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Top 10 Most Ridiculous Airline Fees

by on September 10, 2013 · 22 comments

in Airline Industry, Top 10

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Although the flying public seems to have accustomed itself to more and more airline fees in the past few years for everything from checking a bag to choosing a window seat, there are still some ridiculous, and ridiculously priced, airline fees out there that contribute to making flying the stressful, expensive, unpleasant experience it can sometimes be. Here are some of the worst offenders.

There are more airline fees than ever - and some of them are exorbitant.

There are more airline fees than ever – and some of them are exorbitant.

1. Fuel Charges: One of the most frustrating parts of earning the miles required for the award you want is going to book it and finding out you’ll have to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars in taxes and fuel surcharges on top of those hard-earned miles, especially because they can be hard to predict. Luckily, many US-based carriers do not charge excessive taxes and fees, or if they do so, it tends to be to certain destinations or on certain partners – such as if you’re using American Airlines miles to fly British Airways to London, or if you are using Delta miles for an award itinerary that originates outside the US. However, there are some truly awful offenders in this category including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, both of which charge fees on flights to/from London that can outweigh buying the actual ticket. Boston to London on British Airways will set you back $683 in taxes/fees for an economy class roundtrip! A recent Virgin Atlantic NYC-Johannesburg roundtrip would have cost me over $1,500 in fees! Although Flying Blue, the program of Air France and KLM just reduced some of their carrier-imposed charges, they are still in the hundreds of dollars in each direction on many itineraries. In Star Alliance, ANA’s Mileage Club and Singapore’s KrisFlyer programs often levy huge surcharges on award tickets as well (you can check out my series on ANA surcharges here).

Want a seat assignment on British Airways? Get ready to pay.

Want a seat assignment on British Airways? Get ready to pay.

2. Seat Selection: It’s become a fact of flying life that if you want a decent seat – even just a regular old aisle or window in economy that’s assigned ahead of time – you’re going to end up paying extra for it, anywhere from $8 up to hundreds of dollars depending on the airline and route. British Airways is one of the worst offenders here as well, charging customers between 10 GBP ($16) and 60 GBP ($96) just to get a seat assignment outside the 24-hour check-in window- even if you are in business or first class! That makes it especially difficult for families flying to be sure they’ll get seats together, let alone other travelers who just don’t want to get stuck in the middle for a long-haul flight. For tips and strategies on ways to get a better economy seat, check out this post.

3. American Airlines Same Day Confirmed Fees: If you arrive early for your flight, and there is an earlier flight with seats available on it, it makes a lot of sense that the airline should allow you to switch to the new flight for free, right? Not so fast! American charges $75 for confirmed same day flight changes. For everyone, no matter what their elite level- even for top tier Executive Platinum members. However, the airline will let AAdvantage elite members the option to standby for a different flight at no charge. At least with American you can avoid these fees by purchasing one of their Choice Plus Fares that bundle unlimited same day confirmed charges into a single fee with other benefits.

Delta has a Same Day Confirm fee of $50 to change your flight time on the same day of travel, however, it waives this fee for Gold, Platinum, and Diamond Medallions. United allows same-day flight changes for $75, but Premier Gold, Premier Platinum and Premier 1K members are exempt. US Airways has their MoveUp program allowing fliers to switch to a flight within 6 hours of their original flight for $75. They are the most generous with waiving this for elite members, as all elites including Silvers are exempt from that fee. So the general rule here is having mid- to top-tier elite status might save you from these fees. On the other hand, Southwest doesn’t have same day confirmed fees, but it will charge you the difference in fares between the ticket you bought and the fare that day. In some cases, that works out fine, but in others, paying to change could be exorbitant. JetBlue charges a flat $50 fee, while Virgin America charges between $25-50 depending on the length of your flight.

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It’ll cost you even just to bring carry on bags on a Spirit Airlines flight.

