(Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
By Gary Stoller, USA TODAY
Airline fees for everything ranging from booking a trip by phone to checking a bag are on the rise, and four carriers are levying fees of $400 or more, a USA TODAY survey of a dozen U.S. airlines shows.
Delta Air Lines charges $400 to change a ticket on some international flights - a $150 increase over its most-expensive flight-change fee in 2011, when USA TODAY did a similar survey.
American Airlines charges $450 for an overweight checked bag weighing 71 to 100 pounds for some international flights, while such a bag on United Airlines' international flights and Hawaiian Airlines' Asian flights costs $400.
Fees are a major source of revenue for the industry. According to the Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 15 U.S. airlines reported revenues of $2.6 billion from baggage fees and $2.1 billion from reservation-change fees during the first three quarters last year.
Charging passengers fees "for services they value and are willing to pay for" has "enabled airlines to provide consumers the ultimate choice and control over what they purchase," says Victoria Day, a spokeswoman for the Airlines for America trade group.
Without charging fees last year, airlines would have lost money and offered fewer flights, she says.
USA TODAY'S most recent survey took two weeks to complete and focused only on fees applicable to most coach passengers. There are a myriad of other fees that apply to first-class passengers, for instance.
The survey found that some fees are difficult to find or are missing on airline Web pages, and terms of some others are vague or incomplete.
United Airlines' website, for example says the carrier's fee for Premier Access, which provides priority check-in and boarding privileges, starts at $9. The price, though, can range up to $59 for some flights, USA TODAY was told when it requested the information from the company.
The most expensive fees for a single checked bag are those of Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air. Spirit charges $100 for a bag that must be checked in at an airport gate, and Allegiant charges $75 for a bag checked in at an airport for a Hawaii flight.
Both airlines have much lower fees for fliers who check a bag in advance and online.
Nearly all airlines charge for booking on the phone what was once known as a "free" frequent-flier award ticket.
Spirit and US Airways have some of the highest fees for such bookings. Spirit charges $25 for a phone booking and nothing for an online booking, but has an additional charge of $100 for booking within six days of departure.
US Airways charges $90 to book on the phone an award ticket for an international flight. Fliers who book online are charged $50 for a Hawaii or international flight.
According to the Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 15 U.S..airlines reported revenues of $2.6 billion from baggage fees and $2.1 billion from reservations change fees during the first three quarters last year.
The following are fees that may apply to most coach passengers. Very frequent fliers and passengers with high-price tickets may receive free services or amenities and be exempt from, or pay less for, some fees. Fees may be different for passengers originating at foreign airports or can vary by flight or other factors.
1 - Difference in fare may also be charged; 2 - For confirmed seat. Difference in fare may also be charged. Standby fliers may not have to pay additional fee; 3 - Ticket cannot be changed less than 168 hours prior to departure. No change fee for fliers paying $8-$20 TripFlex fee and rescheduling flight up to one hour before original departure; 4 - Rescheduled flight must be within six hours of original flight.
IN THE AIRPORT
1 - A fee may apply or could be higher if booking is made close to departure; 2 - Additional tax or tax-recovery charge may apply; 3 - American charges $75 extra if booked two hours - 20 days before departure; United charges $75 extra if booked within 21 days before departure; US Airways charges $75 extra if booked 0-20 days before departure; 4 - $75 if new outbound flight date is within 21 days of original date; 0 otherwise; 5 - 0 if using AAnytime award; $150 if using MileSAAver award.