Airlines will make $118B in extra fees

397 points11
hn_throwaway_9911 days ago

Pretty much a BS clickbait headline that doesn't comport with the facts in the article:

> Across the industry, revenue from what’s known as ancillary sales—fees for selecting seats, checking bags, and buying food, to name a few—will reach a record $117.9 billion in 2023

Yes, airlines have done a ton of "unbundling", but lots and lots of people want to select their seats, check their bags, buy food, etc. and are willing to pay for it, regardless of website design. I'm not arguing that airline websites don't use dark patterns, just that it's ridiculously insane to attribute all ancillary revenue to that.

crooked-v11 days ago

The dark pattern part comes in with how it's impossible to know if or when any of that stuff is actually included in the ticket price, letting airlines like Spirit list 'ultra-low' prices that end up the same or more as other tickets once you actually include the basics like 'having luggage' or 'tall people getting enough legroom to physically fit into the seat'.

skohan11 days ago

Yeah the problem for the consumer is how opaque it is. They're all competing to get the lowest ticket price on the aggregator price, and then claw back a profit either through obtuse language during the checkout process (i.e. insurance which is not clear at all about what it covers) or through unexpected "extra fees" you end up paying between when you get to the airport and when you arrive at your destination.

Ryan Air was so bad with the latter that I flat out stopped flying with them. It happened a couple times I had to pay some extra 40 EUR for not reading the fine print carefully enough (i.e. I paid for a cabin bag, but I had to pick up a tag for it at the check-in counter instead of going straight to the gate to avoid an extra fee)

Imo unbundling is fine if you are allowed to make informed decisions about what you want or not. If you feel like you've been tricked or robbed after using a product it's probably going a bad way.

chx11 days ago

Was but no longer.

Indeed if you search enough on flyertalk you could find old posts of mine claiming I wouldn't fly Ryanair if I were paid to do so.

But that was before 2018 November when they have changed. I find them one of the best price/fee wise, it's completely clear as what you pay for and what you get. There's no opaque "personal item", no, it's a 40 x 25 x 20 cm bag and the sizer is 42 x 30 x 20cm ensuring anything compliant will really fit. I have yet to find another airline which would so readily disclose the actual sizer dimensions. You want to bring a bigger bag, pay for priority. They only sell a given amount of priority so the bags actually fit on board. You want leg space, here, book an emergency row, yes it has a price but again: you get what you pay for.

Of course, you still need to walk to the plane most likely (sometimes you get on a bus) and then walk up the stairs -- not as easy as a legacy airline with jetways for sure. But then again, no legacy airline, not even all legacy airlines together can match the network of Ryanair, it's really something else.

skohan11 days ago
petre11 days ago

Happened with my boss, a tall guy. He has stopped flying "low cost" airlines and putting up with their BS dark patterns because Lufthansa and other traditional airlines have lower prices once you add lugage and leg room anyway.

Ryan Air are borderline decent if you only carry a cabin bag and get the "prority" package. You should see Wizz Air. They're worse than and Sixt combined, no flying over Ukraine and getting downed by trigger happy separatists.

Luckily neither one of those companies had any crashes so far, just one Belorussian jorurnalist kidnapped, an engine failure and bird strikes. No crazy copilot killing himself along with all the passengers in the airplane or getting downed by trigger happy separatists while flying over Ukraine.

bobthepanda11 days ago

To be fair I highly doubt any airline confronted by Belarusian fighter jets would’ve responded differently. A jetliner is not outrunning or outgunning that.

mkipper11 days ago

This seems like a huge stretch of "dark pattern".

Ultra low-cost airlines are pretty aggressive in upselling seat / baggage / food / fare class upgrades during the checkout process. It is annoying to have no idea what a ticket will really end up costing when it pops up in Google Flights or whatever, but I don't think that's enough to call it a dark pattern since everything is clearly disclosed before you pay for anything. Airlines are very upfront about all the things you aren't getting with your ticket.

nickjj11 days ago

I haven't booked a flight in a while but any situation where I don't know the "final" cost of my ticket before I start the checkout process is a dark pattern in my book.

I don't want to see a $100 ticket before I start the checkout process but end up seeing $200 on step 6 / 8 because if I want to sit down and carry a backpack with me it's an extra $100.

That forces me to give them my data (I'm interested in a flight from X to Y, creating accounts, my address, etc.) even if I back out of the checkout process due to upsells.

Compare that to seeing the final cost ahead of time before entering in any billing details and if you don't agree with the price you can use a competitor with better rates. There's no contest in how much better of an experience and outcome that is for customers.

steveBK12311 days ago
steveBK12311 days ago

Right, I think airlines are a bad example of "dark pattern" and "junk fees" because ultimately the customers are the problem.

Every airline that has tried the premium model in recent decades has failed.

People have decided they've reserved the right to rock bottom fares and simultaneous complaints about quality of service. Or people have decided flying sucks no matter what airline they choose so they simply sort by price.

Either way, dollars vote and this is the outcome.

hanzmanner11 days ago
bubblethink11 days ago

>People have decided they've reserved the right to rock bottom fares and simultaneous complaints about quality of service.

That's not really the case. Airline prices are quite detached from the quality of service. They are more a function of what the airline can get away with in the moment (i.e., surge pricing based on demand). If airline prices were always $100 for low cost, and $200 for frills included, that would be a fine trade. But you will pay anywhere from 100-1000 based on demand irrespective of frills or no frills.

scarface_7411 days ago

It depends on what you call “premium”.

Delta and AA are still the largest airlines in the US and unless you buy the basic economy tickets, the experience is a lot better and you aren’t nickel and dimed.

The Delta CEO said that only 5% of customers buy the lowest tier ticket.

hanzmanner11 days ago

You might be looking for a different word here. A dark pattern is not fraud or outright lying. These are already illegal. Seeing the total price at the end of the purchasing process is the legal requirement for a sale.

A classic example of a dark pattern is AirBnB. They (used to) show listing prices without all additional fees like cleaning, service fees, etc. So users would end up wasting a lot of time on finding the right offering to only later (yes, before checkout) realize that the total price is actually much higher. Users know how much they end up paying, it's not fraud. But this is still a dark pattern.

mkipper11 days ago

Well, I'd argue that you're looking for a different term, but obviously there's no concrete definition here.

I don't think a dark pattern requires any fraud or lying. I think the most obvious example is having users opt in to something (e.g. sharing private data) by default and only offering the option to opt out by navigating some convoluted series of menus. You aren't explicitly lying to users and telling them they can't opt out, but you're going out of your way to make sure the option isn't advertised or easily accessible.

In my opinion, there's a gap between that and what airlines and AirBnB do. I guess there's an element of deception with both, but airlines and AirBnB are just waving a nice number in front of your face to drive engagement. That doesn't personally meet my threshold, but I understand how it might meet yours.

notahacker11 days ago
fasthands911 days ago

I feel like this is different than a hotel 'resort fee', which you have no way to decline.

