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Unstable Economy Pushes Airlines Towards Surcharges


Avoid airline surcharges with ease

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May 11, 2008

A downward economy, soaring fuel prices, and a dollar beaten up by the British pound and the Euro. So, what do the airlines do in response? Do they raise prices? No, they initiate every conceivable surcharge, fee and rule to generate revenue.

What does this mean? The airlines are officially remaining competitive in terms of airline ticket prices, but in reality, those prices are artificial, since what you'll really pay could be a whole lot more.

Here is a look at the new charges, some of which you can't avoid, but need to know about in order to budget the true cost of your flight.

Fuel surcharges

Just about every U.S. and a number of foreign airlines are introducing fuel surchages. Northwest has boosted its surcharge on some international flights to $320. That’s not the fare, that's the surcharge! The same goes for British Airways, which increased its current fuel surcharge on international flights to as much as $306 round trip. This may not necessarily be included in the official advertised fare, so budget accordingly.

Buying a ticket

Unless you're buying online, talking to a human being will cost you. American is charging $20 to buy a ticket at the airport. If you're lucky enough to be able to redeem a frequent flyer award, Delta is now assessing a $25 handling charge.

Ticket change fee

Does it really cost the airlines money if you change your reservation after you purchase your tickets? Of course not, but where there's an opportunity to charge you, the airlines will now take it. United Airlines hiked the already high fee it charges passengers to change tickets from $100 to $150. It also raised fares as much as 5 percent.

Pets and children

If you’re flying with Fido or Fluffy, be prepared for a big charge. If you want to fly with your dog or cat in the cabin, that will now cost you $100 on many airlines.

How about unaccompanied minors, kids flying alone? Some airlines just increased that charge as well.

Baggage

Delta just increased the fee to check bags with a Skycap at the curb to $3 per bag. Keep in mind that the money you pay to the Skycap doesn't go to the Skycap, but the airline, so tip accordingly. Unfortunately, it gets worse.

The real whammy is the second checked bag fee. First announced by United Airlines, now US Air, American and most other major carriers have instituted a $25 fee for checking a second bag. United and the other airlines have now convincingly made my argument for me; courier your bags instead (I send mine through FedEx, but there are about 16 other door-to-door services that will do this for your bags).

This just kicked in this week, and American starts charging soon. Remember, the airlines used to lose my bags free of charge. Now, why would I want to pay $25 to misroute my luggage?

If your bag is considered oversized, be prepared to part with $150.

Fighting back

Here are two solid, money saving strategies that work.

A number of airlines, including United, have brought back the dreaded Saturday night stay requirement on many tickets. These minimum stay rules are hated by every business traveler I know. In the 1990s, I was one of those who actively fought against this draconian rule which stated that discount airline tickets required you to stay over a Saturday night, effectively discriminating against business travelers or those who couldn't stay over that weekend night, forcing them to pay dramatically higher fares.

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Avoid airline surcharges with ease
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