4. Spirit Airlines Carry On Bag Fees: Although Spirit Airlines has made a name for itself with deeply reduced prices on popular routes, one of the reasons it’s able to advertise cut-rate prices is that it charges for practically every amenity and convenience possible including what is possibly the most infamous ridiculous airline fee out there, a charge for bringing a carry on bag, which will cost you anywhere from $25-$100. Looking at the airline’s Optional Services page reveals a plethora of other charges including seat selection ranging from $1-$50 and moving up to slightly roomier seats with more legroom and no middle passenger for between $12-$150.

 5. Phone Booking Fees When They Make It Impossible to Redeem Online: One of the great perks of co-branded personal Citi AAdvantage card is that cardholders have access to reduced-price domestic awards that can save you 5,000-7,500 miles depending on which card you carry per roundtrip award ticket on certain routes within the US and Canada. The one drawback is that the only way to book them is to call American Airlines AAdvantage reservations with the award code for your city pair and have them book it for you – which will cost you $25 (waived for Executive Platinums). There’s nothing like charging folks to give them a discount.

USAirways.com does not display partner airline award availability, which forces US Airways Dividend Miles members who want to use their miles for a partner award to call the award booking desk. That, in turn, incurs a $25 booking fee. So not only is US Airways’ website severely limited, but the airline charges its frequent flyers more because of it! If you’re not a top-tier Chairman’s Preferred elite with the airline, you’ll end up paying $30-$40 depending on the award plus a $25-$50 award processing fee (at least that’s waived for Gold, Platinum and Chairman’s Preferred members). As a runner up in this category, although American Airlines has gotten a lot better lately about displaying partner award availability, there are still some big holes in its online search and booking engine including Cathay Pacific and LAN, so if you want to book flights on them, you’ll have to pay their $25 award ticket phone booking fee.

Want to join Qantas Frequent Flyer? It could cost you.

Want to join Qantas Frequent Flyer? It could cost you.

6. Qantas Frequent Flyer Sign-Up Fee: I can’t think of a worse way to start off a frequent flyer program relationship than to charge people who want to become members for the privilege, but that’s exactly what Qantas does to Australia- and New Zealand-based flyers who want to join its Frequent Flyer club. It charges Australians $82.50 AUD and New Zealanders $50 NZD. Members from other countries can sign up for free, at least.

I had to pay $96 to get my boarding pass with Ryanair!

I had to pay $96 to get my boarding pass with Ryanair!

7. Ryanair’s Insane Boarding Pass Printing Charges: I flew Ryanair last year from Dublin to Edinburgh, and it was one of the worst travel experiences I’ve ever had. I tried to check in for my flight at the check-in counter, but the agent informed us that she couldn’t even check us in and that we’d have to go to the manual ticketing counter and figure it out with them, since I didn’t check-in online prior to arriving at the airport. Once at the desk, the agents informed us it would be an astonishing £60 ($96) per boarding pass to print, and they would only accept cash! Why they charge such a hefty fee to print a boarding pass is beyond me. Even worse, according to their table of fees, this fee was just raised to £70 ($110), so make sure to check in online and save yourself a big pile of cash.

8. Close-In Booking Fees: Several airlines charge for booking award tickets under 21 days. For example, American, United and US Airways charge a $75 fee if booking an award within 21 days of travel. However, US Airways will waive the award-processing fee and the quick-ticketing fee for tickets booked using miles from Gold, Platinum and Chairman’s Preferred accounts. On United, the $75 fee goes down to $50 for Premier Silver and $25 for Premier Gold. There is no fee for United Premier Platinum, Premier 1K or Global Services customers. American charges $75 for awards booked within 21 days but waives it for all elite members using miles from their account. Delta is the only legacy airline that has done away with this fee completely.

United offers an annual Economy Plus subscription.

United offers an annual Economy Plus subscription.

9. United’s Annual Economy Plus Subscription: United offers flyers an annual membership for Economy Plus, its roomier economy seating section, with an annual fee of $499 not including a $50 initiation fee (though currently waived). Flyers who partake in this offer will be able to select Economy Plus seats on all flights only within the continental United States (excluding Hawaii and Alaska). If you want to extend this benefit for North and Central America it is $599 and if you’d like to be able to take advantage of this globally it’s a whopping $699 per year. The reason this fee is ridiculous is because if you are flying so much to justify needing it, you are most likely a Premier member of the airline’s mileage program, and Premier Golds, Platinums, and 1K’s can select complimentary Economy Plus at booking while Premier Silvers can choose these seats for free at check-in domestically.

