Happy holidays: Airlines expand $10 fee, and it's your fault

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You didn't complain. So you're going to pay more.

Last week, WalletPop told you about the new $10-each-way increase that the airlines planned to sneak into a few peak days of holiday travel. Originally, that was supposed to fall on only three days: Nov. 29, Jan. 2 and Jan. 3.

But after this charge was announced and relatively few complaints surfaced, the airlines, again practically en masse, felt emboldened enough to roll out the fee on a lot more days, which site FareCompare.com spotted in the course of its routine price checks.

In fact, the big carriers added 10 more days -- an increase of more than 300%, and now equivalent to nearly half of a 30-day month. The extra fees now bleed into holiday periods across the calendar, including Spring Break and Memorial Day. You'll find them on American Airlines, AirTran, Delta, Continental, United, and U.S. Airways.
The new list of dates for which there will be a $10-each-way surcharge:
  • Nov. 29
  • Nov. 30
  • Dec. 19
  • Dec. 26
  • Dec. 27
  • Jan. 2, 2010
  • Jan. 3
  • March 14
  • March 20
  • March 21
  • April 11
  • May 28

Don't forget the fee for checked bags. Plus your food.

But if you already bought your ticket, your price will not go up. About the increases, American Airlines told WalletPop: "Since they are filed as a fare change, in the rules portion of the fare, they absolutely are NOT a fee and should not be referred to as such... "Like a surcharge of any type (as with a fuel surcharge, for example) it goes directly into the bottom line of the regular BASE FARE, all of which the customer sees as the total fare prior to making their purchase decision. Taxes and fees come separate to that and this is not included in those categories."

As you can see, the best way to avoid the extra charge is to travel on the holiday in question, not on the days around it. Notably absent is Christmas Day, as well as New Year's Day, because most people remain at their destinations then, and planes are relatively empty.

One bright note about this list is that it provides passengers with a map of which days to avoid. In the past, we'd have to hunt and peck for airfares before finding days that suit our budget. We'll still have to do that, of course, because airfares will still be highly flexible, but at least we now have a clue of which days will be busiest, and therefore, we know which days to steer clear of.

The market may not be a democracy -- not when all the major airlines do something like this all at once -- but it responds to agitation, the way politicians do. Last year, U.S. Airways tried making customers pay for drinks of water, and the outpouring of scorn chastened its executives into recanting.

Now water is free again. Do you think fares will go down during the holiday seasons, though? When pigs fly.
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