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Ancillary Fees Creating Travel Havoc


Ancillary Fees Creating Travel Havoc

U.S. Airline Industry

Bonnie Burgess
Updated April 20, 2011

Ancillary fees, or all those extra fees added to airline travel, are creating havoc in the travel community. These fees are making travel costs uncertain and nearly impossible to compare actual costs of airfare in advance of travel. This creates problems for travel agents, travel management companies, and travelers themselves.

Some of these ancillary fees are for:

  • In-flight meals and drinks.
  • Checked baggage.
  • Carry-on luggage.
  • Booking or changing flights with airline phone reservations.
  • Preferred airline seat for exit row, bulkhead, or aisle seats.
  • Pillows and blankets.
  • Headsets.
  • Reservation changes.
  • Preferred security screening and boarding.

These fees are not revealed and paid for all at the same time, which of course makes more problems for everyone involved. It is nearly impossible to keep up with additional and changing fees, but travel agents often have a better handle on advising these fees, rather than individuals looking for the information on airline booking engines.

Possibly those individuals who book with on-line travel web sites may feel more confident with a travel agent who can inform them more efficiently. The travel agent fee (yes, another fee) may well be worth the price to individuals who would otherwise book with on-line travel distribution centers, digging around many web pages searching for the best fares and those pesky ancillary fees that pop up sooner or later. It is quite hard for consumers to budget their travel, when fees keep popping up during the travel process.

Ancillary fees can be a nightmare for corporate travel managers. Even though corporate credit cards are often used for these fees, the description of the fee is not clear on the credit card statement, making the fees hard to match up with travelers’ expense reports. Many travelers use mobile devices to add extras or make changes to travel, which are also hard to decipher on expense reports. This is a good reason fees need to be added up front or not at all by the airlines, but it looks as though the fees are here to stay.

Travel agencies are doing their best to install software that break down these fees when purchased in advance, but many charges can only be added at the airport, and then appear as separate charges. More time needs to be taken to keep up with all the changing fees as well. This only adds more cost to the travel agency overhead, as they try to keep up with reporting fees to clients.

Just as many hotel rates are negotiated including extras such as breakfast and internet charges for corporations, the same corporations would like to include some airline fees into negotiated airfares to better control airline spending and expense reports.

Many organizations are involved in changing the practice of non disclosure of these extra fees by the airlines. Some of these organizations are:

Some of these groups helped organize a web site, MadAsHellAboutHiddenFees.com. Travelers, travel agents, and corporate traveler managers, among others, signed a position to stop the practice of hidden fees by the airlines. The signed petition was delivered to the USDOT, on the day marked as “Mad As Hell Day,” September 23, 2010.

BTC distributed a petition to clients asking for support to make disclosure of airline ancillary fees mandatory. Along with the help of ASTA, they will take the petition to be finalized in the reauthorization legislation to the U.S. House and Senate, who will meet with the FAA in the next few weeks. A conference committee has been made up of members from both houses to finalize language in the bill.

According to the USDOT, U.S. airlines collected more than $7.8 billion in ancillary fees in 2009, which is up more than 40% from 2008.

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