I hate flying Spirit but I have flown places before where I only needed a backpack. It may only be 5% of flyers on any route, but there are a lot of airlines to it makes sense that an airline with the model "if you are the rare traveller who doesn't need luggage - we can give you a good price" should exist.

Symbiote11 days ago

I think it's probably a fair bit more.

It's not unusual for me or my colleagues to do short business trips within Europe with only hand luggage. The cost isn't really relevant, it's mostly the convenience of walking straight off the plane to the train or taxi.

Couples can also have one checked bag between two people.

creer11 days ago

For my last flights, all the fees WERE disclosed well in advance. These airlines WANTED to sell these options and were marketing them diligently to the point where you had to fight these unbundled options with a stick.

There may be some bad guys but the unbundling seems to result - at least for some airlines - in excellent disclosure. Granted now you have to read through a lot more, and you have to select or ignore all these offers. Including pick specific seats if you do want a lot more space.

If anything, I wanted to pay for some more options that were not offered.

arcticbull11 days ago

Yep, I'm hella tall, I want to know up front I can pay to reserve a seat with more legroom.

And speaking Spirit, Big Front Seat is probably the best value in US domestic aviation. You get a business class seat for a fraction of what the legacies charge.

brandall1011 days ago

In the case of Spirit and Frontier, this is literally what they're known for. I'd be shocked to meet someone shocked by that.

The fact of the matter is more legroom is expensive because it means less seats can be in the cabin. Seat selection is expensive as it limits the combinations of available seats for those who want to sit together.

If these things don't matter (I'm a short guy sans family who often does short trips w/ minimal luggage needs), it's great to not have to pay for that.

AndrewKemendo11 days ago

And the point is that we should not have to live in a adversarial world like this.

It’s not that people don’t know about it

it’s not that people are surprised by it

The point is that we all think it’s bad and that it should change and so we’re pointing it out

sokoloff11 days ago

You want to travel somewhere and pay as little as possible. The airlines want to take you there for as much as possible. It's inherently adversarial.

It used to be the case that everyone bought a bundle that included a bunch of free (not charged at point of use) services. Whether or not you took 3 bags, you paid the same price as someone who did. Whether or not you chose seats all together at time of ticketing, you paid the same as someone who did. With the advent of unbundling (in part driven by online search), consumers could now decide whether taking 3 bags was worth whatever $X the airline proposed to charge. For people who did choose that, they paid more than people who didn't use that service. has some more information about the evolution of unbundling.

For me personally, I prefer the unbundled approach; it fits my sense of connecting my costs to my consumption (and probably saves me money in total).

hn_throwaway_9911 days ago
atomicfiredoll11 days ago

I agree that everything shouldn't be as adversarial, but as somebody who's motto for less important/short flights has become "Just throw me in the trash," flying Spirit is fine by me. There's a segment with additional time/flexibility that they appeal to. My concern is when companies go too far in misrepresenting things, especially things that are actually mandatory, and I'm careful because I've come to expect that from most.

Edit: One big issue when flying for me the risk of cancellation and not being reimbursed, but I balance that against the ticket cost. Again, I often have some flexibility around staying in a location longer when necessary, which helps inform the carrier I select.

esoterica11 days ago

Since when is it “adversarial” to charge people who consume more of the product (more legroom, extra bags) more money than people who consume less? That’s how all businesses work. Is it adversarial for a restaurant to charge extra if you order a second entree?

HDThoreaun11 days ago

Not even close to "all" of us think it's bad. I'm happy to fly spirit on short flights since I don't check bags or upgrade my seat. If the budget airlines didn't exist travelling would be much more expensive for me.

SeenNotHeard11 days ago

It's a lot like SEO optimization and the chicanery that goes on there: Airlines know that customers (a) are using ticket comparison sites like Kayak and Google Flights, (b) customers sort by price, from lowest to highest, and (c) as with Internet search results, customers tend to click on links on the first page w/o scrolling.

"Unbundling" options permits non-ultra-budget airlines to move toward the top of that list, and then make the money back by offering extras during the checkout.

Now, if sites like Google Flights and Kayak would give customers the ability to tick checkboxes saying, "I want a ticket with these unbundled extras," and sort according to the final price, that could potentially re-arrange the field, but who knows? The airlines would probably find another dodge around it.

goatforce511 days ago

Google Flights will allow you to select how many carry-ons and checked bags you have (depending on the route).

e.g., on an imaginary trip to Las Vegas, the cheapest carrier changed when I added a checked and carry on bag (and the price difference from a budget carrier to a mainline carrier shrunk considerably).

SeenNotHeard11 days ago

Sure, but I've not seen them offer tick boxes for things like the ability to choose which seat you're in, or complimentary snacks and drinks.

ZipAir doesn't even provide free cups of water during its flights. They require all baggage, even carry-on, to be under a certain weight or pay an additional charge.

Unbundled options is no longer merely about how many bags you check or carry on. They're monetizing _everything_.

tempsy11 days ago

ironically airfares are one of the most transparently priced services in the whole country because Obama passed a law that forced them to show the final price with fees and taxes included in the list price when searching

pretty much no other good or service in the US can say the same

curun1r11 days ago

They're transparent in the sense that they tell you the cost and it's the same when you checkout 5 minutes later.

But calling it "transparently priced" is nonsense. Fares change based on multiple variables. The fact that getting the lowest fare means navigating the permutations of date of travel, date of purchase and location of purchase to find the lowest combination of the three can be maddening. I shouldn't need a VPN and a comprehensive understanding of airline pricing quirks to not get overcharged, often by significant amounts. And it shouldn't be possible to get a lower price by using airline points as an intermediate currency, especially since the aggregators do not list the cost for flights in points.

tempsy11 days ago
vikingerik11 days ago

The hidden motivation there is that the government's rule benefits the government. It's easier for them to raise their taxes and fees, by hiding their portion in the total price where they won't get blamed. (You can find the breakdown if you look for it, but who ever bothers.)

thehappypm11 days ago


tempsy11 days ago

"Pretty much" implying there are exceptions, yes, but it's not the norm in the US for list prices to be inclusive of all fees and taxes.

arcbyte11 days ago

I hear you, but I fly spirit all the time with no add-ons at all. No bags, no seat selection, no wifi, no snacks. I really appreciate the low price and select Spirit over my preferred airline Southwest often for this use case.

It's not a dark pattern in my case, even if I do get annoyed those times when I actually have to fly them with bags.

czhu1211 days ago

For what its worth, I often fly from one location to another without luggage (going home to visit parents for instance). its actually my far my most common mode of flight since I visit them 3-4 times a year.