Etihad is launching their flight nanny service.

Want to bring your infant along? It could end up costing you plenty!

10. International Lap Child Fee: We discussed infant award fees in depth in the past, but basically everyone who is traveling internationally must have a ticket and a passport, including babies. Typically, airlines will charge the 10% of their highest, unrestricted fare for the ticket of a lap child plus full taxes and fees although some airlines claim to offer infant fares at 10% of the entire ticket price, which means even though a lap child is taking up no seat or more room, parents are still paying sometimes hefty airfares to fly with their little ones. The best way to avoid this fee is to choose Alaska, Airtran, JetBlue, Virgin America and Frontier, which do not charge any infant fares but only taxes and fees. The Miles and More program operated by Lufthansa, Austrian, and Swiss is alone among the major international programs in that it does not charge infant fares on awards, however you do have to watch out for sometimes huge fuel surcharges on regular and award tickets.

Tips for paying for these fees when you can’t avoid them: The American Express Platinum card reimburses up to $200 a year in airline fees (not all are reimburseable, so check this post to see what might qualify). The BarclayCard Arrival will also allow you to redeem points for travel expenses (including airline fees) at a rate of 1 cent per point plus a 10% rebate- so the current 40,000 point sign-up bonus would cover over $440 in fees, which could take the sting out of your travel expenses.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • osprey6

    I have no status with US, but I was not charged for calling them to book an award ticket on UA. Agent said “You can’t book this on the site, so the fee gets waived.”

  • thepointsguy

    Glad they waived- though they still have an “award processing” fee that they charge everyone, regardless of where booked, which is ridiculous:

    Award processing fee

    Non-refundable award processing fees
    based on destination (waived for members with Dividend Miles Gold,
    Platinum or Chairman’s status):

    $25 for travel within the U.S. and Canada

    $35 for travel to Mexico/the Caribbean

    $50 for travel to Hawaii, Europe, the Middle East and South America

  • mari

    BA seat selection fee is really ridiculous. I paid it even on Business Class!!! I mean, this is not a low -cost carrier ¬¬

  • Carter

    I have not been charged a phone booking fee on AA for reduced mileage award fees for two bookings this year, Brian/staff. Have you all? I didn’t even have to ask to have it waved for it not being eligible to book online, so i thinj they removed this fee. When did you last book one, Brian/staff, for which you were charged?

  • Angelica Wilk

    O boy, I’m flying BA next month and found out about the seat selection after I booked the flight through American Airlines, I hope I get an aisle seat and I am not paying for a seat earlier! Ripoff

  • Cory

    I have never flown Spirit, and I don’t know the full details of that fee, but I actually like the theory behind charging a fee for a carry on bag. Nothing annoys me more than people who bring a giant bag as a carry on, and a bag almost as big as a “personal item”. And that’s just those that stick to the 2-bag limit. It mucks up the boarding process, pisses people off, and becomes a giant hassle. I say charge for them, encourage them to check the bags as they would prefer to do anyway, and make boarding simpler.

  • farsighted

    RyanAir is just the worst airline ever. Don’t fly them. Maybe enough people will just stay away and they will go out of business. Horrible airline!

  • smartcookie

    I definitely got charged this for booking a flight on LAN Peru a month ago. I even tried 2 different reps and a supervisor. They now don’t always tell you there is a $25 fee. They just say your total is “$40″ or whatever which includes taxes and this fee, but they don’t always specifically state that they’re charging you that $25 “phone booking fee”.

  • Bryan

    Not so smart cookie, Carter sounds like he referring to AA reduced mileage award bookings on AA, not on LAN Peru bookings, which are AA partners. Apples and oranges, cookie…

  • smartcookie

    No need to be an arrogant ass – did that make you feel better? They charge this for ALL phone bookings regardless of the reason you have to call. Quoted by 2 supervisors I’ve spoken to in the last few months.

