The Only Airline Fees Worth Paying

  • By Catey Hill, Marketwatch
  • June 01, 2016

Want a snack on your next flight, or an extra inch of legroom? You’d better pony up some cash, because airlines are charging for more “perks” than ever before. While many of the new fees can and probably should be avoided, experts say, some are well worth it.

airline fees
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In 2015, airlines in North America raked in $3.8 billion in baggage fees, up from about $3.5 billion in 2014, according to data released in May by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The airlines also took in another $3 billion in reservation cancellation/change fees, up slightly from a year prior.

Among the fees worth skipping: printing your boarding pass (Spirit Airlines charges $10 for passes printed by one of its staff members), onboard snacks (most airlines charge for at least premium snacks), and booking by phone ($35 on Spirit). Some carriers also now charge for carry-on bags, so make sure the total cost of your ticket, with these fees included, is still worth the price — or else opt for an airline that doesn’t have these fees. (For its part, Spirit is up-front about its fees, declaring, “We believe in paying for what you use, not what you don’t … never pay for someone else’s ‘free’ bags.”)

Still, there are fees that even the budget-conscious may want to consider paying — if only to make a long flight or irritating layover more bearable. Here are four.

Premium Economy Seats
These seats, which have a variety of names like “economy comfort” and “premium economy,” typically offer more legroom and the ability to recline further, as well as power outlets for charging laptops and phones. It usually costs about $10 to $50 extra to get one of these seats, depending on the length of the flight, says Rick Seaney, CEO of

When it’s worth it: Seaney says this upgrade isn’t typically a good deal on short flights, but “once you hit the three-hour mark, these fees start to look better.” Look at what these premium seats offer — how many inches of legroom and other perks (some even throw in priority boarding) — as it varies significantly by airline.

One-Day Airline Lounge Passes
The lounge areas for airlines have perks like free snacks and drinks (sometimes including beer and wine), free Wi-Fi, as well as quieter areas and nicer seats than in the general waiting area. The price for a one-day pass is about $50 and passengers can usually bring small children in for free.

When it’s worth it: “For a long layover of two hours or more, that’s worth it,” says Alex Trettin, president of Travel Leaders in Tacoma, WA. And it may be especially worth it if your trip has multiple stops, since many airlines let you use the perk in each airport as long as it’s on the same day, adds Bonnie Lee, CEO of the Travel Leaders franchise in Albertville, MN. Note that if you have an airline credit card, you may be able to get this perk for free; just beware the annual fees and other charges that these cards carry.

Seat Assignments
The middle seat can be a recipe for a very uncomfortable flight. It used to be that you could guarantee yourself an aisle or window if you just booked early and picked your location, but now some airlines like Spirit are charging you to pick a seat (the fees range from $1 to $50).

When it’s worth it: Seaney says that like premium economy seats, picking your seat can be worth the money on longer flights, usually those that are three hours or more. Lee says that picking a seat is especially good for families with young children, who want easy access to the front or back of the plane near the bathrooms.

In-Flight Wi-Fi
Many airlines charge for Wi-Fi — Southwest charges $8 a day per device; Delta and American charge $16 for an all-day pass — and while travelers grumble about paying it, it’s often worth it, experts say. “This is one of the biggest fees we see people paying for,” Trettin says, since it lets you expand your entertainment options or get work done.

When it’s worth it: Wi-Fi is often worth it for long flights, especially on airlines that have limited entertainment options. Frequent travelers may especially benefit from this, as there are package deals (a monthly Wi-Fi subscription for Delta and American costs about $50) that can help you save money. Lee says that families may also benefit quite a bit by sharing one login.

This article originally appeared on and is reprinted by permission from, ©2016 Dow Jones & Co. Inc. All rights reserved.

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