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'I was forced to pay or miss my flight': Airlines are looking for higher profits, which could mean higher fees

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 3/14/2023 Christopher Elliott

When it comes to airline fees, what will they think of next? 

Passengers like Gregg Jaden think they've seen the future, and they don't like it. On a recent flight from Bali to Bangkok, he tried to board with an overweight bag. 

He said Thai Airways demanded $500 for an extra 40 pounds of luggage.

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"My flight only cost $150," said Jaden, a photographer from Manhattan Beach, Calif. "I was forced to pay or miss my flight."

He suspects airlines are trying something new. He said Thai Airways made it difficult to pay for overweight luggage in advance. Then, when he got to the airport, the carrier set a high luggage fee it knew passengers would have no choice but to pay. Call it dynamic luggage fees. 

I asked Thai Airways whether it was shifting to dynamic fees. In response, a representative sent me a link to the current baggage fees on its website without comment.

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Airlines seem busy thinking about how to earn more profit in 2023, and from the looks of it, they plan to do it the old-fashioned way: by charging fees. The extras range from luggage surcharges to creative change fees. 

The average airline fees rose to an all-time high of $128 per ticket last year, according to research by travel management company Navan (formerly TripActions). "They're certainly the highest I’ve seen them," Navan's Chief Commercial Officer Danny Finkel said.

Airline fees continue on their upward trajectory, and most experts predict they will soar this year. (I have strategies on how to fight fees and other nuisance surcharges in my ultimate guide on booking airline tickets.)

But how?

Are dynamic airline fees coming in 2023?

There's no evidence that airlines have shifted to dynamic fees. But there are signs that it might.

Jaden said the circumstances of his $500 fee seemed suspicious. He knew his bag was overweight and tried to pay for his luggage fees online. But he claimed the airline didn't offer an option for overweight luggage.

"The staff seemed familiar with this problem," he said. "Nothing about it was professional."

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One thing is certain: Luggage fees will be big in 2023. Airlines collected an estimated $20.9 billion last year in baggage fees, according to a report from IdeaWorks, a company that tracks airline fees. They're paying particular attention to carry-on fees.

"It's just a matter of time before we start seeing wider adoption of dynamic pricing on fees," said John Breyault, a vice president at the National Consumers League, a nonprofit organization.

Beware of airline cancellation fees

Here's a new kind of fee Ariana Fiorello-Omotosho saw this summer. When an airline cancels a flight, it owes you either a full refund or a new flight. Most passengers just want to get to their destination as planned, so they accept the new flight. 

But what if the airline can't or won't put them on the next flight? What if they tell them they can't send them to their destination for a few more days, or weeks – unless they pay extra?

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There's an opportunity to upsell passengers on an earlier flight. Fiorello-Omotosho, a travel coach from Medford, Mass., said she's seen airlines disregard passengers traveling on the cheapest tickets and didn't pay for a preferred seat assignment. These travelers get the lowest priority when the airline has a cancellation, she said.

"This is a potential for any airline, and I believe it is going to be a growing concern," Fiorello-Omotosho added.

Airlines profiting from their own cancellations? What'll they think of next?

A change for change fees

Here's something else to look for as you start planning next year's trips: Change fees. Wait, didn't U.S. airlines agree to drop their change fees during the early days of the pandemic, as they were begging the federal government for a bailout? Yep, they did. But look at all the money they left on the table ($2.8 billion in 2019). Is there any way to keep their promise and bring back ticket change fees?

Of course there is. The easy way is to sell more tickets with change fees. Airlines exempted their cheapest fares from the "no change fees" promise. So all they really need to do is sell more of these cut-rate tickets and fewer regular economy class seats.

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Then again, maybe the airline industry will do none of these things next year and take the easy runway. Sell more frequent flier miles to credit card companies and customers and then adjust their redemption levels to make them a little harder to use. It's the airline industry's trillion-dollar trick.

How to escape airline fees in 2023

  • Don't book airlines that charge high fees: Which airlines charge the most fees? IdeaWorks names them (they're called ancillary revenue "champs"). They include Allegiant, EasyJet and Ryanair. You can avoid the fees by flying without luggage and avoiding all perks, and you might even save some money. But sooner or later, the fees will find you.
  • Avoid the fee-prone fares: Don't let the "basic economy" and "saver economy" discount fares fool you, said Daniel Green, co-founder of the travel insurance site Faye. The problem: They're far more restrictive when it comes to luggage and ticket changes. "Airlines act like these are a discount," he said, "In reality, if you purchase the saver fares plus one or two add-ons, you'll end up paying more than you will for a regular economy ticket, which likely already includes those add-ons."
  • Travel light: "The biggest mistake I see travelers make is not taking baggage weight limits seriously," said Larry Snider, vice president of operations at Casago Vacation Rentals. "It's worth the effort to pack a little smarter – and lighter – to save on these fees."

Christopher Elliott is an author, consumer advocate, and journalist. He founded Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps solve consumer problems. He publishes Elliott Confidential, a travel newsletter, and the Elliott Report, a news site about customer service. If you need help with a consumer problem, you can reach him here or email him at

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'I was forced to pay or miss my flight': Airlines are looking for higher profits, which could mean higher fees



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