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Some Airlines Accused of ‘Shaming’ Travelers Into Buying Extras

Are airlines ‘shaming’ you into spending more money? 3:31

As if finding a reasonable airfare isn’t challenging enough, some airlines are offering rock bottom online prices and then making a hard-sell at checkout for extras such as better seats, extra legroom and early-boarding privileges that ensure access to storage space in the overhead bins.

“Delta, especially, but also Spirit and several others attempt to shame fliers into paying more, instead of treating their customers with courtesy and respect,” said Paul Hudson, president of Flyersrights.org.

Even in an In this age of unbundled airfares, Hudson and others consider this upselling to be many steps beyond the “Do you want fries with that?” tradition pioneered by fast food outlets.

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Airlines, on the other hand, say they are simply being informative about the limited amenities associated with certain fares.

“Basic Economy fares are still fairly new to our customers. Delta’s goal is to ensure passengers have the transparency of the products they are purchasing,” said Delta spokesman Anthony Black.

"When we sell these fares on our website, we are very transparent about what these very low fares provide, and what they don't,” Spirit told NBC.

But Rafat Ali, of travel news site Skift, calls the strategy “hate-selling,” arguing that the restrictions on basic fares show disdain for budget-conscious travelers.

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Some experts don’t fault the airlines – entirely – for making travelers confirm that they understand what they won’t get when they buy a low-priced, very-restrictive fare.

“If Delta didn't make it super clear until after purchase they would be coming under huge criticism,” said Gary Leff of the View from the Wing travel blog.

While Delta could make the message about its Basic Economy fares “friendlier and warmer in tone,” said Henry Harteveldt of Atmosphere Research, the carrier “is doing a good job of helping passengers make well-informed choices about purchasing that fare.”

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Spirit and Frontier could also make improvements to the tone-of-voice used in their up-selling messages, said Hartveldt, but overall, “airlines want to be sure they don’t sugar coat the realities of their most heavily-restricted fares.”

So how can a traveler arm themselves against the airfare up-sell?

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