Category Archives: Advice and Tips

TruPrice Recommended at American Express OPEN Forum

We truly appreciate having TruPri¢e mentioned by author and personal finance expert Jean Chatzky here in the Top 10 List: Airline Fees – And How to Avoid Them, as quoted below from the American Express OPEN forum:

“Finally, a bit of advice: is a pretty handy new site that helps you calculate how much your trip will end up costing, including fees for checked bags and any extra services you select. That way, you can set an accurate budget for your trip. As a small business owner myself, I know how important that is.”

However, we like to be as fair as possible and must correct Ms. Chatzky on one item in her article. She mentions the following about the carry-on baggage fee imposed by Spirit Airlines this past summer:

“Carry on bag.  You read that correctly – you just can’t win if you’re flying Spirit Airlines. They began charging $30 for a carry on bag on August 1, and that’s if you let them know in advance.  A last minute addition paid for at the gate will cost you $45.  In this case, you can actually save $5 by checking your bag.”

Passengers of Spirit Airlines with carry-on baggage can save money on the fee altogether — that is, carry on their bags for free without paying the carry-on baggage fee — if the bag fits under the seat in front of the passenger, as clearly defined by Spirit Airlines.

Finally, another way to avoid paying some of the fees on her list altogether is to achieve elite status in a frequent flier loyalty program on at least one airline. While this certainly can be easy to do if flying frequently enough, there are ways to achieve frequent flier elite status with little flying, or even with no flying whatsoever. FlyerTalk is a great Internet web site filled with tips and advice on how to qualify for frequent flier elite status with minimal effort, depending on the airline.


Rental Car Companies Impose New Ancillary Fees

A video story by Chris Clackum of NBC News illustrates the trend regarding the increase in creative ancillary fees being imposed by car rental companies, just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday season. The video also offers some good advice.

For example, if your rental car runs out of gas, gets a flat tire or the battery dies, assistance could cost you a fortune if you did not purchase roadside assistance insurance.

The new rental car fees — which seem to increasingly be imitating the ancillary fees being imposed by airlines — have reached the point that even the travel industry is cracking jokes: “I just heard an analyst the other day… he wouldn’t be surprised when rental car companies start charging for steering wheels,” said Bill McGee of Consumer Reports.

JetBlue’s “You Above All” ads may bring unwanted attention to their dozens of other fees.

In a USA Today story published today, writer Charisse Jones takes a look at jetBlue’s clever ads lampooning the audacity of the major carriers for tacking on baggage and other ancillary fees.  According to Jones, “JetBlue has joined Southwest in launching pointed ads aimed at competitors who charge extra fees that irk many passengers.”  But what about jetBlue’s fees?  Are they really sure they want the microscope pointed at their own fees?  And have they painted a bullseye on themselves with such an ad campaign.  And with Southwest via its acquisition of AirTran now going into catchment areas served by jetBlue, could Southwest point its ad campaigns directly at, of all carriers, jetBlue?  (I do suggest that when I’ve watched those Southwest tugs tearing after a taxiing airplane it distinctly looks as if they’re chasing a jetBlue A-320 sans its livery…but I could be wrong.)  Perhaps.  How, You ask?

Well, let’s just take a glance at the carrier lumped together in the story with jetBlue – Southwest – and see if the two belong in the same breath when it comes to fees.  In a side-by-side analysis, TruPrice selected thirteen common fees ranging from baggage to ticketing and change fees to standby travel to unaccompanied minor and pet fees.  We even looked at some sporting equipment fees like bicycles and surf boards.

The results?  By any objective analysis, if I’m the head of marketing at jetBlue, I’m readying a response to my CEO as to why I let the genie out of the bottle.  Not only are jetBlue’s fees in virtually any category higher than Southwest’s, but they’re also higher than Alaska, Virgin America, Frontier, and Allegiant.  In some cases, substantially higher.  For instance, check three bags on Southwest?  $50.00.  Alaska:  $60.00.  On jetBlue, the same three bags:  $105.00.  And how about those dastardly ticket change fees?  Southwest charges no flat fee but you do pay the difference in airfare.  JetBlue?  $100.00 plus the difference in airfare.

And these are just a few examples.  Let’s face it folks, fees are not popular with anyone.  But getting into parodies in your commercials regarding other carriers’ fees when your own fees can easily be made into a parody themselves is inviting the type of attention no one in the industry wants.  My advice?  Be careful what you ask for.  I’m thinking by the time this post makes it to the CEO of jetBlue, its marketing department may also be citing the same old passage.


The Clash of the Titans: Southwest’s Baggage Fees Vs. Delta’s Baggage Fees – Is There Really THAT Much Difference?

Ok.  Ok.  The news about fees abounds.  Like the cacophony from your son’s distorted flea market amps and his cheap car speakers, yes, they’re out there.  Yes, most travelers have to pay them.  Yes, they can be very difficult to find.  And yes, they can be very different.   Different how, you ask?  Well, given the shot at Delta’s bow by today’s merger news of AirTran and Southwest that now puts the vaunted SWA machine in Delta’s bread basket, isn’t it high time to delve into the disparity among typical fees?  Disparity?  Aren’t all fees the same?  Not only no, but heck no.