I appreciate the fact that I don't have to subsidize other people who need luggage.

toymin11 days ago

They still should be way cheaper if you don’t care about the seats and/or only have hand luggage

tyfon11 days ago

I wish they would enforce the "hand luggage" size a bit on entry to the plane, last time I flew around 2017 it was a complete shit show in regards to the overhead storage compartments.

matwood11 days ago

The budget airlines are pretty strict on this, but the regulars not so much.

spacemanspiff0111 days ago
sandmn11 days ago

It's usually listed it on their website and not too hard to google. I have to do it for every new airline I use because I'm almost always flying with only carry-on and rules for carry-on can drastically differ between airlines.

Only time I flew Spirit it cost me $40 to get from Orlando to LA and it's hard to beat that price. Compared to likes of RyanAir their personal item size is actually quite generous and my usual weekender backpack fit pretty well. I'm avoiding Spirit since that flight mostly because their operations are less reliable than other carriers but that have nothing to do with extra charges.

Angostura11 days ago

Or companies like Easyjet that save a couple of inches of the dimensions of (previously fairly standard) carry on luggage, so that when you get to the gate you have to fork out £40 or so to carry it on.

switch00711 days ago

Non standardised cabin bag sizes are a nightmare!

boring_twenties11 days ago

I don't think Spirit makes any secret of the fact that carry on bags are not included in the price? And in any case, the flight aggregators I have used lately (namely, Google Flights and Kayak) make it obvious.

dymk11 days ago

Maybe it's because I use Google Flights, but all of that information is front and center. I've never had to dig for it.

switch00711 days ago

Google Flights does not show checked baggage or non-standard seat fees AFAIK

It only indirectly shows baggage fees with certain airlines once you select a specific flight when it offers you a range of ticket options (e.g. with BA, it shows Economy Basic / Economy Plus options).

Never seen seat fees on Google Flights

dymk11 days ago
smsm4211 days ago

I think also one has to distinguish junk fees (which are frequently unavoidable, but hidden after the last minute from the consumer) from things like buying food. I mean, some airlines on some flights include free food. But food has little to do with flying itself, and if you don't want to pay, you can easily get it on the ground from another place and/or wait for 2-3 hours without a meal. It's not an "extra fee", it's buying a different product - which yes, can be sold by the airline too, but I don't see anything bad in that. Conflating providing some optional services with the nefarious practice of junk fees is not helping the consumers at all.

BeetleB11 days ago

Agreed. I don't run into most of these issues.

When searching for flights, ensure Spirit Airlines is excluded.

Unless there's a massive price difference, just fly Southwest if you have luggage. In over a decade, it's rare that some other airline is a lot cheaper. Most of them are at price parity or more expensive with luggage. In any case, at this point everyone in the US knows you'll get charged for luggage with most airlines and account for it when searching.

Food: Just don't. They give crappy snacks on planes. Just bring a few along with you. Or even buy them at the airport.

Insurance: Go to and get it yourself. Ignore whatever airlines offer you.

Seat selection: Don't bother with it too much. Also, nice that Southwest doesn't let you pick seats.

Priority boarding: Why...? I'd rather sit in the airport than in a cramped seat in the plane. And I've had bad experiences where they've turned the air conditioning off in the plane during boarding and I start feeling sick.

Compared to when I was a kid, flying is much cheaper now (inflation adjusted).

Izikiel4311 days ago

> Priority boarding: Why...?

Getting carry on room is the only reason this makes sense

BeetleB11 days ago

I guess. I usually have a small enough one that I can squeeze under the seat. Even when I've had larger items that need to go overhead, the majority of the times it's within one row of where I'm sitting. The ones where I have to put it far away are the exception.

jsmith4511 days ago
ghaff11 days ago

Though that's a pretty good reason. I do have an airline card that is decent otherwise and gives me good enough boarding priority. I don't bring on a large carryon but I almost never check luggage so it's nice to have overhead bin space.

rootusrootus11 days ago

Not a bad set of guidelines, but I think a bit more nuance is worthwhile.

If you only care about price, Southwest isn't a bad choice. But the cost may be in significantly increased travel time. E.g. if you live in the PNW, start with Alaska first, then try Southwest, because Alaska will probably have better direct flight options.

And seat selection... don't bother with it is fine if you're traveling alone. But if you're going on a family trip, this kind of detail is actually important.

Otherwise generally agree. Definitely bring your own food.

Also, if you do fly Alaska, always take your luggage as a carry-on if is plausible. Don't pay up front, because at the gate they'll offer to check it at no charge when the flight is pretty full.

swsieber11 days ago

> And seat selection... don't bother with it is fine if you're traveling alone. But if you're going on a family trip, this kind of detail is actually important.

IIRC, Southwest boards families early enough that they can get seats together, so it's another seat win for them.

michaelcampbell11 days ago

> Definitely bring your own food.

And make sure it's smelly, messy, and impossible to dispose of, because if history is any guide you'll get to sit really near me.

Tommstein11 days ago

> When searching for flights, ensure Spirit Airlines is excluded.

I don't exclude them initially, but unless the price difference is massive enough to account for the expected huge luggage fee and then some, I ignore them (or if they have so many flights that they're cluttering the results, then proceed to exclude them from that search).

> Priority boarding: Why...? I'd rather sit in the airport than in a cramped seat in the plane.

Amen. If at all possible, I'd rather be the last person on the plane, especially if I was guaranteed to not have to check a carry-on (or just don't have one).

gruez11 days ago

>Insurance: Go to and get it yourself. Ignore whatever airlines offer you.

or get it free through your credit card. Many premium cards offer it as a free benefit.

BeetleB11 days ago

Good to know. Apparently my one, which is a travel related CC with annual fee, doesn't provide this benefit.

If yours does, I would still read the fine print and compare with ones on insuremytrip. I picked a random CC and read its benefits, and did not see one involving serious illness - only death, accidents, and things like flight delays.

Edit: Checked again: Apparently mine does provide travel insurance. But as expected, not for serious illness (e.g. stroke that requires medical evacuation - happened to someone I know during travel). Also, it only covers issues related to the mode of travel. So if you're in the Bahamas for 2 weeks, and you get into accident a week in, that is excluded. With insuremytrip plans, the whole duration of stay is covered.

tafda11 days ago
pxx11 days ago

You have to not care about price at all these days to fly Southwest. It's gotten to the point where even if you have a companion pass, and the tickets are essentially buy-one-get-one free, it's still not worth flying them

BeetleB11 days ago

Must be something specific to your airport/city? Still one of the cheaper ones for me.

maerF0x011 days ago

> fees for selecting seats, checking bags, and buying food, to name a few .. "unbundling"

I can appreciate this kind of unbundling where I can choose what I want or dont want. Unlike the rental market that has started to "unbundle" with mandatory fees. In my case the mandatory additional fees adds another 12% to the "price".

($250 application fee amortized over a year, $60 credit check amortized over a year, $110 technology package, $31 valet trash, $12 amenity fees, $5 online service fee)

tppiotrowski11 days ago

I agree. Ticketmaster, AirBnB, and other services with mandatory fees that are known but not shown until checkout should be regulated but it won't happen.

