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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum: Part X

Hallo, ladies and gents: Did you hear the one about British Airways charging a fee for reserving a seat? Yep, in a new twist to the fee-for-all frenzy, BA is saying that if you "want to have more control" over the seat you get, you have to pay for the privilege. To reserve a specific seat more than 24 hours in advance, international business class passengers have to pay $90, while international coach passengers have to fork over a minimum of $30. If one opts for an especially desirable seat in coach, say, the emergency row aisle, the price is $75. If you wait to reserve your seat within the 24-hour window prior to the flight, it's free (woo-hoo), but it's unlikely you'll get a window...or an aisle.

Since it's been awhile since I've fee-fi-fo-fummed, let me catch you up on other recent developments. For a mere $249, United is now offering an annual pass allowing a customer to check up to two bags per flight for "free." This deal might make sense for frequent travelers, except for the fact these types often have elite status in the airline's frequent flyer program. That means they already get to check bags for free.

Then, of course, are the recently-announced Bah Humbug fees. Delta, American, United, Continental, and US Airways are charging $10 extra for those who choose to fly on the weekend after Thanksgiving; on December 19, 26 and 27; on January 2 and 3 (Happy New Year, indeed); and on assorted other key post-holidates (March 14, 20-21, 28; April 11; May 28). Why don't the airlines just increase the cost of tickets on high-demand days instead of tacking on a fee? Partly it's a matter of accounting and partly it's a matter of appearances. Fees are not subject to the same government tax structure as fares, which means the airlines can keep a greater share of the fee revenue. And, of course, doesn't it look better to charge the passenger $199 (plus $10, plus $30 for the bag, plus God knows what else for what else), than to charge a one-size-fits-all ticket fare? Maybe the fare-plus-fees strategy made sense a year ago. But now that consumers understand the system, my belief is that most would prefer to pay a comprehensive fare upfront rather than be nickel and dimed along the way.

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