U.S. airlines collected $7.1 billion in baggage and ticket change fees last year, nearly half their $15.6 billion in profits. That's a new record, beating last year's total and continuing a trend that started in 2010,
And, it hasn't gotten really any easier to figure out what your total will be, a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office says. The report, requested by Sen. Nelson of Florida, includes findings that
- On average, customers who paid for at least one checked bag ended up paying more for combined airfare and fees than they did when prices were bundled and included baggage.
- Consumer groups say optional fees can't always be paid when buying a ticket, leaving surprises for travelers at the airport.
- Department rules have made optional fees more transparent, but consumer groups say it can still be difficult for travelers to know what fees they face when buying tickets through online travel agents.
Many consumer advocates have questioned the airlines' need for the continuing fees, considering that fuel costs have dropped by more than 50% since 2012, from $50.2 billion to $24.7 billion. The airlines claim that the savings are needed to upgrade fleets and salaries.
The other fee issue is transparency. While government rules have made airlines quote total price including fees upfront, that has not applied to travel agencies, including the big online ones, which makes price comparisons difficult. The airlines and their allies in Congress have been pushing legislation to roll back the rules, rather than applying them to all ticketsellers.