Should We Pay Extra Fees For Carry On Baggage?

by Guest Blogger on 2010-04-0830

One budget travel tip should be to avoid airlines that charge for carry on baggage!

If you have been living in a cave the last day or so and haven’t heard the news, Spirit Airlines will now charge people $45 to bring a carry on ($30 if done online). When I first heard this, I ignored it because I am used to carriers charging for baggage. The “carry-on” part didn’t really start processing for a minute or two. Still, I wasn’t too surprised by this news. Once carriers started charging for checking in luggage, it really seemed like a matter of time. Here’s are the two big questions I have: Is this fair and what else can we expect in the future?

Is It Fair To Charge for Carry On Baggage?

That’s a broad question. Before I get to my opinion on it, I think it’s worth looking at the checked baggage fee first. When you check in a baggage, the airline incurs several costs:

  • The airline has to employ people to load the luggage. Less luggage to load means hiring fewer employees, which leads to less cost for the airline.
  • The airline has to pay for the fuel of the baggage. From this article on save money on gas, more weight causes less fuel efficiency. That means it will take more fuel per flight.
  • The airline has to bear responsibility for losing the luggage. Lost luggage costs airlines a lot of money each year.
  • The airline has to transfer and track luggage. I suppose the transfer may be covered in the first point, but the tracking involves a lot of computer work. I’m going to assume that those computer systems aren’t free. However, once you have a computer system in place, each piece of luggage may not be an additional cost. So consider this as an additional point that didn’t slip in the previous three as it applies to tracking and transferring luggage.
carry on baggage
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When you look at those costs, which ones apply to carry-on luggage? The only one I see is the reduced fuel efficiency. So when most airlines charge $25 or so for a checked bag, I find it quite unusual that one airline (Spirit in this case) would charge almost double the price for something that should be costing less money. Perhaps I’m missing something here.

I think some fee for a carry-on bag to compensate for the fuel efficiency is fair, but the price should be a percentage of the overall flight cost. It does not cost the same to fly a carry-on bag from Boston to New York as it does to fly it from Boston to Los Angeles. And while I agree that paying for your carry-on online should offer a discount, a 33% discount seems excessive if you buy into the reason that the fee in the first place is due to reduced fuel efficiency. It’s not like it costs the airline $15 more for you to swipe a credit card at the airport vs. when you pay at home. If this is the way it worked, I’ll pay for my car’s gasoline online and collect my free 5 gallons.

Where Are these Baggage Fees Going?

Just for fun, allow me to propose a scenario. What if I were to take all the clothes in my carry-on and wear them? I then take my carry on, scrunch it under the seat in front of me as a personal item (which is still free). This would save me the $45 fee, but still cost the airline just as much as if I used the overhead compartment. We are only talking about changing the location of the items… the items weigh the same, thus the fuel efficiency is still reduced by the same amount.

Let’s take the scenario a little further. Let’s say that a man and a woman are traveling on the same flight. The man weighs 170 pounds and the woman weighs 140 pounds. The woman brings a 30-pound carry-on on-board while the husband travels light and avoids the carry-on. The actual cost to the airline for these people should be exactly the same (unless I’m missing something). However, the woman will pay $45 more than the man. That doesn’t seem very fair to me. Is the end game of all these fees going to be that we step on a scale with all our possessions and pay a rate per pound?

As a final note, I should mention that Spirit says it’s going to reduce its prices so that these carry-on fees will just bring prices back to normal. Savvy customers who don’t need carry-ons can use this to save money on airfare. I like that side of things. However, I think their will be a lot of people who see it as a low-fare and think that they are getting an apples-to-apples price with other airlines. I would imagine those customers wouldn’t feel too happy when they find out about the other charges.

So what’s next? Charging to use the airline potty? Apparently so!

Many thanks to Lazy Man from Lazy Man and Money for sharing his thoughts on airline ticket pricing and the extra charges that travelers may soon see at ticket counters! Like this article? You can subscribe to Lazy Man and Money’s RSS feed!

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Kosmo @ The Casual Observer April 8, 2010 at 10:36 am

I’d suggest wearing a large trench coat with lots of pockets.

This really just seems like a ploy to allow them to advertise lower base rates. I’d think that very few people are going to fly NY to LA without some sort of carry on. When I have flown in the past, I’ve always had a good assortment of reading material to keep me entertained on the plane and during layovers. Additionally, many people like having the ability to carry on a change of clothing – in case the airline loses the checked baggage.

