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What to know before you go

Airlines charging sky-high prices for everything

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Posted: Friday, November 25, 2011 2:01 pm

 Restaurants aren't the only industry serving a la carte. If you're planning to travel by air this holiday season, you may notice that airlines are now turning to seat options as a way to collect additional fees beyond the price of the actual ticket.

 "The biggest new fees are coming from airlines like Delta, that are charging for what they call premium seats," said Cheri Church, owner of Travel Brokers, Inc. in Fenton. "Your aisle seat, window seat or emergency exit seat may cost you more than a middle seat or seat at the rear of the plane."

 The new seating fees are the latest hikes in an industry that has raised prices up to 20 percent this year alone. Baggage fees, which were implemented by airlines three years ago to keep fares down when fueling costs skyrocketed, have become almost standard across the industry.

 The only major airline that hasn't jumped on the baggage fee bandwagon is Southwest Airlines, according to Church. Dallas-based Southwest Airlines acquired Orlando-based Air Tran earlier this year. Air Tran continues to charge $20 for the first checked bag and $25 for the second checked bag, each half of a round-trip destination.

 The worst airline for charging extra fees, according to Church, is Spirit Airlines. Spirit is the only carrier to have added fees for travelers who wait to pay for carry-on or checked luggage within 24 hours of departure: an extra $5 on top of the carry-on fee when paying online and an extra $10 when paying over the phone. Fliers who pay for carry-on bags early - and aren't members of the airline's fare club - pay $30 for a carry-on that won't fit under the seat.

 Spirit became the only U.S. carrier to charge for carry-on bags when it instituted new fees in April 2010. Paying for carry-on bags at the airport now will cost $40 at the airport check-in counter or kiosk and $45 at the gate.

 Flyers that travel with overweight bags will also get socked with extra fees. Most carriers charge for bags weighing more than 50 pounds. Spirit Airlines charges an additional $25 for bags weighing more than 40 pounds, in addition to the checked-bag charge. Checked-bag fees start at $28 for the first bag checked online or by phone - 24 hours in advance - for travelers who aren't part of the airline's fare club. Bags weighing more than 50 pounds on Spirit incur $50 to $100 overweight baggage fees, depending on weight.

 "The only way we can say on top of all the fees is to keep our website up to date," added Church. "We make sure our customers know about the website, because these fees change so often."

 Airport travelers will want to adhere strictly to Transportation Safety Administration policies relating to security, such as only carrying 3 oz. or less of liquids or gels, in containers that fit into a quarter-size plastic bag. "Travelers today are utilizing more of their hotel's personal hygiene items, so they don't have to worry about the restrictions," said Church.

 TSA is also very strict about a traveler's name on his or her ticket, which has to exactly match the name as printed on a driver's license or passport. "You can't be off by even a letter," said Church. "They can deny you entrance onto the aircraft."

 There are some bright spots, however, in the world of air travel. Some airlines are beginning to respond to the needs of travelers who are seeking comfort on long flights. Called Economy Comfort, these coach seats provide four more inches of legroom, a larger seat, more room to recline and better service. One example is a Detroit to Amsterdam flight from Delta Airlines.

 "A lot of airlines are going to start doing this," said Church. "We'll see more domestic East Coast/West Coast flights offering Economy Comfort, plus flights to Hawaii. The extra ticket charge is about $75 to $125 per seat, much less than flying first-class or business. It's a good option for many people."

 The best way to ensure smooth travel, especially during the holidays, is to use the services of a travel agent, or to book a trip on-line using their website. "You get the best of both worlds that way," said Church. "You can use the Internet to plan your trip, but book it through an agency. That way, we can help you if you run into a snag while you're traveling. Otherwise, you're out of luck."

Baggage fees at a glance

 

These fees are used only as an example. Depending upon whether a traveler checks in on-line, in advance, or at the check-in the day of travel, will determine the exact fees charged. For more exact information, contact your travel agent, the airline website or visit www.iflybags.com.

AirTran

1 carry-on and 1 personal item (purse, laptop, diaper bag, etc.) free

First checked bag $20

Second checked bag $25

Delta/Northwest

1 carry-on and 1 personal item free

First checked bag $25

Second checked bag $35

Spirit

Carry-on $35

First checked bag $33

Second checked bag $40

United

1 carry-on and 1 personal item free

First checked bag $25

Second checked bag $35

 

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