Study: Consumers Paid $9.2 Billion in Fees on U.S. Airlines in 2010; More Than Half of Fees Hidden by Airlines Not Sharing Fee Data

Mar 10, 2011, 09:00 ET from Open Allies for Airfare Transparency

Average Family of Four Paid $150 in Fees for Round-trip Travel

WASHINGTON, March 10, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Consumers paid more than $9.2 billion in fees to U.S. airlines in 2010 for checked baggage and other services, but these fees were hidden from most travelers when they purchased their airline tickets, because the airlines refuse to share their fee information with travel agents and other distributors, according to a new study by the Consumer Travel Alliance (CTA), a non-profit organization promoting consumer interests on travel policy issues.  Information on extra (or ancillary) fees, which are not visible to the more than half of consumers who use third parties to book their travel, was the focus of an analysis of major U.S. airlines' year-end financial reports by CTA, in coordination with Open Allies for Airfare Transparency, a coalition representing hundreds of companies in the managed travel community.  

On average, passengers paid a total of $36.80 in fees for every round trip ticket – nearly $150 for a family of four, the study found.  

"It's Christmas every day for the airlines that are raking in billions of dollars in fees without having to adequately disclose information about them up front during the shopping process," said Charlie Leocha, director of CTA.  "Competition is crippled for the millions of business and leisure passengers who are surprised by these fees – often at the airport.  Airlines have the right to sell whatever services they want – but they have a responsibility to disclose their airfares and fees anywhere airline tickets are sold so travelers can compare the total cost of travel across airlines."

Last fall, more than 60,000 travelers signed a petition sponsored by CTA and the Business Travel Coalition (BTC) that called on the federal government to put an end to hidden fees, and thousands of them shared their hidden fee horror stories.  Marc in New Jersey wrote: "This is a nontransparent and dishonest way of making it appear as if the cost of the flight is lower than it ACTUALLY is."  Pat in Arizona wrote: "In all fairness to air travelers, all fees should be disclosed so consumers can make the best choices among airlines to travel."

This study, the first to look at how the hidden fees imposed by major U.S. airlines have impacted the cost of air travel in 2010, was based on fourth-quarter 2010 earnings releases from the nation's eight largest airlines as well as data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.  

"Buying a plane ticket has become an Alice-in-Wonderland experience where a consumer has to agree to purchase the ticket before being told how much the trip will actually cost," said Andrew Weinstein, executive director of Open Allies for Airfare Transparency. "Airlines should be able to charge whatever they want for their services, but they should have to share all of those prices with travelers in advance, so consumers can make informed buying decisions.  A free market requires access to information to function efficiently, and the air travel marketplace is broken because airlines are not currently sharing any information on billions of dollars in hidden fees."

"It's hard to ignore the tens of thousands of consumers who have spoken out against hidden airline fees," said Kevin Mitchell, chairman of BTC.  "That's why as Congress debates U.S. Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization legislation this month, it has a clear opportunity to  safeguard travelers' ability to comparison shop by requiring airlines to provide ancillary fee information, along with airfares, in any sales channels in which they offer their products and services."

Editor's Note: A state-by-state analysis of fees paid by average airline passengers can be found below.  For example horror stories provided by consumers in your state, please visit the Open Allies website.


$141.2 million


$29.5 million


$21.2 million


$53.5 million


$188.3 million


$79.4 million


$85.8 million

New Hampshire

$38.8 million


$1.1 billion

New Jersey

$259.4 million


$148.6 million

New Mexico

$60.9 million


$105.2 million

New York

$571.4 million


$26.8 million

North Carolina

$281.5 million


$554.8 million

North Dakota

$19.4 million


$286.2 million


$340.6 million


$39.7 million


$110.8 million


$47.1 million


$112.6 million


$378.5 million


$374.8 million


$191.1 million

Rhode Island

$31.4 million


$89.5 million

South Carolina

$136.6 million


$84.0 million

South Dakota

$24.0 million


$128.3 million


$187.4 million


$133.8 million


$742.2 million


$38.8 million


$81.2 million


$170.8 million


$18.5 million


$188.3 million


$236.3 million


$291.7 million


$198.5 million


$156.9 million

West Virginia

$54.5 million


$87.7 million


$168.0 million


$176.3 million


$16.6 million

About the Methodology

The study was based on Q4 2010 earnings releases from the nation's eight largest airlines and data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.  The study combined the gross ancillary fee and other revenue collected by those airlines in 2010 while discounting non-ancillary fee revenue such as the sale of frequent flier miles. To determine how those fees impacted individual travelers, the study used passenger information released by the airlines in their Q4 2010 earnings releases, with the exception of two airlines that did not disclose that data. For those airlines, the study estimated 2010 passenger volume based on the January-November 2010 data gathered by BTS and projected December volume.

About Consumer Travel Alliance

The Consumer Travel Alliance (CTA) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to provide an articulate and reasoned voice in decisions that affect consumer travelers.  CTA's staff gathers facts, analyzes issues, and disseminates that information to the public, the travel industry, regulators and policy makers.  CTA was founded by longtime travel journalists Charles Leocha, former MSNBC travel guru and host of the popular Travel Tips radio program, and Christopher Elliott, ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler and author of travel columns for Tribune Syndicates, and the Washington Post syndicate.  For more information, visit

About Open Allies for Airfare Transparency

Open Allies for Airfare Transparency, a coalition representing all of the stakeholders in the managed travel community, works to promote price transparency and full access to airline pricing and fee information.  Learn more about the Open Allies coalition and join the campaign to preserve comparison shopping and competition in air travel at or on Twitter at @openairfare.

About Business Travel Coalition

Founded in 1994, the mission of Business Travel Coalition is to bring transparency to industry and government policies and practices so that customers can influence issues of strategic importance to their organizations.  For more information, visit

SOURCE Open Allies for Airfare Transparency