Worst Airline Fees – What Do You Mean $100 for a Carry-on Bag?

by Ryan Guina

I had to make airline reservations this week and it both amazed and sickened me to see how many airline fees there are. They are actually worse than bank fees because most bank fees can be avoided. Unfortunately, the worst airline fees are much more difficult, if not impossible, to avoid.

These fees vary by airline and are just a few of the worst examples.

Ticket related costs

worst airline fees

Spirit Airlines charges up to $100 for a carry on bag

Carry on luggage. Thankfully, most airlines haven’t started charging for carry-on bags. Most airlines actually prefer that you carry on luggage, as it reduces the overall amount of work their ground crew performs, and most people pack lighter, which reduces the weight the airplanes carry. But some airlines see this as an avenue for revenue. The worst offender? Spirit Airlines, which charges up to $100 for a carry on bag. Their official stance is that they don’t want anyone to have to pay it. I don’t believe them.

Checked luggage: $15-100. Most companies charge around $20-25 for a checked bag, which is reasonable, and you can often get a free checked bag if you use an airline branded credit card. The higher prices are usually for a third bag, or those that weigh more than 50 lbs. More than that and you may need a second mortgage.

Buying tickets over the phone: $10-20.Most people have internet access nowadays, but some people still prefer talking to a real person. That phone call is gonna cost you if you book over the phone with American Airlines, US Airways, Southwest, JetBlue and several other airlines.

Ticket reservation changes: $30-250. Once you make your plans, keep them or it will cost you a lot of money!

Paper Tickets: $50-70. Add an additional fee if you need them overnighted to you. Thankfully you don’t need a physical ticket nowadays.

Seat reservations: $5-20. Some airlines only charge this if you reserve your seat prior to receiving your boarding pass. Other airlines charge you up to $7-$20 for an aisle or window seat, or $20 to sit in an emergency exit row.

Taxes, fees, and surcharges

Taxes, airport improvement fees, security fees, etc: $$ a lot. The taxes and fees vary widely.Some examples include: September 11th Security Fee (up to $10), Passenger Facility Charges (up to $18.00), Federal Domestic Flight Segment Fee ($3.50 for each leg of the trip – another reason fewer layovers is better!), U.S. International Departure tax ($15.40 per international departure; note: doesn’t include taxes for the arrival country), US International Arrival tax of $15.40, US Customs fee of $5.00, Immigration (INS) fee of $7.00 and Animal and Plant Health Inspection fee (APHIS) of $5.00. Most of these taxes are government imposed and are unavoidable. Just check the fine print before buying your ticket!

Fuel surcharges: $0-300. The rates are higher for international flights. The worst part is, you may not even know how much your fuel surcharge will be until after you buy your ticket!

Fees for redeeming airline miles

Airline Mile Redemption: $25-100. Northwest charges customers $25 to $100 to redeem frequent-flier miles for a (previously free) ticket. Several airlines also require miles to be redeemed over the telephone, forcing customers to incur additional fees to talk to a real person. You’re better off using a cash back credit card.

Airline Mile Redemption without sufficient notice: $75-100. Some airlines require frequent fliers to give advance notice before redeeming miles. This can range anywhere from 3 days to 22 days depending on the carrier.

Rebanking airline miles: $50-100. Decide you don’t want to redeem your miles? Gotta pay to put them back.

Food, pillows, and extras

Food: $2-10. Many airlines have dropped complimentary pretzels and soft drinks and replaced them with drinks and snacks for purchase. $5 beers anyone?

Pillow and blanket: $7. This is the Jet Blue special (but it does come with a $5 coupon for Bed Bath and Beyond).

Extras: $2-10. Movies, headphones, etc.


In flight advertising. This isn’t really a charge, but it is just one more way the troubled airlines are making a buck at your expense. Don’t be surprised to see advertising on tray tables, in flight magazines, movies, radio, air sickness bags, overhead bins, seat cushions, lavatories, boarding passes, over the loud speaker, etc. Thankfully some airlines have less intrusive advertising than others.

Always read the fine print before purchasing your ticket

Some of these fees are entirely avoidable, while others (taxes and airport fees) are required. If you pay attention and plan well, you should be able to avoid many of these fees.

Photo credit: gTarded

Published or updated November 14, 2012.
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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John Hunter

The airlines are run as though their desire is to go out of business. And many of them succeed at it.


2 jim

All this nickel and diming is ridiculous, just include it in the cost and be done with it. I fly Southwest in part because they don’t do any of this BS.


3 Kristen

We found out the hard way about how much it costs to change a flight reservation. My darling husband (who is the worst person with dates ever!), wanted to be in charge of planning our honeymoon. He screwed up the date of our return flight home. It cost us several hundred dollars to get on a flight for the right day.

I’m not even going to get started on the cost of everything on the flight …


4 doctor S

Yea these petty fee’s are absurd these days and even more are the commercials. I wonder what the numbers look like but I am sure Southwest is cleaning up right now with some of the ads they have been airing. The airline industry needs to be simplified.


5 deepali

some of those fees i’m ok with – like the jetblue blanket fee. it’s expensive and wasteful for them to wash the blankets, so instead you either dress warmly or buy it off them and you get to keep it. like paying for the headphones which you also get to keep… makes us more mindful of reusing things. ๐Ÿ™‚
the rest of it sucks though. ๐Ÿ™‚

although i only paid $7 to redeem ff miles on NW recently…?


6 Ryan

John: No doubt, John. They aren’t very well run, and most operate at a deficit.

Jim: I prefer to fly Southwest as well, but they aren’t at my local airport. It’s cheaper for me to fly form the airlines at my local airport instead of driving an hour and a half and pay for parking.


7 Student Scrooge

Well… flying definitely is not as fun as it used to be, thats for sure. There certainly is an annoyance factor associated with an environment that seems like it constantly trying to sell you something.

BUT… I don’t have a problem with a lot of these fees. Paper ticket? Not any reason anymore to get one. Paying over the phone? There is no reason not to book over the internet, and if for some reason you are uncomfortable with that, I see no reason why its not fair for the airline to recoup the cost of a call center. Paying for headphones? I bring my own, and would rather not subsidize my seatmate’s. That $10 sandwich? I’m not flying a restaurant — if I can’t make it the length of the flight without eating, I should expect to pay more.

That being said, there are certainly fees that seem quite unreasonable — hiding costs inside an international fuel surcharge that costs more than the base fare of the ticket is a pretty deceptive practice, and seat reservations and luggage seem appropriate complimentary items.

I really hope that we’re just going through an adjustment period with the airlines and that eventually things will swing back some…


8 Joe

Recently I was booked on a Southwest flight from the East Coast through Chicago Midway to Texas. I found a direct flight and changed my ticket. Not only did SWA not charge extra but they refunded to me the tax for landing in Chicago. Too cool.


9 Ryan

Very cool, Joe! Just another reason why Southwest rocks! (I just wish they flew out of my local airport!). ๐Ÿ˜‰


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