While we were all busy packing our bags to head out for Labor Day weekend, several airlines implemented baggage fee increases that make it more costly to check those bags when flying.
The Friday before Labor Day weekend, United Airlines increased its first-checked-bag fee to $30, up from $25, and its second-checked-bag fee to $40, up from $35 (baggage fee exemptions remain for United flyers with membership status and for United MileagePlus cardholders, all of which are specified on the carrier’s baggage calculator on the United website).
The move came a few days after JetBlue increased the fee for passengers’ first checked bags to $30 up from $25, and for the second checked bag to $40 from $35. The first bag’s fee will still be about $25 for JetBlue customers who choose the Blue Plus fare option when booking online (the cost of the first checked bag is “included” in the fare, which is a slightly higher rate than the standard Blue fare), and the second bag’s fee remains $35 when choosing the Blue Plus fare option. JetBlue also increased its fee for third and additional bags to $150, up from $100.
Similarly, a few days prior to JetBlue’s baggage fee change, Air Canada and WestJet both raised their fees for the first checked bag from $25 to around $30 as well (the Air Canada site states the new charge is $31.50 and WestJet states it is between $30 and $35). Air Canada also increased its fees for the second checked bag to $52.50 from $35, and WestJet to between $50 and $59, up from $35.
The latest to do the same was Delta, which on September 19 also raised its baggage fees to $30, up from $25, for the first checked bag, and to $40, up from $35, for the second checked bag.
“While we don’t like fees, we are facing additional business costs including rising fuel prices,” a JetBlue spokesperson explained in an email. “The fee changes will help us offset those so we can keep our business healthy while continuing to focus on the things JetBlue customers like most such as our legroom in coach and free Wi-Fi and seatback TV.”
The price of jet fuel has gone up 25 percent over the past year, according to the International Air Transport Association’s jet fuel price monitor, putting pressure on airlines to find alternative ways to maintain profits. Consequently, it’s not unlikely that we will see more fee increases, according to analysts, as airlines look for additional revenue opportunities.
“I am certain that more airlines will increase fees and I wouldn’t even be surprised if one day bag fees on longer [domestic] flights cost more than on shorter ones,” said George Hobica, founder of the flight deal tracking site Airfarewatchdog.com.
According to Patrick Surry, chief data scientist for the travel app Hopper, as airlines try to keep their base fares competitive, ancillary fees are an area where consumers can expect to see carriers implement more hikes in the future.
“Airlines have increasingly begun unbundling their offerings so that they can offer a lower base ticket price and allow consumers to ‘customize’ their flight with additional services. This has driven rapid growth in so-called ancillary fees for services like baggage, as well as ticket changes or cancellations,” said Surry. “Given that ancillary revenue now accounts for about 10 percent of total airline revenues, we’re likely to see the baggage fee trend continue.”
Last year, airlines earned a combined $4.6 billion in baggage fees alone, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation.
So, where do the increased fees leave consumers with regard to how best to travel with their luggage without taking too big of a hit?
If the fees start to feel prohibitively high for travelers, Hobica recommends looking into shipping options, such as UPS and FedEx, as a possible alternative. He pointed out that for shorter distances, shipping can often cost about the same as an airline bag fee, and comes with better tracking and insurance options.
“Send the box ahead to your hotel or to your company headquarters or mom’s house—give it about five days [lead time],” said Hobica. “Plus, with shipping there’s no waiting at the check-in desk or at the bag carousel at the end of the flight for a bag that may not show up at all.”
This article originally appeared online on September 6, 2018; it was updated on September 20, 2018, to include current information.