As for the pay toilets – I hope you’re not sitting next to an incontinent cheapskate 🙂

Criminal Justice Degree April 8, 2010 at 10:46 am

Nickle and diming passengers for everything that was once included on the flight can get pretty ridiculous. At least the bathroom, food and drink charges don’t apply to overseas flights, and airlines are being very upfront with the extra charges. It makes me wonder, if one airline offered the same services and prices (accounting for the increase in fuel cost) they did in the 90’s, would they be able to compete in today’s market or even take over as the best airline to travel with?

tom April 8, 2010 at 10:53 am

I, for one, will not fly Spirit.

I also dislike the argument that people abuse the carry-on policy anyway. I rarely see anyone fit an oversized, overstuffed bag into the bins. There just isn’t enough room. If they try, they always end up looking like an ass and holding up the boarding process.

For the average person, this fee will not have a huge impact. For the business traveler, this is a huge deal. I fly 2-3 times per month, and if I had to pay $30-$45 each way, my company will be paying a lot of extra money. I can see many corporations issuing warnings against flying Spirit, even though they have lower fares.

LL April 8, 2010 at 11:52 am

I’m really tired of the baggage fees, ticket change fees, fee-fees. I’m flying Southwest for a while until I have a reason to do otherwise. I often take ONLY a carryon bag, because checking baggage makes short trips take SO much longer.

Credit Girl April 8, 2010 at 1:01 pm

I definitely wouldn’t want to fly Spirit unless I absolutely had to or unless the price of the airfare is so extremely cheap that it’ll make up for the cost of carry-on baggage.

Jesse April 8, 2010 at 2:18 pm

So I guess I’m confused here – isn’t the charge just for bags placed in the overhead bin? I know that when I traveled home a few years back with my daughter (who was a baby at the time) and husband (who is rather tall), I not only managed to get all our stuff into one rolling suitcase (plus the purse that doubles as the diaper bag), but I managed to put BOTH bags together under one seat without impeding traffic flow!

Now, every hotel I’ve ever stayed in (and I’ve stayed in quite a few – we used to be military) has had an iron, so I’ve always traveled with one bag, borrowed the iron, and ironed any clothes that needed it. So even though I’d never heard of Spirit Airlines until this article came out, I guess I fail to see how people would be unable to get all of their clothes into a bag small enough to fit under a seat.

In my whole life of traveling, I’ve only twice had to check a bag (once while moving and the other after Basic Training), and NEVER put a bag of my own into an overhead compartment, though I’ve helped several people place THEIR huge and heavy bags into one. I have also seen Stewards and Stewardesses strain on several occasions to get bags up there! But, it’s pretty simple in my view – if you don’t like the policy, don’t fly Spirit Airlines! Same with policies from any other place…

Stella April 8, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Air travel has become increasingly more of a hassle. Given the charges for checked baggage, I’m sure there’s been an increase in people attempting to avoid this by carrying on as much as possible. It was pretty much inevitable that airlines would wise up and attempt to make money off carry-on items. And for those who say “Just don’t fly Spirit,” you miss the point. As soon as one airline institutes or increases a fee, almost all of them follow suit. Unless you’re doing a day trip for business, you’re gonna need to bring stuff with you. Defining limits so that passengers don’t take advantage is one thing–charging for basic necessities (there’s a UK airline that’s establishing pay potties) is another.

As for wearing all your clothes rather than carrying on and paying the fee–that’s a pretty humorous suggestion. Unfortunately, many airlines make you pay for two seats if you’re too wide to fit into one (re: Kevin Smith situation a few months back), so people probably end up paying far more than the stupid carry on fee…

Ryan@TheFinancialStudent April 8, 2010 at 5:03 pm

It’s like the airlines don’t want people to travel anymore. This is a money grab plain and simple. Anyone care to bet how long those “reduced” fares last? A week? A month? Fares will go right back to where they were AND the baggage fee will stay.

I’m not a fan of companies adding a fee for every type of business expense they incur. The advertised price should be the price you pay, period. I suppose they can leave out sales tax, though.

The Wise Squirrel April 8, 2010 at 9:26 pm

I recently carried on a large bag, but was not charged the carry-on fee. I was flying American, returning from Canada back home to the U.S. I did self-check, and carried on my small suitcase. Once I got to the security checkpoint, they told me it was too big, and that I had to go back and get it checked in. I did just that, going back out to the check-in area, and letting them know that I what happened and that I now wanted to check the bag in. I asked about the fee, and to my surprise, they told me it would be zero. That’s right – a free carry-on. Apparently, if you try to check a bag when you get your boarding pass, you pay. When you intend to check it in but get sent back after getting your boarding pass and going toward security – because your bag was then deemed to big and requiring check-in – there is no fee.

