Anthony Arcieri went shopping recently for a free flight from Washington to Chicago on US Airways using his frequent flier miles. He got his free trip -- only problem was it cost him $55.
Arcieri, a college administrator from Waldorf, also got a quick lesson in the add-on fees the airlines are charging these days.
For booking his frequent flier rewards trip less than two weeks in advance, Arcieri was hit with a $50 fee. He also made the mistake of phoning the airline to book the ticket with an agent: Add $5 for the live human voice.
If Arcieri wanted meals on his flights he'd face an additional charge of $20 round trip. Total charges: $75. Arcieri's free trip to Chicago now cost nearly as much as a round trip from Washington to Pittsburgh on Independence Air, going for the sale price of $77.
US Airways is not the only legacy carrier charging these kinds of fees. Northwest Airlines initiated the $5 and $10 fees for booking through a live person and was followed by other airlines, including American, United and Continental. United Airlines charges frequent fliers $15 for the privilege of redeeming their miles for a free trip through a reservation or ticket agent. Book your free trip less than a week in advance and United tacks on a fee of $75.
In a determined push to add revenue and cut costs, many traditional airlines have gone fee-happy. There are fees for excess baggage, fees for unaccompanied minors, fees for requesting a paper ticket, fees for changing your ticket -- just to name a few.
Of course, many airlines waive some fees for their top travelers -- those who fly at least 50,000 miles a year.
Many low-cost airlines such as JetBlue and Southwest don't impose fees for last-minute use of frequent flier miles. Those two carriers don't charge for booking with a telephone agent. Low-cost carriers don't charge fees for meals because they don't have meal service. They also fly to fewer destinations and operate solely within the United States.
Minneapolis-based fare expert Terry Trippler of hubcitymsp.com said the older airlines have imposed the fees because they are unable to lower their costs enough to match the low-cost carriers.
"The legacy carriers have higher fares, higher fees and less service," Trippler said. "They're not nickel and diming travelers, they're $5 and $10-ing them."
Frequent flier Arcieri said he wanted to burn off some of his miles on US Airways because he was concerned about the long-term prospects for the carrier. And, he said, if the major airlines continue to lose money, he'd begin bracing for still more fees.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we start seeing coin machines on lavatory doors in the near future. Yes, it's getting that bad," he said.
US Airways Frequent Fliers Gather: If you're a US Airways frequent flier and want to meet and chat with other members, head for the Krispy Kreme on Richmond Highway (Route 1) in Alexandria on Sunday at 3 p.m. The group, which met through www.flyertalk.com, used to be called US Airways Cockroaches. Now it goes by the name FFocus, which is short for Frequent Flyers Organized and Committed to US Airways Success.
Price Restructuring Overseas: Aer Lingus yesterday announced it was permanently slashing its fares to Ireland by 40 to 60 percent and eliminating its Saturday-night-stay requirement. The airline also did away with its advance purchase rules and implemented one-way fares. Aer Lingus, like U.S. legacy airlines, is under a great deal of pressure to match the fares of low-cost European carriers. Aer Lingus will suspend service out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport for a seasonal travel decline between Dec. 1 and May 1, 2005. Round-trip, business-class fares out of BWI dropped to $2,208 from $4,544. Coach fares dropped slightly to a range of $226 to $376, from $276 to $406.
Northwest Guarantees Web Fares: To drive more passengers to its Web site, Northwest Airlines last week promised travelers a $50 travel voucher if they find a cheaper fare anywhere besides its Web site.
Northwest says any customer who purchases a ticket and then finds it cheaper by $5 or more on the same day will be eligible to receive a refund for the difference and for a voucher to be used on a future Northwest flight. Travelers have to complete an online claim form by midnight of the day they purchased the ticket.
Northwest sells about 18 percent of its tickets on the Internet.
Question of the Week: What strategies do you use to get yourself out of conversations with seatmates during a flight? Send your thoughts to email@example.com. Please include your name and a daytime telephone number.