Are outrageous airline fees going buh-bye?

Airline fees aren’t disappearing anytime soon, but the most ridiculous of them may be headed for the emergency exits.

By “ridiculous” I mean United Airlines’ $50 processing fee for tickets refunded to passengers after unplanned events such as jury duty, illness or death. Or Delta Air Lines’ $25 fee for booking a ticket by phone.

“Some of these fees were irrationally punitive,” says George Hoffer, a transportation economist at the University of Richmond. “They were neither cost- nor demand-based.”

They’ve been quietly eliminated in the last few weeks, and more could follow. But don’t get your hopes too high. Airlines and fees will continue to be synonymous for a while, unless the government gets involved.

Why are the outrageous fees vanishing? Because they were, well, outrageous. Often they had no relation to the cost of delivering air transportation — in other words, they were just junk fees forced on customers — and customers despised them. The latest Qualtrics Airline Pain Index suggests four out of five travelers are annoyed by these gratuitous surcharges.

Killing the fees is also a realistic move. “It’s a modest investment they can afford to make in the context of big profits,” says Seth Kaplan, the editor of Airline Weekly. “They couldn’t do it when a few cents here and there could make the difference between surviving or not.”

John Grant, a senior analyst for OAG, describes the recent moves as a “charm offensive” by the airlines, and he expects more of it ahead. “Ultimately the possible fear of losing revenue by the traveler booking elsewhere — or, indeed, not traveling — has always been a slight concern,” he adds.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Taken together, fees like these are what made the airline industry profitable, so don’t expect them to all disappear overnight. North America’s airlines raked in almost $11 billion in extra fees last year, up 24% from 2014. But it turns out they want to be profitable and be loved, too, and maybe you can have it both ways.

Then again, maybe not. Consider the change fee British Airways asked Samantha Sieverling, a student from Seattle, to pay when she tried to reroute her flight from Sofia, Bulgaria, back home. The reason for her change of heart? After the latest terrorist attacks, she wanted to avoid a stopover in Turkey.

To switch her itinerary, the airline demanded $275 plus a fare difference, which would have cost more than her original ticket. Of course, British Airways would have probably resold her seat, collecting twice for the same seat.

Ah, airline math.

When observers survey the fee landscape, they see the debris of junk fees like Delta’s ticket charges and United’s refund charges. And then they behold the hulking mountain of confiscatory ticket change fees such as the one Sieverling was faced with. They say airlines can clean up the junk but if they really want the good will of their customers, they’ll also have to fix the change fees.

That’s easier said than done. U.S. airlines collected nearly $3 billion in change fees in 2014, the last year for which numbers are available. That’s a tall mountain, and a lot of goodwill. But there’s a strong will to force airlines to change. Southwest Airlines, which is consistently among the most profitable airlines, doesn’t charge any change fees, so there’s a sense that this junk fee could be cleared away.

Help might be on the way. Congress is considering a law that would force airlines to justify their change fees. Consumer advocates argue they wouldn’t be able to, and would effectively be forced to lower or eliminate them. Even if that law fails, there will be others, and advocacy groups like the National Consumers League have made it a priority to bring these loathed fees back down to earth.

Since this is America, there could be a market solution, too. A new airline called GLO launched late last year without baggage fees, no cost on food or beverage, and no seat choice fee.

“We didn’t think nickel-and-diming for something like bags was the way to go,” Trey Fayard, the airline’s founder, says. “After all, you are traveling. That means you have either been somewhere that wasn’t home or going back home – it’s pretty tough to not fly with a bag.”

GLO is a very small player, but if it’s successful, maybe the big airlines will follow. And if they don’t, maybe Congress will force them to do the right thing. They’ve already taken the first step.

How to avoid ridiculous airline fees

• Steer clear of “discount” or “low fare” airlines. Their business model is to charge an unprofitably low fare and then load up the fees. When all is said and done, you could end up paying more, with charges for everything from your seat assignment to your carry-on bag.

• Fly an inclusive airline or route. Some airlines still include the first bag on some or all flights. Others include meals and drinks. In the United States, Alaska Airlines, JetBlue and Southwest have reputations for keeping extraneous fees to a minimum.

• Refuse to pay. That is the only way to make a fee disappear. “That’s the bottom line,” explains John McDonald, a former airline manager. “If customers don’t like them, they don’t pay. Pure and simple. If airlines can’t get people to see the value in the service — and pay the fee — it goes away quickly.”

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Enterprise Holdings

A family-owned, world-class portfolio of brands. A global network that spans across more than 85 countries. Some 97,000 dedicated team members sharing common values. And more than 1.9 million vehicles taking our customers wherever they need to go.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend