Why I Love Airline Fees

baggage-feesEveryone loves to hate airline fees, right? Well, I don’t. In fact, I think they’re kinda great. Let me explain further.

I first realized this concept while listening to an episode of Planet Money. On the show, they announced in the “indicator” that airlines collected $3.4 billion in baggage fees last year. One of the hosts, Adam Davidson, announced that he “love(s) baggage fees and airline fees.” He goes onto to explain that in the before-fees era, we all paid for everyone’s bags, whether we checked our own bags or not, as the cost of bags was distributed evenly among passengers. Now, only those checking bags pay the fees, so, if you’re good at packing, you just don’t pay the fee. Airlines ticket prices are so competitive among airlines that the plane tickets are about as cheap as they can get. This has resulted in fees being a major source of revenue for airlines. If airline fees didn’t exist, it’s safe to assume that airline tickets would cost much more. Assuming this the case, why not start out at a low “base” price for a ticket and simply build on it with only the fees for things you need? Which brings me to my main point: I love these fees because I don’t typically pay them.

Here’s how I dodge baggage and other fees on airlines (and why they don’t bother me):

1. On domestic flights, I’m usually fine with just the carry on. I have a rolling bag that just hits the limits of the overhead bin. I usually bring a second backpack that fits under the seat to keep some of my personal belongings. I don’t travel with lots of liquids, so that makes things easy, too. I think that most people can get away with doing this for trips that aren’t too long. Plus, who wants to lug around all that stuff anyway? I really like this guide and this guide to packing. I used both on my last trip and it helped me out quite a bit (especially by convincing me to leave behind stuff I didn’t need).

2. The first checked bag on international flights is free on most airlines. I just flew Delta to Spain in March and the first checked bag was included at no cost. I still didn’t bring a ton of stuff on this 10-day trip, but it was nice not to have to cram it so tightly (I brought a camping-style backpack this time instead). Here’s Expedia’s list of baggage fees for both U.S. domestic and international flights

3. I usually don’t pay the other fees because I don’t need those extras. I never buy food on airplanes anyway. It’s awful, and I’d much rather bring my own. A lot of times I’ll have my own entertainment, so I don’t have to purchase the movies and things like that (if the airlines even charge). If all airlines start charging for printing boarding passes (like Spirit Airlines), I’ll print my boarding passes at home or at my hotel, which is typically free to do.

4. I’ll suck it up and pay the fees for things I want or need. I flew Vueling in Spain, which is a cheaper airline like Ryan Air. They also charge fees for just about everything. For example, I had to pay a fee to buy the tickets with a credit card even though there was no other option for me (the only free option is if you use their branded credit card, which I wasn’t about to apply for). I also paid a few Euro for reserved seats so that I could sit with my girlfriend. These fees were annoying and cost me a few bucks, but I still thought the ticket was cheaper than other domestic flights I’ve taken. The fees weren’t a big deal in this case.

I think this brings up a lot of good comparisons about why it’s best if we only pay the services we use. In costs that are shared among a group of users (sorry if there’s a better economic term for this), it makes so much sense to only pay for your share of the total usage than to have to split costs evenly. Many toll highways charge based on how long you’ve been driving on the road rather than a flat fee no matter where you enter or exit. Some states have floated the idea of charging vehicle use taxes based on the number of miles driven instead of charging a gas tax (although I oppose this idea if it raises taxes in general). While these examples might not be completely analogous to airline fees, I think the idea is similar: just pay for your share.

To hear this short segment on the Planet Money podcast, listen to the episode here (the baggage fees discussion starts at 1:50 in the episode)

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photo by: Michal Osmenda


  1. I don’t like fees of any kind, but I understand your perspective. It is challenging travelling as a family, with several bags, strollers, car seats, etc. Fees are kind of depressing from my perspective. I do think user-pay systems are better as they encourage economical use of resources. It just means that this family will be ‘using’ less.

    • That’s true, I agree that it’s more annoying to pay extra as a “fee” rather than just lumping it in to a ticket price. Of course I don’t love the fees themselves, but I think economics behind them makes sense, as you’ve pointed out.

  2. I was going to say bascially the same thing as Hunter. I understand what your saying but as a family the checked bag fee stinks.  You have to carry SO MUCH STUFF that it gets cost prohibitive to fly.  You pay more for your bags than you do for the people. 

  3. Kevin Yu says

    I definitely agree.  People are now forced to travel lighter.  This means faster security checkpoint lines and lower fuel costs for airlines.

    Speaking of Spirit, I absolutely hate flying with them. They monetize on everything they can think of..even carry on luggage..

  4. You listen to Planet Money too? I love that podcast, I usually listen to it when I go for a run… they have pretty interesting topics about 90% of the time. Just listened to the Libertarian Camp podcast. pretty thought-provoking.

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