Just like the USA is the only country in the world that doesn't include sales tax on sticker prices (because it makes things seem more expensive)

maerF0x011 days ago

I actually believe hearing the sales tax thing is a different issue. I recall hearing some conservative folks say tax separate is intended to keep the "sting" in the tax so people will be incentivized to protest it and reduce it.

It could be both reasons, as well.

mattwad11 days ago

It's not "unbundling" they literally just added new costs for features that were originally free because they can get away with it. So far, I have also found you are now REQUIRED to pay for your seats if you want to sit together. Frontier splits me and my wife even when there's seats available

mateo41111 days ago

I fly Southwest too. I like the flexibility that they provide.

If you don't feel like flying today, that's fine with them. No change fees. However, sometimes they don't feel like flying either, and you also need to extend them the same courtesy.

Tommstein11 days ago

Hear hear. It would've been one thing if, when they invented Basic Economy, it was "you can get cheaper flights now but you lose all these things you're used to." Instead, as I recall, it was "welcome to Basic Economy, where you still pay the same amount you used to, but we've taken away a bunch of stuff you now have to pay extra fees for."

yuliyp11 days ago

It's interesting you used Frontier as an example. Frontier's whole business model is "unbundle everything the law allows." This means dirt-cheap fares that alone can't cover their costs of running the flights. They need the fees to make the whole thing work.

boring_twenties11 days ago

The last Frontier flight I took had the following cost breakdown:

Airfare: $0.01

Taxes and fees: $18.97

Total: $18.98

xur1711 days ago

I fly on Frontier all the time, and while I do hate all of their upselling during the checkout process, my flight does end up being significantly cheaper than any other option.

In this case, I searched for a flight to Atlanta - Frontier was $49, Delta was $250. After going through the checkout process, I paid exactly $49 for my Frontier flight. I need to add a checked bag, which it looks like they charge $50 for, but $99 is still << $250.

When I lived out of state, I'd go up to visit family for the weekend with just a laptop and 2 changes of clothing. The dirt cheap budget flight options were amazing.

listenallyall11 days ago

4 fare types, Early Bird, A-List? Not displaying prices with aggregators? Surprisingly-expensive fares quite often?

I appreciate Southwest's philosophy but it isn't immune from trying to squeeze more revenue out of each trip - they just do it differently.

gus_massa11 days ago

I understand people been angry for a fee for choosing the seats.

But a fee for lugage is very natural. Handling lugage has a clear cost. It looks natural to unbound it.

jononomo10 days ago

Who the hell flies without luggage? Do you literally carry only your wallet when you take a flight?

gus_massa10 days ago

At least here, all include a small backpack/bag that you can put under your seat. A notebook and enough cloth for a few days.

jjav11 days ago

> lots of people want to select their seats, check their bags, buy food, etc. and are willing to pay for it

"willing to pay for it" is a odd way to phrase this. Of course people need to do all those things, but we are now forced to pay extra for these basics. All of which used to simply be part of the ticket price.

dools11 days ago

But hold on: in Australia for example there are two airlines run by the same company, Jetstar and Qantas.

Jetstar is the budget airline where you pay for all these “basics” if you want them.

Qantas is the “premium” brand where all these “basics” are standard.

When people fly Jetstar they have the option of paying sometimes 1/4 of the price by forgoing these options.

When I fly out of my regional airport the Jetstar flights are way more packed than the Qantas flights, and they’re always bigger planes too.

So the choice to forgo “basics” and save money is obviously a very popular one.

Seems like a good idea to me.

NoboruWataya11 days ago

You don't actually need to do any of those things - you could sit in the seat assigned to you, travel with less baggage and buy your food on the ground.

All of those things used to be part of the ticket price but now the ticket is cheaper because it doesn't include them.

cochne11 days ago

Another way to look at it is that you are now paying less for the base ticket which used to include those things. This allows consumers more choice in what part of the experience they want to pay for.

If someone wants to build a computer and they don't need a graphics card, it's better to give them the option not to get one for less money, or to get one for more money.

bigstrat200311 days ago

> Another way to look at it is that you are now paying less for the base ticket which used to include those things.

If that were true, sure. But I somehow doubt that's true. I don't have any data to verify this (nor do I know how one would get it), but I would expect that the inflation-adjusted cost of a ticket 20 years ago (when you weren't yet getting nickel and dimed for everything) is comparable to what you pay today for just the base price.

kalleboo11 days ago
HDThoreaun11 days ago
HDThoreaun11 days ago

I don't do any of those things and am happy I get the option to pay less because of it.

briffle11 days ago

I'm okay with paying extra for it, but none of the searching tools seem to include the price plus a checked bag plus a carry on, plus choosing my seat.

You have to investigate each airlines policies to find out.

notahacker11 days ago

Yeah. Whole article feels a bit "Fastcompany makes $entireprofit from bullshit clickbait headlines". Some people would read the article with an accurate headline!

For people that don't want to be at the front of the queue, select their seats, eat airline food or use inflight wifi, the fact that some people pay a bit more to do it and subsidise their ticket costs is a bonus. And even some of the really customer hostile ancillary revenue streams like "Printing your boarding pass will be 50 dollars sir" has nothing to do with website dark patterns

1024core11 days ago

> but lots and lots of people want to select their seats. . .and are willing to pay for it,

How did we ever get by before? I've been flying since 1984 and never paid to select seats until about a year or two ago.

strictnein11 days ago

You weren't selecting your seat in 1984. You'd show up at the airport, the agent at the counter would print your ticket, and you would realize with deep horror that you were in seat 37-E in the back of a DC10 with its 2-5-2 seating arrangement.

ipaddr11 days ago

Change it to dc9 and you are describing my first flight. 2-3 seating, engines on the wing, feels like you are outside of the plane. When I did a changeover to 747 it felt like I was in a quiet movie theater.

expertentipp11 days ago

At least you're certain no kid will hit the touchscreen of the entertainment system in your headrest. Although the moment the person in front unfolds their backrest it's what the nightmares are made of.

pb711 days ago

On top of that, prices were also far higher. Air travel has gotten cheaper and more accessible over time with the option to pay for things you may care about.

demondemidi11 days ago

I was choosing seats via EasySabre in 1986. Granted, my employer paid for a Sabre service via compuserve, but I was able to pick my own seat for free.

And when I had to book with an agent on the phone, I was able to pick not only aisle or window, but front of cabin, middle, or rear. Also for free.

Let's not normalize bullshit fees that are clearly a money grab. Kinda bizarre how many people are dissing this article and supporting airlines. I'm wondering if that's a Gen Z thing since they're used to paying service fees without realizing there are free alternatives.

snovymgodym11 days ago

The global middle class has grown and the volume of airline traffic passengers has exploded since the mid 1980s.

