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10 most obnoxious hidden airline fees

Let’s face it. As an industry, airlines have never made money since the Wright Brothers. Because of this mismanagement, they’ve decided to try lining their coffers by coming up with a slew of obnoxious extra charges.
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Let’s face it. As an industry, airlines have never made money since the Wright Brothers.

Because of this mismanagement, they’ve decided to try lining their coffers by coming up with a slew of obnoxious extra charges.

Whatever additional costs these services could possibly impose on the airlines are clearly lower than what passengers pay. Read on for the most egregious examples.

1. Making a reservation on the phone or in person
Fee: $5-$20. US Airways is among the greediest on this count: $10 to book over the phone, or $20 to book at the airport or at a city ticket office (if you can find one). Can it possibly cost US Airways that much for a simple 10-minute call? Surely the airline doesn’t pay its reservationists that much. United levies $15 for the privilege of speaking to a human. American, JetBlue, and Southwest $10 (for internet-only fares in Southwest’s case, but is told Southwest does make exceptions). Northwest and Virgin America charge just $5.

2. Re-banking frequent flyer miles
Fee: $50-100. If you cash in your miles and decide not to use your ticket, you’ll be hit with a fee to place the miles back into your account. Why? What cost exactly is involved here on the airlines’ part? These tickets are issued electronically, so what’s the big deal?

3. Cashing in frequent flyer miles without sufficient advance notice
Fee: $0-100. Who says frequent flyer tickets are free? Some airlines will let you book a frequent-flyer seat even up to the day of travel with no fee. These include Airtran, JetBlue, Northwest and Southwest. But others (Continental, Delta, and United) charge $75 if you book without enough notice (defined as 3 days on Continental but an unreasonable 22 days on Delta); and American charges an insane $100 if you book 6 days or fewer before departure.

4. Bringing a pet onboard in the cabin
Fee: $50-85 (each way). These fees have skyrocketed lately. Muffy and Buffy won’t be ringing the call button for a glass of milk, and they won’t be carrying bags or imposing on the airline’s bottom line in any way; but their fare might end up costing more than yours. Most airlines now charge $80 each way. On United you’ll pay $85, on JetBlue “just” $50.

5. Checking luggage
Fee: $3-10 (each way). We’re talking here just about checking even one bag, even if they’re not oversized or overweight (that’s a whole other story). Spirit Airlines charges $5 for each of the first two bags if paid for online, $10 each otherwise. The third bag costs a whopping $100, more if it’s oversized or overweight.

Skybus also charges $5 for the first two, and $50 for each additional. Allegiant charges $3 for the first, $5 for the second. Air Canada gives you a discount for not checking baggage, which is a sneaky way of charging you if you do. It’s not like the airlines are giving us bigger overhead bins, so that’s the big idea here? Don’t be surprised if you see other airlines following suit.

6. Getting a refund when a fare goes down
Fee: $25 to $200 or more. If you bought a TV from Costco or BestBuy and they lowered the price the following week, chances are you could get a refund, no questions asked. Even Apple gave credits when it dropped the price of its iPhone soon after launching it.

But most airlines either will refund nothing (British Airways and most other international carriers) or they’ll charge an “administrative fee” of up to $100 on a domestic ticket, and even more on an international one. What justifies this? Does it actually cost them $100 to spend a few minutes to rewrite your electronic ticket? I doubt it.

7. Flying standby on the same day of travel
Fee: $0-50. Time was, if there were empty seats on a later or earlier flight on the same day as your original, the airline would confirm you for free. But now, most airlines charge to take an earlier or later flight on the same day as your original flight if you want a confirmed seat (you can still take your chances on many airlines and standby without a confirmation for free, but that's not the same thing).

Only AirTran, among the larger airlines, charges no fee if you show up at the airport before your original departure and wish to take an earlier flight, or ask to change to a later departure. American, Continental, JetBlue, Northwest, and US Air charge $25; Delta (always the fee leader) and United sock you for $50. Southwest is a different animal altogether: there’s no fee to go standby as such, but you’ll have to pay the “walk up” last minute fare, which could be hundreds of dollars more than your original discount fare.

8. Paying for lap children
Fee: $10 to 10 percent of the adult fare (international flights). What on earth is the meaning of this? Your kid isn’t taking up a seat, and certainly isn’t partaking of the free food and booze (if any). Is the little tyke responsible for consuming extra jet fuel? On a fare of say, $1,200, you’ll be billed $120 or more for the privilege of holding the child in your lap for 10 hours (on a business class fare of, say, $5,000 you’ll pay $500).

Domestically, Skybus, never to miss the chance to line its pockets, charges a $10 “administrative fee” for lap children. Is that to compensate for the oxygen your infant will be breathing during the flight? By the way, if there's a fuel surcharge on your flight, your kiddie will pay that too: as much as $90 each way.

9. Getting a seat assignment
Fee: $5-$11 each way. Air Canada, AirTran and Allegiant are some of the carriers that now charge for this “perk.” AirTran charges $5 if you’re on a discounted coach ticket; Allegiant charges $11. AirTran charges $15 if you want to grab an exit-row seat and Northwest recently upped the charge from $15 to $20 (but I still think it's worth it).

10. Using the lavatory
Fee: OK, airlines are not installing pay toilets. Yet. But the way things are going ...