TripBadger’s Guide to Airline Fees
Last year, U.S. airlines collected over $6 billion in fees ($3.5 billion in bag fees and $2.6 billion in change/cancellation fees). The optional fee lists are growing longer by the week and unfortunately, the end is not in sight. In addition to comparing fares, smart travelers now need to consider the added cost of checking a bag (now $25 on most U.S. airlines) and the potential cost of a trip change or cancellation (up to $200). Travelers also need to watch out for “stealth” fees such as online booking fees and arcane carry-on bag rules and fees that can trip up the unsuspecting. Luckily, you can still avoid most of these fees with some smart planning. TripBadger is here to help with our guide to airline fees and exclusive airline ranking.
The winner of our inaugural fee ranking is Southwest Airlines. Southwest still provides two free checked bags and has no change or cancellation fees (if you cancel a Wanna Get Away ticket, you receive a credit for a future flight). Even Southwest is not without a few optional services, however. For $12.50 each way, Southwest will automatically check you in and assign your boarding position 36 hours prior to the flight. For $40, you can be guaranteed to be one of the first 15 people on the plane.
JetBlue earned second place in our fee ranking. JetBlue provides one free checked bag (though a second checked bag costs an industry high $40) and has more reasonable change and cancellation fees and policies.
AirTran and Virgin America placed third and fourth, in that order. You will pay to check a bag on these airlines but you’re also charged less for flight changes and cancellations. The big 4 carriers–Delta, United, American, and US Airways–which placed 5th through 8th in that order, recently upped the flight change fee to $200 (same day changes are lower). This high fee effectively makes many lower priced tickets unchangeable.
The lowest ranked airlines in our survey are Frontier, Allegiant, and Spirit. Each of these airlines charges an online booking fee (generally avoidable only if you book your ticket at the airport), a checked bag fee, and fee for bringing a carry-on bag (a small personal item is still free). Some of these fees are avoidable on Frontier if you book directly through Frontier’s website. Allegiant, Spirit, and AirTran will also charge you if you want a seat assignment in advance. While deals on Frontier, Spirit, and Allegiant are still possible even after adding in all the fees, make sure you do the math (and factor in the risk of having to change your flight) to make sure these deals are as good as they may initially appear to be.