“You have more people exempt (from the fee) because they use the right credit card or they get status in the airline’s loyalty program,” he said. “The passenger who gets whacked by the bag fee is the infrequent flier,” and he thinks more of them are traveling by car, bus or Amtrak to save money.
Mann believes that many airlines are intentionally making basic economy uncomfortable to pressure customers to pay extra for a better seat, maybe one with more legroom or early-boarding privileges.
Delta Air Lines again led the pack in bag fees, raising $833 million last year. United was next at $625 million, followed by US Airways at $528 million, and American Airlines at $506 million. Delta also led in change fees, at $840 million.
Among the seven biggest recipients of bag fees, only three — US Airways, Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air — raised more in 2013 than the year before. Spirit and Allegiant charge for many extras that other airlines put in the ticket price — including carry-on bags — but say that this lets them offer lower fares.
As bag-fee revenue levels off, airlines are already looking for new sources of money. Delta said recently that what it calls “merchandising” — other fees such as charging extra for priority boarding, economy seats with more legroom, and upselling to first-class — grew to $165 million in the first quarter of 2014, a 20 percent increase in one year.
Delta President Ed Bastian said the airline believes it can boost that figure to $500 million a year in the next three years.
At Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, some passengers game the bag-fee system by rolling their bag through security to the gate, then checking it there, where there is usually no fee. Others no longer fight back.
Lou Guyton of Mansfield, Texas, who works for a national animal-protection group and was returning from a trip to New Mexico, said she always checks her bag — on her last flight, she checked two.