So each day this week we’ll run a side-by-side comparison using TruPrice’s accurate, updated fee information to see just how much impact this might have on fee charges, if any.  Today’s comparison is baggage fees.
Baggage fees.
Delta first checked bag at the airport:  $25.00
Southwest first checked bag at the airport:  Zero.
Delta second checked back at the airport:  $35.00
Southwest second checked bag at the airport:   Zero.
Delta third checked bag at 55 lbs. (overweight) and 64 inches (oversized):  $125 bag charge.  $90.00 overweight charge.  $175.00 oversized charge.
Southwest third checked bag at 55 lbs. and 64 inches:  $50 bag charge.  $50 overweight charge.  $50 oversized charge.

Baggage total for three bags with the third bag overweight and oversized:
Delta $900.00 based on round-trip purchase.
Southwest $300.00 based on round-trip purchase.

Come back tomorrow for our next TruPrice comparison of airline fees.


Southwest Merger Should Make High Ancillary Fee Legacy Carriers Very Nervous. Especially Delta.

As news of the proposed Southwest and AirTran merger continues to drive speculation on fares and competition, one aspect of the merger needs no contemplation:  the impact of Southwest’s fee structure vs. their direct competitors.  Perhaps nowhere will this impact be felt more than Atlanta – an AirTran hub and by far Delta’s biggest backyard competition.

In mergers, typically, the surviving brand is derived based upon many factors.  Reputation, global reach, history, market value, etc.  In some mergers, brands are combined to squeeze the best of all worlds – United/Continental comes to mind.  In the case of Southwest and AirTran, can there be any debate that the Southwest brand will survive? And anyone watching television these days knows that Southwest  is touting its zero first and second checked baggage fee as part of its brand.  But make no mistake, Southwest’s competitive fees go far beyond just their baggage fees.   In fact, in virtually any category, Southwest offers the lowest fee.  And who, you ask, leads virtually every category with the highest fees?   You guessed it:  Delta Air Lines.

It makes perfect sense that Southwest would keep their fee structure intact once SWA and AirTran synchronize their policies.  Why?  Because, as posted on my earlier blog entry, SWA enplaned an astonishing 101.338 million passengers in 2009.  Its closest competitor, American, enplaned a distant 85.720 million passengers in 2009.   (Of those, 19.5 million passengers on American were international passengers who typically get many more freebies like first checked bag and in-flight meals.)   My conclusion, Southwest can keep its fee structure low because what it lacks in actual cost per fee, it makes up for in sheer volume.  Now add AirTran’s 23,968,050 system-wide passengers in 2009 to Southwest’s and you have a staggering number of bodies paying lower fees.  There’s no practical reason to change such a structure especially if it’s core to your brand as it is to Southwest’s.

So what does this do for a company such as Delta whose behemoth market presence in Atlanta has given it great pricing power over fees?  Well, a simple look at the math says that 7,435,755 passengers on AirTran in Atlanta and 19,953,559 passengers on Delta in Atlanta will now have a choice to board Southwest airplanes with Southwest’s dramatically lower fee structure across its system.  So, based on this merger, the folks at Delta’s General Offices may have to reconsider their fee strategy.  The dreaded Southwest monster is now in Delta’s back yard.  Be afraid.  Be very afraid.


American’s US Domestic Ticket Change Fee Found in Japan!

After seeing Charlie Leocha’s challenge to find American Airlines’ domestic ticket change fee, I made it a personal crusade to find it.  I dug.  And I dug.  Almost all the way to China I dug. Then I threw up my shovel and admitted to Charlie that we could not find it except in some cryptic reference cited in American’s Your Choice option (you know, the fee that you pay to pay a lesser fee if you incur a fee).

But today I hit paydirt.  Seems I was digging toward the wrong Asian destination.  Instead of China, I should have aimed my shovel at Japan.  For there, in the Land of the Rising Sun, quietly sat the American Airlines’ domestic change fee.  So quiet.  So innocent.  So dated.  Yes, seems there was an announcement posted on the AA Japan site that showed all of the updated (and upped) fees.

The whole process had me questioning my own methods.  Why didn’t I think to look at AA’s Japan site for this information?  My CMO calmed me down with some words of comfort.  But the only thing that’ll get me past this is knowing just what Charlie’s prize will be for finding that elusive fee.


Ten Ways to Play the Airline Fee System

Rick Seaney, the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of FareCompare, published the 10 Ways You Can Game the Airline Fee System:

  1. Check for Cheap Upgrades
  2. Fly the Poor Man’s First Class
  3. Sample the Airlines’ “All You Can Eat” Buffets
  4. Check Bags without Paying Fees
  5. Save on Change Fees
  6. Avoid Peak Travel Surcharges
  7. Avoid Multiple Passenger Purchasing Penalties
  8. Use Technology
  9. Save on Airfare
  10. Keep an Eye Out for an Edgy Flight Attendant

We at TruPri¢e are dedicated and determined to deliver a “one-stop shopping experience” regarding fees, including information and opinions about them from outside sources as well as from us.