By the Way

There’s a way to fly cheaper on your next trip, but airlines won’t tell you how

Travelers used to carrying on a small suitcase for free may no longer have that option. Mississippi’s attorney general says the airlines should disclose all fees before ticket purchase.
Travelers used to carrying on a small suitcase for free may no longer have that option. Mississippi’s attorney general says the airlines should disclose all fees before ticket purchase. The Advocate File

My husband has a favorite carry-on suitcase he bought several years ago to meet airline carry-on regulations.

It was pricy and has great wheels, but it is now obsolete for its purpose.

Rules and extra costs caught my family by surprise over the Thanksgiving holiday.

It was when I was printing my husband’s boarding pass the day before his flight that I found his bag no longer qualifies as carry-on.

No carry-on bag bigger than a briefcase and a fee of up to $50 each way for a bag that is checked, whether at the gate or in the standard baggage hold. Suddenly the ticket wasn’t such a good deal.

I quickly paid a $25 fee for what used to be a carry-on bag so he could check it. Had he discovered it at the gate, it would have been $50.

Next year, he plans to mail his clothes to my daughter’s apartment. I think it just made him mad the way the airlines handled letting us know.

This week, our state’s Attorney General Jim Hood took note of the issue.

Hood joined 16 other attorneys general to ask the U.S. Department of Transportation to require airlines and ticket vendors to disclose baggage regs and charges and other fees up front, so you can get a truer picture of your trip cost.

The DOT announced recently it wasn’t going with an airline transparency rule that would have made it far easier for travelers to understand the full cost of their trip before paying.

DOT said the rule would have been “of limited public benefit.”

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When a customer books a ticket, fees aren’t disclosed until booking is nearly complete or later. U.S. airlines are expected to earn $57 billion from fees this year — $7 billion from baggage alone.

A 2016 study, according to Hood, showed travelers paid an average of $100 in fees per round-trip on Spirit airlines, $97 on Frontier, and $86.92 on United.

“We regularly hear reports from consumers in our states who are confused and frustrated by these fees, which significantly alter the total cost of travel,” the attorneys general wrote to DOT. “We take seriously our responsibilities to protect our state’s citizens in their roles as consumers.”

The Transparency of Airline Ancillary Service Fees rule — a rather confusing title — would have made ticket options clear to travelers.

It’s out, for now.

Basic services are being broken out into extra service fees, including selecting a seat, baggage, printing a boarding pass and providing assistance to children.

The more travel-savvy say the way around some fees is to join airline frequent flier programs. They suggested getting airline credit cards that pay out in flier miles as an aid to waiving fees and earning free trips for loyalty to an airline. That’s one way to do it.

In the meantime, along with Hood are the attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia.

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