Why does the bag fee for my son’s musical instrument cost more than his ticket?

Emily Miletich of Seattle contacted us because she said her son was a victim of double jeopardy when he paid for his excess baggage fees. And now she wants us to help get her son out of double trouble.

Miletich’s son is a student at a music conservatory on the east coast and he plays a large, heavy instrument, a double bass.

“Because of its size it really cannot fit in the cabin, unless a first class seat is purchased,” she told us. “So the bass flies in a protective fiberglass case — the case and bass weigh approximately 100 pounds. It rolls on wheels so it is not a strain to move.”

“We primarily fly Alaska and Southwest because they have reasonable bag fees for oversized luggage — $75. We had heard horror stories about American Airlines refusing to take basses so have avoided American even when it had convenient flights.”

That changed when Miletich’s son was returning from a bass competition near Dallas. He was able to fly back to school a day earlier than originally planned, so Miletich booked him on an American flight nonstop to Philadelphia using some of her Alaska miles. Before booking, Miletich’s son reviewed the American website on baggage — it indicated that oversize bags flew for $200 and that overweight bags flew for $200.

“While this was more than we were used to paying, we decided $200 made sense since he could get back to school,” Miletich said. “We could save on meals and hotel for the extra day and it would be a wash.”

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When he arrived at the airport, Miletich’s son was told by a somewhat confused agent that the fee would be $400 because the item was both overweight and oversized. According to Miletich, the website did not make clear that the fees are cumulative and she felt her son was being “gouged.”

“Because we had no American ticket number, we could not use their online complaint system, and they refused to help us by phone to even get the number so we could communicate,” Miletich related. “I went to your website and got the names of the American executives and we wrote to them. We asked to get $200 back, as we felt that was fair.”

American’s response was not what Miletich wanted to hear.

Our website does attempt to explain that more than one fee may apply to a bag. It may not be readily apparent but there are additional costs associated with handling overweight and oversized baggage. To cover the cost of providing this service, we collect a charge from those customers whose luggage exceeds the limit in either size and/or weight.
While we know you and your son were disappointed at having to pay an excess charge for the baggage, we must respectfully decline to refund the checked baggage charge you paid. I’m sorry to disappoint you.

Miletich then turned to us to see if our advocates could get her a “goodwill” refund, but first we wanted to take a look ourselves at American’s Oversize and Overweight Baggage fees.

As the American representative noted, the site clearly read that “more than one fee may apply to a bag. For example, the checked bag fee + oversize fee + overweight fee.”

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Based on this information, we declined Miletich’s request for intervention and strongly encourage her and other travelers to read closely the terms and conditions of any fare purchase.

Mark Pokedoff

Four-time Emmy-award-winning television sports production specialist and frequent traveler. Longtime freelance writer and travel blog enthusiast. Proud papa of four amazing kids who have been upgraded to first class more than all their friends combined. Read more of Mark's articles here.

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