  • forwardtosarah

    We had one of those “OMG, what?” moments when we booked our LAX-PPT award flights. We used Skymiles and are flying on Air Tahiti Nui. The taxes on our “free” flight were a little over $1000/pp. Ouch.

  • Neil

    RyanAir are utterly awful. I would rather crawl to my destination on broken glass than get on one of their aircraft ever again. Ok, maybe not but on a slightly more serious note, any Ryan Air flight would have to be significantly cheaper (200-300%) than the competition before I would consider going with them. In my experience, once you’ve added up all of their charges, this is rarely the case.

  • tomg63

    What about in-cabin pet fees? $100-$125 each way for the privilege of putting a pet in a carrier below the seat in front of you. If anything you are doing the airlines a favor by freeing up overhead bin space since the pet carrier counts as your carryon.

  • Jose

    It is ridiculous to see all of this invented fees that the only things that makes is taking money out of your Traveling Budget, The worst one is that if you arrive early and decide to go on a seat that would still be empty just because you planned ahead, getting charge for this? No, so the airline prefers to have that empty seat, I consider that we should get a bonus instead of paying for this kind of things.

    http://megacomerciales.com

  • joeypore

    I could be wrong, but I thought I remember seeing somewhere that BA doesn’t charge a fee for families who want seating together… but maybe not?

  • Demetrius

    Spirit charges for checked baggage also, something like $45 vs $40 for a carry on.

    The bigger carry-ons phenomenon is a consequence of the airlines charging for checked baggage in the first place.

  • Greg

    I agree, reading this about the fees especially with regards to the British Airways program are ridiculous.

    Phone fee – booking BA Avios when they don’t offer the ability to book airlines like Alaska and Aero Lingus online.

    Seat selection – I am sitting in business and BA charges $200 to confirm my seat.

    YQ – BA charged me over $1000 fee on redeeming my miles

    Even worse for BA is that they only offer 6 days out of 365 when I can redeem for a first class flight Vancouver to London and that is on top of the $1000 fees and 180,000 Avios points.

  • Brooks

    Yeah, just to echo Osprey6, US doesn’t charge a telephone fee if it’s something you can’t do online. You might have to ask/remind them, but they won’t charge you if they realize it’s something you can’t do on the website. The Award fees are brutal though.

  • Pingback: Discount For No Checked Bags on Short Haul British Airways Flights | The Points Guy

  • BobChi

    It actually makes a lot of sense to the airline. There are enough people who will willingly pay the $75 to change the flight that it more than makes up for the slight chance they may be able to resell a seat on the later flight. Note that reselling the seat would be of economic impact only if it’s the last seat on the flight and they actually did find a buyer. If there are any other seats open, there’s no value at all to the airline.

    Case in point. Recently I was returning from an international flight with a domestic connection. The first flight arrived earlier than expected and I was able to make an earlier connection than booked – by six hours – to get home. It was a no-brainer to me to pay the $75 and change the seat. If they gave this away for free they would simply forgo a profitable revenue stream.

  • BobChi

    And I think this could be accounted for in one’s evaluation of US miles charts; i.e. if it’s 50,000 plus a $50 fee, that’s really like 55,000 miles. We shouldn’t help their marketing by accepting their mileage charts at face value.

  • r fish

    Just got stung by the BA seat reservation ruse. We travelled as a family from Seattle to Barcelona. The initial 777 rese’s showed our family scattered around cattle car class even though there were many consecutive seats that would accomodate us. We chose to pay the ridiculous fees to move all of us. We had the same thing happen on the return trip. This time we chose to wait until the 24hour window rather than pay. Low and behold our seats had moved to 3 consecutive seats! Is this all a freaking ruse by the airline to trick people into paying the fee? The combination of this BS and flying through Heathrow with its Nazi security details, delays and shuttles will make me avoid BA in the future.

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