American Airlines joins the herd and hikes bag fees

When it comes to fleecing us, it's the airlines that always move in a herd.

On Friday, American Airlines announced that it, too, will be raising its checked baggage fees. It did not come to this decision on its own. Continental and Delta both did it last Tuesday.

In college, my economy professors told me that the free market would always ensure that the best product for the cheapest price would be the one to prevail. Apparently that's not so. Whether it's in fares or fees, the big airlines don't even give Americans a chance to decide which one they're going to favor. They move en masse so that they're nearly indistinguishable. I'm told this is legal somehow.

Never mind. Come August 15, we'll all be paying $20 for the first checked bag and $30 for the second on all the legacy carriers. Both prices are $5 higher, and it's per leg. If you're checking a single bag within America, you must now mentally add $40 to the price of whatever deceptively-low price American Airlines quotes you.

It gets worse: While most of the other legacy carriers allow you to save that $5 hike by pre-paying your checked bags online, American won't. It's a straight-up, jacked-up price. If you're going to Canada, though, the prices will be mysteriously unchanged.

Baggage prices were implemented only last year. With this hike, the original fee has jumped 33% in that short time.

The airlines' fees are soaring with more reliability than their planes.

Of the major carriers, only Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways hold out and don't charge a checked baggage fee for a single piece of luggage. Then again, those two also don't have baggage handling agreements with other carriers, meaning if you connect from one to one of the major legacy carriers, you have to reclaim your bag and re-check it when you change planes. And pay the fee.

Still, I respect those two carriers' no-fee decisions (long may they endure) so much that I am going to help them out by giving everyone links to them so you can favor them for your next trip: Southwest and JetBlue. Please click them and vote with your dollars, like my economics professors swore we could.
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