Looks like the annual number of airline passengers roughly doubled between 2006 and 2019:

NovemberWhiskey11 days ago

Everyone was getting seats allocated at checkin, which was at a checkin desk at the airport. If you were lucky, you'd get asked if you wanted a window or an aisle.

Then you could check-in by telephone. Then you could check-in online. Then airlines started exposing the ability to select seats prior to check-in. Finally, someone realized this could be a revenue stream and started charging for it.

At this point, British Airways will make you pay to reserve a specific seat before check-in even if you're flying in intercontinental business class unless you have an expensive flexible fare or are a frequent flyer.

OJFord11 days ago

Well seat selection is just working out you can charge for something that some care about (will pay for) and others don't (won't, largely unharmed).

But luggage for example: having it was to some extent subsidised by people who didn't/you paid for it whether you wanted it or not, in the bundled price.

It's more a problem of advertising & comparison IMO, I don't mind (quite like) these things being separated out otherwise.

scarface_7411 days ago

Then you didn’t buy a basic economy seat or buy from a second tier airline like Spirit or Frontier.

afavour11 days ago

Never traveled with family?

aidenn011 days ago

When I travel with family, the only way to get seats together was to not select seats. Online I'm presented with a map of just middle seats left, but if I wait until the gate for my seat there's magically adjacent seats so some of them.

wubrr11 days ago

Selecting seats used to be free for available seats. Now they artificially reserve empty seats such that you need to pay for them.

No extra value or improvement is introduced for customers here, quite the opposite.

rootusrootus11 days ago

> select their seats, check their bags, buy food, etc

I mostly don't have a problem with unbundling, except for seat selection. That's just gouging. But it works pretty well because people traveling as a group will suck it up and pay for the privilege of picking seats together.

matwood11 days ago

Yeah, I actually like the unbundling. I'll buy the cheapest ticket and then check every couple days for a good upgrade price. It also lets me do things like upgrade just the long leg of the flight as first class and not bother with paying for the shorter leg upgrades.

I'm pretty cheap, but I'm also tall and older. Any flight over 2 hours, I absolutely will pay for comfort.

ghaff11 days ago

I don't mind the unbundling so much. I mostly know about that, especially given I'm mostly on a single carrier. What's more annoying is clicking on a roundtrip fare from $1K or whatever and when I get to the return leg (on the date I had already chosen) and there's no $1K roundtip fare to be seen.

I just spent probably 8 hours finding a pair of flights somewhat flexibly around Christmas (yes I know but was having trouble firming up plans) and I'm still not sure what final combination/incantation got me to a fare and schedule that was at least within a large ballpark of tolerable if not exactly reasonable.

chickenWing11 days ago

If you actually read the article you'd know that unbundling is not not what it's about. It's about the dark patterns that trick or coerce people into purchasing "extras" that they don't want, or didn't know they had to pay extra for.

godelski11 days ago

Just a anecdotal data point: a few months ago I took a trip overseas and had to do it on a pretty short time schedule (<a week). As a grad student this is obviously tough to budget. So I load up my Mullvad Browser and jump around VPN points. Everything was breaking. They very much did not like that browser and the VPN was the cherry on top. But because of this effort I saved about $500 (NYC seemed to be the best location fwiw and I'm on the west coast and flew to Asia).

This felt rather insane and anti-competitive. Each time I changed any variable (including restarting the browser) the price changed and those warnings about number of tickets left would dramatically vary. There is no doubt that that these companies were lying to me. How am I supposed to price compare and we have a competitive market when it's stochastic with high variance? I know airlines claim to work on auctions and economists love auctions, but this wasn't even an auction. This was they knew I was in a bind and just added a dice roll to the price. That's only something a monopoly can do. I don't think this is about being able to select seats, check bags, or buy food.

arcticbull11 days ago

> There is no doubt that that these companies were lying to me.

They're not lying to you, the 'number of seats left' refers to the number of seats available at that price - in the lowest available fare bucket. Not on the plane itself.

What you ran into are called point of sale restrictions. Lower fares are made available to people buying in different markets.

They don't really work on auctions, they charge everyone what they think they'll pay.

Miraste11 days ago

Right, why on Earth would anyone call making up new definitions of "seats left" and "lowest fare," changing the price based on purposely hidden variables and not admitting it, and tricking users into believing extra fees are necessary "lying?" I'm sure it's all clearly posted somewhere. It reminds me of a passage from a famous book of marketing advice:

“But the plans were on display…”

“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”

“That’s the display department.”

“With a flashlight.”

“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”

“So had the stairs.”

“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

consumer45111 days ago

Do the people who design these dark patterns get paid more than honest people?

What are the LinkedIn keywords used to identify these roles?

Is it along the lines of “growth hacking?”

There has to be a name for this job and I am just too dumb and naive to know it at the moment.

Help, please.

godelski11 days ago
acomjean11 days ago

I interviewed at a travel company. One thing someone said they didn't like about working there was that they're customers are really the airline and hotel chains that pay them, and anything that closes the deal at a higher price is what they'd do. UX "improvements" tested with A/B testing for sales optimization.

mjcl11 days ago
listenallyall11 days ago

A/B testing, sales funnel, conversion rates

hammock11 days ago

They always say “seats left at this price,” and the “lowest fare” is in the context of the current search results, which are individual, not in the context of all searches by everyone everywhere, which seems an unreasonable standard.

hanzmanner11 days ago
coherentpony11 days ago

> They're not lying to you

That's correct. But it's correct in the sense of "technically correct". It's a language-lawyer type of correct that nobody actually expects when communicating in plain English.

Yes, they're not lying to me. They're simply being intentionally and willfully misleading.

When I was 8 and my parents asked, "Have you brushed your teeth?" to which I responded, "Yes." What they're really asking is, "Did you brush _all_ of your teeth?" and not, "Did you brush at least two of your teeth?" I answered that latter question. And I thought I was the smartest person in the world when I did.

godelski11 days ago

Yes, thank you. I think sometimes we forget how fuzzy language is.

If you're response is "well actually..." you need to think if you're providing meaningful feedback that would make the original claim meaningfully different (i.e. you're adding nuance that would shift perspective). Otherwise it comes off as if you didn't hear anything the original person said because you're missing the meat. Technical corrections are fine, but they should come with some indication of hearing the thesis. Let's try

> Well technically they aren't lying to you. It's the number of seats left at that price and that price can vary. So it is misleading but not technically a lie.

But to counter that claim, simply clearing my cache and restarting the browser would result in both the price and number of seats left changing. Not monotonically. Sometimes it'd be a lower price with more seats. I saw all four permutations! Now I'm not someone with all the airline data, but when this happens over the course of a few minutes I'm pretty suspicious of the results. The likelihood of that happening without manipulation seems rather low.

coherentpony11 days ago

> I think sometimes we forget how fuzzy language is.

