Airlines collecting less money for bag fees

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 5, 2014 at 4:40 pm •  Published: May 5, 2014
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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Airlines are taking in less money from bag fees than they did two years ago, but they are making up for it by adding charges for a slew of extras, including getting a decent seat.

The government reported Monday that U.S. airlines raised $3.35 billion from bag fees in 2013, down 4 percent from 2012. That is the biggest decline since fees to check a bag or two took off in 2008.

Some passengers avoid bag fees — usually $25 to $35 for domestic flights on the biggest airlines — by using airline credit cards or earning elite-level frequent-flier status. Others carry their bag on board and fight for space in the overhead bins.

The bag-fee figure was part of information released by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which said that airlines earned $7.3 billion in the fourth quarter of last year, reversing a loss of $188 million in the same period of 2012.

The airlines also raised $2.81 billion last year from fees for changing a reservation or ticket, a 10 percent increase over 2012. Fees on checked bags, reservation changes and other services have become a larger share of airline revenue and a big reason why the carriers are making money.

Airline revenue from bag fees — much of it for large or overweight bags — was modest during most of the last decade. In 2008, financially strapped American Airlines expanded the fees to checking a regular bag or two, and other carriers soon matched the move. That year, the industry's revenue from bag fees more than doubled, then doubled again the next year, and rose again in 2010.

After a 1 percent decline in 2011, bag-fee revenue peaked at $3.49 billion in 2012 before falling last year. The most recent figures include 16 leading airlines that report the information to the government.

Robert Mann, a former American Airlines executive and now an aviation consultant, said money from bag fees has leveled off because the mix of passengers has changed — by the airlines' design.

"You have more people exempt (from the fee) because they use the right credit card or they get status in the airline's loyalty program," he said. "The passenger who gets whacked by the bag fee is the infrequent flier," and he thinks more of them are traveling by car, bus or Amtrak to save money.

Mann believes that many airlines are intentionally making basic economy uncomfortable to pressure customers to pay extra for a better seat, maybe one with more legroom or early-boarding privileges.



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