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June 12, 2008

United Joins American in Charging Luggage Fees

by Barbara S. Peterson

It's official:  with United's announcement that it will follow American's lead and begin charging passengers $15 each way for the first bag you check, it won't be long before the rest of industry follows suit. United is doing it a little differently, however; while those buying tickets starting tomorrow will be subject to the fee, it will only start kicking in for domestic trips scheduled for Aug. 18 or later. American's applies to tickets purchased this Sunday and beyond. 

Each airline exempts international travelers, first and business class customers and some very high-milers from the fee.  That means, of course, it'll fall hardest on the vacationing families who are flying on the lowest fares--a family of four, checking one bag each, would pay $120--for something they long assumed was part of the overall ticket price. The price goes up with each bag you add:  it's $25 for the second one,  heads skyward from there. United says it expects about a third of its passengers to pay the fee.  But it's not surprising the airlines would be looking for any and all ways to raise revenue; according to the Air Transport Association, the price of jet fuel has risen about 90% in the last year, and now accounts for fully 40% of the average airline's total expenses, up from 15% in the early part of the decade.

Southwest, by the way, which hedged its fuel prices at around $50 a barrel versus the $120-plus others are paying, lets you carry two bags free but does charge for the third bag. 

Further reading:
* Luggage Fees:  Watch the Deals...and Your Wallet
* Baggage Fees: A GOOD Idea


Brook Wilkinson posted earlier in the month about this situation, and she made a lot of sense: Why do travelers feel they need three outfits a day times fourteen for a two-week vacation?

I am stunned when I see see families enter the terminal, off to Disneyland for a week with a large luggage trolley's worth of suitcases.

Good point, and everyone would do well to follow that sage bit of packing advice about making a list of what you "must" take and then cutting it by half. But for the policy to work, it ought to be consistent, and this one has enough holes to drive a truck travelers, who as Brook observed often pack far more stuff, are exempt, and so are frequent fliers (though they often travel light.) Still, what about the family with children in tow and who really can't -- or shouldn't -- lug everything on board? Also many people check at least one bag so they can bring toiletries and other items that would run afoul of the TSA's liquids rules. SO let's call this what it really is: a fare increase for the budget traveler.
Actually, a per-pound charge for everything you are bringing with you -- both carry on and checked bags -- might be the fairest solution.

My wife, off on a trip from New York to Montana soon, was musing just last night that she's thinking the baggage charge might be a bargain, in light of the inevitable carry-on mess that's going to ensue--people fighting over storage-bin space, etc. She's going to check her little carry-on-size wheeled suitcase rather than participate in that war.

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