I'm willing to bet a reasonable sum of money that the folks that designed the dark pattern didn't forget how fuzzy language is. In my opinion, the entire spirit of the design of the dark pattern is in fact the complete opposite: to exploit the fact that language is fuzzy in an extremely targeted fashion with the express purpose of extracting as much revenue as is pragmatically possible from the customer.

bch11 days ago

Parents> “Have you brushed your teeth?”

8yo> “Yes” (last week)

jbverschoor11 days ago

It's misrepresentation

shaan711 days ago

Did you eventually make a career in law? :D

coherentpony11 days ago
93po11 days ago

If something is that confusing and misleading then it’s still dishonesty

photonbeam11 days ago

If the recipient is deceived, its a lie, regardless of weasel words

arcticbull11 days ago

Who's been deceived? You were offered a price, and you can pay it or not pay it. If you pay it you get your ticket. I don't really understand what the deception is.

Is it any more of a deception than someone who comes into a store with a coupon getting 10% off, while you, without a coupon pays full price? Or any more of a deception than Target charging higher prices at outlets in SF and NY than they do in Texas? Or not telling you how many more of an item is around back?

photonbeam11 days ago
godelski11 days ago

Let's say that you and I each buy an airline ticket. We're sitting in the same coffee shop and buying it at the same time from the same airline provider. We're both buying the cheapest ticket available. Let's make even another assumption! Suppose we can buy the same ticket! Would you find it deceitful if we were shown different prices?

hammock11 days ago

Stop lying

kelseyfrog11 days ago

A bit more generally, they also ran into dynamic pricing or as it existed in every transaction before the 1870s, namely haggling.

It was only after the rather recent invention of the price tag that consumers themselves were commodified which always involves a level of abstraction and smoothing over of differences, in this case, by price.

Make no mistake, the reason it feels deceptive is that "Bargaining is always adversarial."[1] When one's economic milieu is the egalitarianism of being equal before price, of course bargaining feels deceptive, slimy, and wrong.

1. Bill Sanders, Frank Mobus, Creative Conflict: A Practical Guide for Business Negotiators, Harvard Business Press,2021

jowea11 days ago

You can't really haggle with a computer system can you? And even if we'd accept that as haggling the company has way more power in the transaction. This just seems allowing the company to capture ever more of the consumer surplus.

listenallyall11 days ago

The computer gives you, the consumer, a lot of power. You can very easily comparison shop - not simply view the cost of flights from every other provider on the same day, but also a day or two earlier/later, and if you are flexible, a week or month later. You can mix airlines, or plan open jaws. You can see the price of a rental car for all or part of the trip. Before travel was sold online, you went to a travel agent and had far fewer options.

jtbayly11 days ago

If I was able to haggle I might not have such a problem with it. But this cannot possibly be called haggling, as there is no ability to communicate with somebody and make a counter-offer.

kelseyfrog11 days ago

You're haggling with a system and on its terms.

One of those ways of communicating is setting your location via VPN. This is just what it feels like to haggle with a non-human system. Would that we weren't required to set aside our own humanity to do this, but this is haggling for a more inhuman age.

tomrod11 days ago

An unnecessarily kind way to coat the dark pattern that fuzzes the BATNA.

_zoltan_11 days ago

why are you defending the shitty airline tactics?

hanzmanner11 days ago

I might be wrong, but my recollection is that the practice of changing the price based on user location has been challenged in court some time ago. It's appalling that companies do that. I will definitely follow your advice for flight booking though.

93po11 days ago

I’ve heard a long time ago that they’d also charge Apple hardware users more

ne0flex11 days ago

There was a 2012 WSJ article about that [0]. I have both a Windows Surface and a MacBook. When looking for flights, I used both to check for prices in hopes to find better prices, but didn't really notice any discrepancy. I figured maybe they may be showing the same price due to both devices having the same IP address or something to that effect.


boyka11 days ago

Were you getting these different prices on the actual airline websites or on the aggregators such as Booking, kayak etc.?

godelski11 days ago

United's website. Though I saw the same thing happening on AA. Google Flights had some fluctuation too but it wasn't always reliable to have the same price once visiting the actual website from the link.

Beijinger11 days ago

It is hard to save with a VPN. Honestly, I manged only once to get a cheaper ticket with a VPN. Managed to buy an international aeroflot flight with a russian VPN IP that saved me 500 USD. But this was a one time incident.

datadata11 days ago

Another good way in which these companies are lying is with overbooking, or legally selling more tickets than seats on the plane and hoping that the statistical rate of people now showing up will cover the deficit.

sails11 days ago

I agree with your experience, it does feel a bit insane, but just to point out this is the result of too much competition selling a commodity product rather than a monopoly.

arrosenberg11 days ago

Disagree. Consolidation is driving this behavior - smaller companies in a competitive market would not be able to offend customers to this degree. Certain routes are dominated by one "alliance" (cartel) that basically boils down to American, United or Delta. You have a few smaller brands like Alaska, Southwest (which has underinvested in their infrastructure), Jet Blue and Spirit (who are currently trying to merge), but it's not enough.

You need to break up the cartel model so that (e.g.) Delta has real competition for routes to Atlanta. If I look at nonstop flights from LAX to Atlanta for a random day (Apr 1, 2024) your options are: 1 American flight, 1 Alaska flight, 3 Spirit flights (way more expensive) or a Delta flight just about any time you want to travel. That's not "too much competition selling a commodity product" - it's what I would expect from cartel pricing. There is a thin veneer of competition, but Delta owns that route - 90%+ of traffic is going to fly Delta.

sails11 days ago

Fair enough, my experience is European where you usually have multiple options and most people decide by price.

I will say I was amazed by how few options I had to get from JFK to Denver and the price was insane relative to a transatlantic flight, so perhaps the market is structured differently.

TheCaptain481511 days ago

What website or company was this exactly?

godelski11 days ago

United. I saw AA do the same thing too though.

AA has also treated me like shit too many times. I got caught in that pileup delay post CVPR 2022 which resulted in several delays and they would not give me a voucher or hotel. I spent 36 hrs in an airport for them to just say "glad to hear you found a flight. Looks like we resolved your problem."

jesterson11 days ago

It's funny how you are cheating companies by impersonating customer from different areas AND demanding honesty about remaining seats on same premises. At least you should be content with your behaviour and demand.

To make it clear I personally have nothing against both approaches - by being on both sides of transaction at times.

shantara11 days ago

My mother is in her sixties, and she's very tech savvy for her age. She usually has no problem with doing all the things online - from online shopping to paying her bills to social media. The only thing that stumps her and make her panic about potentially making a very costly mistake are the airline websites.

She always asks me to buy tickets for her, while feeling very insecure about it. Of course I'm happy to help, but it's hard to convince her that it's not her fault, and the predatory companies are purposefully building these websites like that to trick people into overspending.

darkwizard4211 days ago

Look, I'm not saying her fears are unwarranted, but you have to help me understand where the dark patterns are in airline pricing. They show 1-2 seats remaining, but those are usually accurate... not like or other shady booking sites.

