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Airline Surcharges to Soar, Leaving Passengers Sore

Mark Reynold Airport

Just in time to ruin your day comes a report that airlines stand to earn $22.6 billion in surcharges in 2011. That's up from $10 billion just two years ago.

The prediction comes from Ideaworks, an airline consultancy, and Amadeus, a tech firm that processes travel transactions. Both companies have a vested interest in airlines making more money through surcharges, so let's hope they're just being optimistic. (Or, I guess, pessimistic, depending on your point of view.)

You won't find the word "surcharge" in the six-page single-spaced press release, though. That's because no one involved in the airline industry likes that word. They prefer less irksome terms -- like "a la carte pricing," "ancillary revenue," and "underhanded methods of tormenting our customers, bwa-ha-ha-haaa!"

The report, "The Amadeus Guide To Ancillary Revenue by Ideaworks," is a celebration of surcharges and those airlines that employ them most profitably. In fact, the report calls those airlines "Ancillary Revenue Champs"; they make nearly 20% of their revenue from extras like baggage fees, peak-travel-day surcharges, "convenience fees" to buy tickets over the phone, etc. If you're like me, you'll probably want to steer clear of the so-called Champs: Allegiant, Ryanair, Spirit, Flybe (a U.K.-based cheapie), and Singapore's Tiger Airways.

"The Guide describes how traditional and low-cost carriers are boldly experimenting with new a la carte initiatives," says the press release. Some examples: AirAsia X of Malaysia earns more than $27 per passenger in surcharges through such means as getting more than 80% of them to pre-pay baggage fees. KLM is offering "premium" pre-ordered a la carte meals for $16 on eight long-haul routes. You've already heard about Spirit Airlines charging to stow carry-on bags in the overhead bin? Now they have the cheek to sell "carry-on compliant luggage" on their website.

I have a name for people who choose to fly with these Ancillary Revenue Champs: Ancillary Revenue Chumps.

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Smart Traveler Mark Orwoll is the International Editor of Travel + Leisure.

Photo by Mark Reynolds.

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