This is one of those “arbitrage opportunities”, as one might call them. I didn’t plan on this happening, and wouldn’t game it in the future. Nevertheless, it was interesting what their policy was on this topic. A true loophole, indeed!

Stephen April 8, 2010 at 10:28 pm

I would vastly prefer for airlines to charge for overhead bin space rather than for checked baggage. Why? Because that way I would be assured of getting overhead bin space as long as I was willing to pay for it.

If the price is low/free for overhead space, then the demand is high and everybody brings multiple carry-ons and struggles to find overhead space. Good luck if you board late — or have to fly on a carrier where you don’t have any status. I would prefer to pay and be guaranteed the space (especially if I am traveling with expensive equipment).

Furthermore, charging for overhead bin space may speed up boarding — people are either going to fly with fewer bags or check them.

Given that most people see air travel as a commodity, I don’t see how airlines are going to avoid the trend toward charging for everything.

basicmoneytips April 9, 2010 at 3:48 am

Airlines have not had a good decade, dating back to the September 11 attacks. I can appreciate the cost of fuel and having to get creative for raising revenue.

Personally, I think the article makes a good point about weight and I have considered this before. Why not make it a total weight thing?

The carry on bags are out of control anyway. People are really skirting the rules there anyway and I think it is a joke. On most flights I have been on in the last 2 years, I would say 50% of the carry-ons should have been checked. They are stuffed full and way to large for the limited carry on space. If you do not board quickly, good luck finding someplace to put your bag.

Kosmo @ The Casual Observer April 9, 2010 at 5:55 am

“Furthermore, charging for overhead bin space may speed up boarding …”

They’ve done some studies on the speed of boarding, and the gist is that the current way is the absolute slowest way to board. The makes sense, because each group of passengers that boards is in the way of the next (further back) group.

Studies indicated that basically any other method (including random) would be faster.

Andy FirstFound April 9, 2010 at 7:29 am

You think that’s bad? There’s an airline company here in the UK (Ryanair) that want to charge customers to use toilets on a flight.

Then again, they’ve also looked into the feasibility of “standing room” on planes.

When people are thinking this stuff up, paying for baggage is the least of your worries!

Lazy Man and Money April 9, 2010 at 7:48 am

Stephen makes a good point here about charging for the overhead bin. I have been a victim of this myself. I really hate being told that I have to check my carry-on with my computer and spare set of clothes, because if that’s lost I’m out quite a bit. The reason it’s in my carry-on in the first place is that I can ensure I have what I need at my destination.

However, I don’t think the solution is charging for the space, but actually regulating what people store in the bins. I almost never see anyone take up just the 1/3 of the bin with their carry-on bag as what should be allowed. I’m not too much of a fan of charging more money as a resource control when there should be enough resources to accommodate everyone fairly.

I could be persuaded that people should have a choice to buy some other space elsewhere on the plane (if the plane can support it) to ensure a space for your carry-on.

sovi April 9, 2010 at 9:22 am

I think.. it isn’t fair at all..

K April 9, 2010 at 10:00 am

People with excess carry on luggage annoy me to all end. I am a business traveler and on multiple occasions seen people skirt around the 2 carry on policy. I have seen people with a rollerbag, a purse and then goodies from the gift shop. That is three bags, the last time I checked. The airlines don’t even enforce their own policy! Then the people in boarding group 4 have no overhead space. Furthermore, what about those people who put their jacket up there. I just want to say, “hello there are 40 more people who need that space!!” I support the 45 dollar fee, it is the perfect example for paying for convenience. Now, people can pay 20 dollars to check their bag and then, just bring the things they need for the flight, on the flight.

Kembala@Gain Money Control April 9, 2010 at 7:10 pm

When I first heard about this, I was absolutely stunned. It seems like airlines today are finding creative ways to charge additional fees while still claiming to be the low cost leader. I wonder if the price comparison tools will start to add the number checked bags (or in Spirit’s case, the extra carry-on) to the calculation to help you determine the lowest price option.