When booking from first-party airline websites, I rarely have issues with unexpected prices popping up. Each "add-on" is clearly delineated.

The rise of even lower pricing tiers like Basic Economy on United also have their benefits (and severe restrictions) spelled out throughout the booking process.

shantara11 days ago

The main point of contention seems to be that there are a lot of packages being selected by default, and to deselect everything you have to scroll way down an already long page or to click tiny buttons blending with the other elements, while the design of a site as a whole tries to railroad into clicking the large Next -> Next -> Pay buttons. Plus, the design of various packages differs a lot, so for deselecting, say, paid seat selection, extra in-flight meals and a premium lounge the user has to read the info in a completely different layout, understand it, and find a well-hidden place to click on.

The final price could be representative of what you've chosen, but the whole process creates massive anxiety over forgetting to deselect something somewhere and paying for a completely useless to you option.

godelski11 days ago

Prices vary based on data they collect about you. Such as browser cookies, hardware info, browser, etc. You can often find different prices simply by clearing your cache or cookies. Or trying from a different browser. I left a comment in main about an anecdotal experience. One thing I'll add is that I also tried having 3 browsers open: Firefox, Mullvad, and Safari. I saw different prices on each.

esoterica11 days ago

This literally does not happen with first party airline sites (idk about sketchy third party scam sites). Where did this conspiracy theory come from? Which airline did you see doing this?

pcurve11 days ago

At least in the U.S., you're allowed to cancel airline tickets within 24 hours without any penalty.

xattt11 days ago

Since this thread will end up with anecdotes, here’s mine with Flair Airlines in Canada.

I wanted to take the time to figure out how much value I would get out of each add on. It looked like it would be cheaper to get an add-on in a particular way.

The fuckers set a timeout to the site that’s so low that it was just enough time to click through to buy but not enough time to figure out the value. This could be a difference of about 100-200CAD.

The airline also had us sitting on the tarmac long enough for my kid to finish a graphical novel. I am guessing they didn’t want to cough up penalty fees to the destination airport for arriving out of a given landing time slot.

The experience was like going over to a stingy relatives’ house where they keep the thermostat at 40° in the winter and reuse Saran Wrap between different dishes in the fridge.

giarc11 days ago

I recently flew Flair and it was a regular experience. I did find that the booking process did seem to have some "black patterns", mainly that things would be checked off when I had indicated I didn't want them previously. For example, we were just flying with a single checked bag for a family of 5. The first option is to add a checked bag for EVERY passenger and no option for just one. Then at other times during the booking process, bags would be added and price would change. It was only later in the process that I was able to add a single bag.

It was worth the few thousand in difference, however our flights all left on time and we had no delays, so I might be singing a different tune if we had sat and waiting long. One thing I wish I knew is that they charge for everything, including water and coffee.

dubcanada11 days ago

Flair is a discount airline (not WestJet discount, more like Spirit Airlines or Frontier or some "ultra low cost carrier", I doubt their passenger revenue is more then peanuts a flight, if they even make anything at all), it's basically like going to the discount grocery store in a poor neighborhood and wondering why your $20 brand of parmesan cheese is not available?

It's not like they hide the fact they are a discount airline and you need to accept there will be inconveniences for such discounted prices.

xattt11 days ago

> it's basically like going to the discount grocery store in a poor neighborhood and wondering why your $20 brand of parmesan cheese is not available?

The poor neighbourhood grocery store doesn’t act like I’m a mark. They respect their customer base and provide what they can.

thedaly11 days ago

I think we need legislation that mandates transparency in fees across most if not all products.

Not including taxes and fees in the listed price is detrimental to consumers.

tempsy11 days ago

Obama passed a law that forced airlines to show the final price (fees + taxes) in the list price, so it's been like that for many years now.

Before that it was much more like hotels where you're not shown the final price until the last step.

godelski11 days ago

Great. Now is the consumer allowed to compare prices in a meaningful way? Let's say I visit the site, close my browser, clear my cache and cookies, and then navigate to the site again. Should the price change?

tempsy11 days ago

Not sure what you're implying. Why would the price change in that situation.

godelski11 days ago
thedaly11 days ago
judge202011 days ago

How do they estimate taxes? Based on IP until you change your address?

tempsy11 days ago

Taxes are fully determined by departing and arriving airports. They don't need your IP.

acomjean11 days ago

They are trying. Not surprisingly there is pushback from airlines (and other businesses..)

esoterica11 days ago

All the major airlines I’ve used show the prices including mandatory fees and taxes up front. The only things not included are optional add ons like extra bags.

tayo4211 days ago

Just bought airline tickets the other day and it was such a frustrating experience to go through. United has 4 levels of economy, it was so tedious to compare luggage fees between them. If I want to sit next to my partner it would be an extra 200 off the lowest price both of us needed to upgrade... Then to bring a carry on.

I was using Google flights to compare and they all advertise the really low price, for lowest tier economy. Then yeah clicking through each one to figure out what the final price, getting hit with insurance upgrades, are you sure you don't want economy+ or w/e upgrades on each page.

The fee names seemed insane. There was a 10 dollar 9/11 fee? Wtf is that?

The prices are changing like everyday? Extra unessary pressure to buy. Why can't we just have consistent pricing, instead of taking advantage of people trying to fly when it's convientent.

The whole experience used to be be simpler I think. Just compare and buy and show up.

magneticnorth11 days ago

As for sitting next to a partner, if you don't absolutely need to guarantee it, then you can wait til you get to the airport and ask at the gate if they can move you to be beside each other.

If the plane is totally full you'll be out of luck, but if there's space then the gate agents will happily reassign you.

sokoloff11 days ago

Similar approach here: we have a lot better things to do with 400 after tax dollars than spend them to collapse to zero the chance that we'll sit separately in an airliner for a few hours. If that happens, we'll enjoy $400 worth of dinners out way more than sitting together anyway...

I find we usually get assigned seats next to each other anyway unless the plane is completely checked in full for aisles and windows even without asking.

atrevbot11 days ago

On the flip side of this my partner and I recently decided to pay the additional fee to Spirit to ensure that us, our 6 year old, and our 18 month old (traveling on lap) could sit together. We paid extra to sit toward the front of the plane to minimize time on the plane after landing. As we were boarding we were told that we had been moved because the row we were in was the exit row and we could not sit there with a child (though they let us select that row no problem when they wanted more money). They reassigned us to the very last row on the plane with no window for our 6 year old and no refund on our seat selection fee. I will probably just take my chances asking at the gate next time.

BobaFloutist11 days ago

Yeah but people reserve all the window and aisle seats because sitting in the middle seat is miserable so all the empty seats will be middle seats well before the plane is full.

tayo4211 days ago

we don't need to guarantee it, but its nice to be able to share drinks and an on flight bag.

I do that now sometimes, but even lately some airlines charge more for the aisle and window seat.

vkou11 days ago

> There was a 10 dollar 9/11 fee? Wtf is that?

