Now boarding: The $100 bag. In recent months United and Delta have lobbed triple-digit charges at travelers who check a second suitcase on transatlantic flights--the latest hike in the industry-wide fee boom that began in 2007.
While many consumers attribute the moves simply to greed--in fact, U.S. airlines collected $3.4 billion in baggage fees last year, helping offset fuel costs--"they're also about modifying behavior," says Hunter Keay, an analyst at research firm Wolfe Trahan. By discouraging people from traveling with multiple bags, he explains, airlines reduce the need for baggage handlers, thus saving millions in labor costs. Meanwhile, carriers are pursuing other business ventures--like wi-fi networks that offer e-commerce deals, movie rentals and more--to boost revenue. (That make take a while, though, since only 7% of flyers use available wi-fi, according to research firm InStat.)
Bottom line: baggage fees are far too lucrative to trim, but they might evolve. "Americans don't mind paying fees as long as they're being told beforehand and as long as it's not outrageous," says Charles Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance. He predicts the next frontier will be variable pricing, with baggage fees rising during peak travel seasons, much as seat prices rise in preferred areas. "We're getting used to the idea," he says, "but it's not a pleasant lesson."
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BAGGAGE FEES COLLECTED BY U.S. AIRLINES IN 2011
+624% SINCE 2007
Who charges the biggest fees?
First checked, domestic
Second checked, domestic
First checked, international
Second checked, international
Prices at airport-counter check-in
Checking a bag can cost up to $40. Is it cheaper to ship?
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$30 L.A. TO DALLAS
$30 DALLAS TO NYC
$34 CHICAGO TO L.A.
$41 NYC TO L.A.
Prices for shipping a 30-lb. package via FedEx ground service