On Tuesday, American Airlines and United began selling basic economy tickets, which are as primitive and insulting to human dignity as they sound. Basic economy shouldn’t even have “basic” in the name, since the airfare practically strips passengers of their basic rights by revoking access to overhead bin space, carry-on baggage allowances, and denying folks their choice of seat. And what makes it worse is that airlines aren’t transparently informing customers of what they’re paying for — or not paying for — when they book these dirt-cheap “Misery Class” tickets.
The change in airfare classes originated with airlines finding ups in their revenue with “ancillary fees” — aka nickel and diming you for your bags, food, legroom, and breathing air (okay, maybe that last one was hyperbolic). But of course, airlines are disguising the fee breakdown into something that is “good” for passengers by what they call “unbundling” so customers can buy tickets at rock-bottom prices and “customize” their flight with additional services. Too bad those “additional” services are things that come in as primary needs on a flight.
But there’s good news. The travel app Hopper has released a new feature that brings light to these dark times in airfare for travelers. Called Fair Bear, the feature will give you an overview of your fare rules and let you know about any restrictions or fees associated with cancelling, changing, carry-on and checked baggage, and seat selection. It will even warn you if you select a basic economy fare. This comes in handy, as airlines and online travel agencies aren’t currently required to list those “ancillary” fees upfront.
And just to prove a point, Hopper analyzed 800,000 recent itineraries originating from the U.S. to conduct a study and find the median change, cancellation, and baggage fees so travelers can see how much the hidden fees sneaking around in the airfare small print can affect the dollar amount you end up shelling out. The study found that air travel is as inflexible and atrocious as you already knew. In the 800,000 itineraries, cancellations were almost never allowed (with a 99 percent denial rate) for domestic trips. For those that could be changed, the change fee would cost passengers $287 on average.
As for bags (since those aren’t allowed anymore), Hopper found that it will cost an average of $25 to bring one piece of luggage onto your flight, or $59 for two pieces. As more airlines roll out basic fares, you’ll be expected to pay for your carry-on too. Frontier and Spirit both charge an average of $35 for carry-ons.