetBlue is currently charging customers $20 for the second checked bag. Spirit Airlines – a budget airline that previously charged for checked bags – is raising its fee for checked bags from $10-15 to $20-25 each way, depending on if the fee is paid online or at the counter, respectively.

Most airlines do not charge baggage fees for international travel; however, travelers should check the airline’s policy for specific details before heading to the airport.


No free lunch—or drinks
Thirsty or hungry travelers need to either brown bag it or make sure they have cash on hand if they plan on snacking or drinking onboard the plane. Another way some airlines are cutting costs is by charging travelers for all beverages and food. US Airways has stopped serving free snacks – traditionally a bag of pretzels – and in August will begin charging travelers $2 each for non-alcoholic beverages, including juice, soda, and bottled water. Spirit Airlines currently charges customers $3 for non-alcoholic beverages and more for snacks. 

Minimum Stays
Effective October, United Airlines will institute a policy requiring minimum stays for domestic flights. Most travel will require a 2-3 night or weekend stay at the destination. The policy applies to specific destinations, ticket price, and length of flight so travelers should check United’s Web site for more details. 

Flying with Fido
Travelers with pets can also expect to pay more for flights. JetBlue recently increased the fee for in-cabin travel from $75 to $100, one way, for small pets. Effective in August, United will charge $125 for pets to ride in the cabin – up from $85 earlier this year. Pets traveling in the United cargo hold will cost $500 roundtrip. American, Delta, Continental and US Airways all currently charge $100 for pets to ride in the cabin.

Frequent Flyer Rewards – For a Fee
Delta recently reported that it plans to add a fuel surcharge of up to $50 for booking frequent-flier tickets under its awards program. The new fee takes effect on tickets booked on or after August 15. Delta will charge a $25 fuel surcharge on tickets booked within the U.S. and $50 on tickets booked for travel elsewhere, including the Caribbean, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Latin America and other international destinations. Also, American Airlines has begun charging $5 to book frequent-flier tickets and US Airways will charge up to a $50 processing fee for frequent-flier tickets booked on or after August 6.

For more trustworthy advice from BBB on how to keep from getting burned during summer travel, go to www.bbb.org.