- Fees for seat selection, checked bags and in-flight meals will hit a record $117.9B
- Airlines have turned to ancillary sales as a means to boost profits with all airlines
- Joe Biden has promised a clampdown and proposed the Junk Fee Prevention Act
Greedy airlines will make a record $118billion in add-on ‘junk’ fees this year as bosses resist the Biden administration’s attempts to stop them price gouging.
For decades, most bags flew for free, but in recent years fees have surged, boosting the bottom line of the nation’s carriers.
With charges for everything to select seats, check baggage and in-flight meals, fees are up 7.7 percent from pre-pandemic levels.
Customers are routinely promised a headline sum, only to find the true cost is much more expensive once they taken into account the price of baggage, seat selection and insurance – which often costs much more than the flight itself.
As airfare prices become more competitive, airlines are turning to these fees, also known as ancillary sales, as a means to boost profits.
Previously, practices such as charging for seats and checked bags were confined to low-cost carriers, but now even mainline international airlines including British Airways, Air France, and KLM are charging customers for seats – even in business class.
Beyond the fees there are also concerns over how such charges are presented online with the final fare not always explicitly shown.
As part of the Junk Fee Prevention Act, President Joe Biden specified that he wants to axe fees for family members to sit with young children.
‘I will prohibit airlines from charging $50 round trip for a family just to be able to sit together. Baggage fees are bad enough. Airlines can’t treat your child like a piece of baggage,’ the President said in February.
According to figures from the Transport Department, passengers forked out $5.3 billion in baggage fees alone in 2022.
American Airlines, for example, earned almost $1.4 billion from checked bags, accounting for more than 2 percent of the carrier’s full-year revenue in 2022
It found that aviation companies also cashed in a further $700 million in cancellation and flight change charges last year.
A term has been coined that describes the time-sensitive nature of airfare purchases, coupled with the myriad of upgrades and extras that are offered during the sales process – dark patterns.
UX designer Harry Brignull came up with the term which describes website design strategies that are deliberately aimed at deceiving consumers during the purchasing process.
Users are steering towards making decisions they might not otherwise have made.
Airlines employ various tactics on their websites including forms of manipulation and deception.
In 2022 the U.S. Department of Transportation, which received 113 consumer complaints related to ‘misleading and inaccurate advertisements on airlines’ websites, social media, emails, and text messages.’
While the database does not specifically track complaints related to airline website design, the Biden Administration has proposed rules requiring full upfront disclosure of prices, including all associated fees.
A final rule on enhancing the transparency of airline ancillary service fees is expected to be issued by the Department of Transportation in March 2024.
This summer it was revealed how Spirit Airlines has the highest hidden fees of any US carrier – making trips 736 percent more expensive than their base airfare, a new study has revealed.
The budget airline adds an average of $161.12 on top of a fare of just $21.89, according to analysis by discount code website NetVoucherCodes, the highest increase of any airline in the world.
Volaris, a Mexican low-cost airline, has the second highest hidden fees, according to the study. The hidden costs are 626 percent of the original airfare, asking customers to pay $82.20 on top of a $13.13 flight.
Frontier had the third highest hidden fees as it adds $109 to a $29 base airfare on average – making the journey 376 percent more expensive.
Sun Country Airlines, an ultra-low cost carrier which offers flights across the US, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, came in fourth place.
The airline added $98.48 to a $49 flight – an increase of 201 percent.
Sun Country Airlines said that when customers book a trip, they are given pricing for additional services.
‘As a budget airline, we have customers who simply choose to purchase their flight and travel light without any extras. Other customers like the ability to make choices about whatever is important to them on flights,’ a spokesperson said.
Delta Air Lines, meanwhile, came in fifth place, with fees increasing the fare by 158 percent – including a $30 charge for seat selection.
United Airlines added an average of $67 in hidden costs – increasing the overall price by 122 percent, while American Airlines added $52 in hidden fees – bringing up the total by 95 percent according to analysis by discount code website NetVoucherCodes.
Booking over the phone, having your boarding pass printed out and web check-ins are among the most banal tasks that firms charge customers for.
On its website Frontier says it will charge passengers $5 just to check-in online.
And it will land customers with a $35 fee to those who book through its chat agent booking service.
Meanwhile Spirit Airlines asks its customers to pay $25 if they need their boarding pass printed during an in-person check-in.
JetBlue passengers can expect to pay $25 just to make a reservation over the phone or via livechat. The firm says this can be avoided by booking online.