Jan April 10, 2010 at 11:25 am

I have noticed that the people who support the fee are business travelers. They do not pay the fee out of pocket, their companies do.
Just be honest and quote the price of the actual cost to fly. Everyone needs clothes.
@Jesse- two rolling suit cases under one seat…it has been a while since you have flown…

Elizabeth April 11, 2010 at 9:33 pm

People should have a choice to buy some other space elsewhere on the plane (if the plane can support it) to ensure a space for your carry-on.

Goran Web Design April 11, 2010 at 11:13 pm

Expect airlines to charge for more and more things in their efforts to stay viable. Personally I dislike flying, and all the security pettiness, allied to the health dangers posed by the x-ray machines are among the reasons why I would rather drive, or avoid travelling altogether. I do see the days of really cheap air travel slowly but surely drawing to an end, however.

Canada Lorne April 12, 2010 at 10:14 am

Why the fees? Well, I think there are 2 other reasons which may not have been mentioned.

1. People started to carry too much of carry-on luggage. I have been on flights, where it looked like a Pakistani bus. Luggage under the seats and legs, because it wasn’t possible to pack it all in overhead compartment. It decreases safety and well, it’s really heavy, when everybody has luggage up to the limit (or even exceeds it).

2. Time. Moving around with luggage in the cabin slows down the boarding. Every minute the plane spends not flying, is EXPENSIVE. Average plane spends 16h of a day flying. Ryanair, Irish legend in low-cost flying, boasts that one turn around on the airport takes only 20 minutes on average! In such conditions, every minute counts.

P.S. Maybe you noticed, that the above mentioned Ryanair implemented toilet fee of 1euro on flights lasting less than 1 hour? 🙂 Here’s the link.

Take care

Kat April 13, 2010 at 10:01 am

I have a great idea. Maybe the airlines should charge passengers based on their weight.

K at Greenshield April 13, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Fascinating story, isn’t it?

Tony April 16, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Folks – we savers are to blame for these airline fees because we now purchase airline travel on the web, and we usually search by price as opposed to schedule. The goal of the airline is to be listed on the first search page, preferably at the top of the list (cheapest). That price is not the revenue per seat they’re seeking – they get that target revenue with the baggage, fuel, etc. add on fees after you have already made the initial purchase decision.

Ian April 16, 2010 at 12:50 pm

One reason airlines are doing this (despite the hefty money they make in fees) is that it makes their air fares seem competitive in online searches. I propose that the online searches (Orbitz, Kayak, etc) **factor in** these extraneous fees so that we can again compare apples to apples. This could be achieved by asking before the search how many bags the customer plans on flying, how they would like to check them, whether they plan to eat a meal, etc.

This is one way I can see to avoid the race to the bottom.

Gabriel Fuller April 18, 2010 at 12:11 am

I hate being “nickle and dimed” for every thing out there. Airlines get you with their baggage fees (now checked or carry-on), online ticket sellers (Ticketmaster etc.) get you with their online purchase fee, cell phone providers get you with all the extra taxes and fees they never mention until after you sign the contract… WHEN WILL IT END!

And I feel like there is nothing we can do about it. Other than decided, as the consumer, not to participate in that transaction. If I were a millionaire (which I plan to be soon) I would not be so worried about all of these little things that add up… but alas – I do not have ever flowing streams of income… yet! Hehehe! Thanks for the post!

Samantha April 21, 2010 at 10:33 am

Airlines will be charging passengers to choose their seats next. I was just in Thailand and had to pay extra to sit next to my boyfriend. Can you believe that?!

John | April 25, 2010 at 11:42 am

I think airlines realize that their customers book flights based on price. So, the airlines will find ways to offer a lower initial price, and then charge extra for each item such as food, headphones, luggage, pretty much anything.

I’ve heard rumor that Ryanair may start charging for the bathroom.

Joe Smith December 19, 2010 at 7:01 pm

Fine, if charging is because of reduced fuel cost due to added weight, then lets just simply have a weigh in at the gate.

Why should I have to pay more then some guy that weighs 50lbs more then me?
Also, I travel pretty light so why should I pay the same for my bags as somebody with an over sized bag stuffed to the gill.

Really tired of all the hidden fees.
Traveling by plane used to be fun, now it just stinks.

Steve March 7, 2011 at 2:36 am

You are so right! I have been a baggage handler with one of the worlds largest airlines for 23 years and what we know as fact is that with more baggage, there is more fuel to burn. Also know that baggage handling costs including processing, handling and delivery costs, replacement costs and such, when lost, are actually all saved and recaptured by the airlines with carry on charges. It is a money grab.

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