Airline Introduces Boarding Pass Fee

Michele Norris speaks with Rick Seaney, CEO of Farecompare.com, about the new boarding pass fee that Spirit Airlines is charging — and what other fees we might be seeing soon.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This next story falls in the what-will-they-do-next category. When you fly there are already fees for picking a good seat, fees for a pillow or a blanket, fees for a snack. Now one low cost airline is introducing a new fee for your boarding pass.

This fall, Florida-based Spirit Airlines, will charge you $5 if you have an agent print your boarding pass at the airport, rather than printing it yourself at home. It's the first carrier in the U.S. to do so, but will it be the last?

Well, for more on this and other fees we might be seeing soon, we're joined by Rick Seaney. He's a regular observer of the airline industry. He's the CEO of Farecompare.com. That's a web site that allows you to comparison shop.

Welcome back to the show.

Mr. RICK SEANEY (CEO, FareCompare.com): Great to be on.

NORRIS: Now, we should say that Spirit Airlines says that by charging the $5 boarding pass fee, they plan to lower fares on their non-stop flights by $5.

Mr. SEANEY: No. Absolutely, they're saying that. But in general what happens was our ally and ticket prices, they vary wildly based on when you buy. So it's hard to say that they are dropping everything by exactly $5. But they're making a motions that they're going to do that.

NORRIS: Now, Spirit Airlines prides itself on allowing customers to pay for the extras you want, claiming that gives you a lower fare. Last year, they were the first airline in the U.S. to charge a fee for carry-ons. They're known for breaking new ground.

Mr. SEANEY: Yeah, this is part of their brand. You know, their CEO has said in the past, look, you know, we're not for everybody - if you don't like to pay fees, then don't fly on us, basically.

NORRIS: Every time I hear about one of these fees, I wonder what's coming next. Are their fees that are in the pipeline that we should brace for?

Mr. SEANEY: Well, you know they had some fees they tried that they pulled back, that didn't go over, like charging for drinks in the water. US Airways tried that. United tried to charge for meals on international flights of eight hours or more. They had to pull back those fees.

I think those fees could come back. But as long as oil prices stay under $100 a barrel, I don't think they are going to dip their toe much in.

What we probably will see is every year, we've seen about a 20 to 25 percent increase in bag fees. I expect that to happen again later this year.

NORRIS: What about fees for things that you see already in Europe; strollers, golf bags, things like that?

Mr. SEANEY: Absolutely. I think, you know, where we get caught on most of these fees - and let's put it in context here. Last year, $5.3 billion for checked bag fees and for reservation change fees alone, $9 billion in fees domestically. There are going to be oversized, overweight bags, anything over 50 pounds. We have an airlines, like over in Hawaii that are charging if your bag is over 25 pounds.

It's really hard for a consumer to understand what their final ticket prices going to be, which is what the airlines want. They hate people to be able to compare apples-to-apples.

NORRIS: Twenty-five pounds? I know a woman who carries 25 pound purses.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEANEY: I think you're talking about my wife.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: People might feel nickel and dimes, but I gather this summer there are new federal rules that will go into effect, that will help consumers figure out what fees are being charged. These new rules will require the web sites to post fees on a single page. Will these also have to be evident at the airport? What does all this mean?

Mr. SEANEY: Yeah, no. In late August - and theyve already tried to file for some extensions already. They'll have to disclose all these fees. It's one of the most frustrating things for consumers, is they get caught unaware at the airport.

I dont know they're going to do this, because we're talking about a sushi menu full of fees, right, on a confirmation credit card page. And I think airlines will be testing that Department of Transportation's version of those rules as we go in late August. Because they're going to step on the line and say, well, should it be in, you know, 3-point font or in 15-point font. And they're going to test all these rules soon.

NORRIS: Since there are all these new fees, what should consumers do if they want to try to keep their airfare prices low?

Mr. SEANEY: There's lots of programs out there for waiving a fees. If you achieve elite status on an airline, fees are waived. If you use a branded credit card like United and Delta, they waive fees. Even hotels today are waiving fees and using it as a marketing program saying, hey, if you fly and you have to pay a bag fee, we'll reimburse it when you get to the hotel.

United Airlines, if you fly a lot, has an all you can eat bag fee for the entire year or $250 for you and your family to carry as many bags you want. So that's another way to get around things.

NORRIS: An all you can eat bag fee?

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: Never heard of that before.

Mr. SEANEY: Yeah, you wouldn't want to eat on an airline but you can certainly eat all the bags you want.

NORRIS: You don't have a chance to eat on an airline. Lucky if they even offer you food.

Rick Seaney, always good to talk to you.

Mr. SEANEY: Great, thank you.

NORRIS: Rick Seaney is CEO of Farecompare.com.

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