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United doubles second-checked-bag fee - will rivals follow?

Do hefty checked baggage fees have you packing light when you travel?

You may need to pack even lighter.

United Airlines on Monday doubled its fee for a second checked bag, from $25 to $50 each way. Including a $15 one-way fee for a first checked bag, the airline now charges $130 to check two bags on a round-trip ticket.

It’s the most expensive baggage fee in the industry. And unless passengers rebel, at least some other carriers may raise their own fees to match United’s new charges.

“I think most travelers have made peace with the baggage fees,” said Rick Seaney, chief executive of FareCompare.com, a Dallas online travel firm that tracks airline fares and fees.

“People are trying their best to get around them, either by packing light or flying on Southwest,” which doesn’t charge checked bag fees on the first two pieces of luggage, he said.

United cited volatile fuel costs for the decision. The new fee applies to domestic tickets bought on or after Sept. 16 for travel on or after Nov. 10.

The airline said its baggage fees will raise up to $700 million next year.

Fort Worth-based American Airlines, which was the first large airline to begin charging for a first checked bag, is monitoring the fee increase, said Tim Smith, a spokesman. American currently charges $25 each way for a second checked bag, in addition to $15 for the first.

In a recent conference call, Larry Kellner, chief executive of Houston-based Continental Airlines, said the checked baggage fees have “been very effective,” and not just because of the money they raise.

At his airline, the number of second bags being checked by passengers dropped by 60 percent on domestic flights after a fee was implemented. That means lighter airplanes, which require less fuel to stay aloft.

“This is very good for us, as we save the weight on board our aircraft as well as the handling and mishandling big costs,” Kellner said.

He added that there have been very few problems with additional carry-on luggage at security checkpoints or in aircraft cabins. That’s been a persistent worry for passengers – that a rise in carry-on bags will mean longer security lines and fights over scarce space in overhead luggage bins.

Leisure travelers are most affected by the increases, because most of the airlines waive the charges for first- or business-class travelers, as well as elite members of their frequent flier programs – typically business travelers.

One of the biggest impacts of the new luggage fees, Seaney said, is the increased difficulty of finding the best price Internet searches. While sites like Travelocity or Orbitz list the cheapest prices on any route, they don’t include the special charges, which could make some cheap fares far more expensive.

“It is much harder today for consumers to compare fares and find the best deal,” he said.

At Dallas-based Southwest, meanwhile, the baggage fees have inspired a marketing blitz. The airline has aired several ads poking fun at rivals for charging to check luggage.

Beth Harbin, a spokeswoman, said it’s too early to estimate whether Southwest has snared new passengers with its free baggage policy. But she said customers routinely comment on the lack of fees.

“There’s an awful lot of conversation about it,” she said. “We feel like people want to go with an airline that is upfront about what they’re being charged, instead of being surprised by a big fee when you show up at the airport.”

PACK LIGHT

Here’s what two checked bags will cost on a round-trip flight on the major airlines:

United: $130

Delta: $100

Continental: $80

American: $80

Northwest: $80

U.S. Airways: $80

Frontier: $80

Alaska: $50

JetBlue: $40

AirTran: $20 (if paid in advance); $40 (if paid at check-in)

Southwest: Free

Fees may vary depending on dates of purchase and travel. Airlines waive fees for some travelers and fares, contact the carrier for specific information.

Source: FareCompare.com



Trebor Banstetter, 817-390-7064








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