1. It's included in the price you see on Google Flights.

2. Every airline pays it.

3. It's the cost of the TSA reach-*** that you do when going through security.

4. If you don't like it, talk to the airport, or your congresscritter. The airline has no control over it.

francisofascii11 days ago

I find airline and concert ticket purchasing to be so exhausting, that I simply opt out more than I desire to. You have to wonder if airlines and other companies (like StubHub) ever calculate how much business they miss from these tactics. We are talking about discretionary purchases, after all.

jstarfish11 days ago

I'm with you on that, but people get emotionally invested in travel for holidays, weddings, custody, funerals and vacations.

Never in my life have I been in a position of getting to the end of booking a flight and saying "meh, I don't really need to go there anyway."

sokoloff11 days ago

There's a comedian that I'd really enjoy seeing in person. He's only selling tickets via TicketMaster. As a result, I'll wait for his next Netflix or Amazon tour special.

tptacek11 days ago

Isn't this a headline that says airlines make literally half their gross revenue from "extra fees"? Total US airline profits are in the low double digit billions, right? That would imply airlines are operating at an enormous operating loss, as, what, a gift to the traveling public?

therealdrag011 days ago

I think there was a freakanomics saying basically this. The price of air travel has dropped and become way more accessible over the last 50 years.

I think travel is so discretionary they have to keep prices as low as possible or people decide not to fly. Low margins and tough competition.

justrealist11 days ago

It's bad but it's also dishonest to frame it as net-plus revenue. It would be mostly baked into a ticket price if it wasn't an extra fee. To some extent it leads to a less competitive market, and is genuine revenue, but I think it's basically impossible that it's $118B worth. People are not dumb, they mostly know when they have to pay for an extra bag.

> Airlines will make record $118B as extra fees with website dark patterns

would be more correct.

yardie11 days ago

Passengers aren't paying for an extra bag these days. They are paying for every bag, carry-on or checked. They care creating new classes even lower than economy. And this is causing problems with booking systems like Concur. I fly a few times a year for work and I'm obviously not sophisticated enough for these edge cases.

I've gone back to calling our travel agency because the online system can't distinguish between Economy, Economy Basic, and Economy Plus(tm).

scarface_7411 days ago

I used Concur for years flying domestically in the US. Your organization can create rules and filters that are transparent to you that shouldn’t be a problem.

uptown11 days ago

Airlines like shifting the cost to baggage fees because they avoid paying the ticket taxes on that line of revenue:

perfectstorm11 days ago

heh I used similar strategy when I sold on eBay years ago. i.e, charge extra in shipping fees and reduce the Buy it now price so I pay less in seller fees.

user393938211 days ago

Due to the changes in recent decades, including the security, no leg room, horrible treatment and customer service, I loathe air travel now and avoid it at all costs. I wonder how many are in the same boat. Sadly I’m guessing the industry doesn’t care since their primary revenue is from captive business travelers.

jmugan11 days ago

Yeah, I paid extra recently to buy higher-tier tickets that allowed me to choose my seats, so my family could sit together. I go to actually choose the seats and then it wants to charge me an additional fee per seat, per leg. There were no seats that didn't have a fee. Ugh.

melenaboija11 days ago

As an anecdote, I just took a flight today with Delta from Paris to Salt Lake City, I paid for a front row seat and they changed it to a middle one. This is not the first or second time this happens to me, either randomly or because of babies (baby basinets have to be hanging on the separators in front of the first row) and it is not worth it to fight as they alway have some excuse. Today I actually asked about it at check in time as I have seen the row on my phone and it did not seem to me that was the first row, the answer they gave: "Oh yeah, this is the first row"

To me these fees are kind of... tricky.

jesterson11 days ago

Typical large company behaviour - give you all sorts of bs to get you off my view. Once you realise you were fed the BS, the employee would be far from your reach.

Singapore airlines support operates exactly by this rule, likely other airlines as well.

ipqk11 days ago

I've had my seat changed after I paid extra for it, and I submitted a refund request and it was honored.

antiterra11 days ago

I’ve noticed really confusing upgrade prompts pop up when buying tickets from major airlines, including an upgrade that made the price higher than First Class on the same flight. It included a seat upgrade if available, meaning you could end up very little for the money you spent. If you were to simply click the Main Extra seat you wanted in the seating chart, you’d pay way less. The upgrade did have some refund terms that were not included in a normal ticket, but it deliberately appeared in a way to obfuscate the option to simply upgrade a seat (or to first class.)

expertentipp11 days ago

Speaking about Europe. Wizzair virtually disabled search and reservations over the web with their paranoid "anti-robot" algorithms, and at some point they had this mysterious "service fee" appearing randomly but discriminating web browser. At Ryanair the reservation workflow is basically one massive dark pattern and upselling designed to make you fell bad. Then there is fucking, this site opens randomly and unpredictably at various moments while clicking through the search and reservation workflows.

shortcake2711 days ago

I disagree about Ryanair. Yeah, they try and upsell you like crazy, but there aren’t any tricks. They warn you to buy bags in advance because they will charge more at a later date - that’s not a trick, that’s how they subsidise the ticket price for people who plan ahead. And it’s not as if they advertise the price at £12 then it triples at checkout. Maybe there’s a CC processing fee and that’s it? Also if you come back to the site later, the price is the same unless those seats have been sold which they very clearly communicate at the very first step (x seats left at this price).

dbg3141511 days ago

I book flights for my parents, who are both elderly.

I set up a flight for my Dad, on American Airlines. And requested the golf cart to get him from gate to gate.

Not 30 minutes later, I got a call, "An emergency notice about your flight."

They were trying to sell Dad some "life alert" type thing, claiming it was really important to have one while flying. For the low low cost of like $350 and a $20 a month subscription.

Worse, once they realized I wasn't an old old man and they kept saying, "Please put your father on the line..." I told them they could call him at (my number) ### ### ####, and they called right away and were like, "You should do this for your son, think about how stressful it would be for him if you had and accident."

So freakin' shady.

If you have elderly relatives, consider helping them book tickets -- and flying with them. And for giggles, put your own phone number down and see all the spam ads. American Airlines clearly sold my Dad's contact info... along with his "request for a golf cart" to this scammer sales company.

philip120911 days ago

If you didn't have this level of price discrimination, wouldn't general ticket prices be more expensive? Why not a title of "Airline tickets have become cheaper through pricing efficiency."

I think the bigger racket is loyalty programs, which are anti-competitive and give people a personal kickback for spending company money. It's not much different than a bribe.

Crunchified11 days ago

Dark website patterns are the internet's embodiment of the sleazy salesperson.

You want the product, the sales guy wants to upsell you and increase his profit margin (corresponding to sales commission). Nobody likes to be sold at like this, but many companies are perfectly happy being represented by such sleazebag salesmanship.

darknavi11 days ago

You want some dark patterns? Try to suss over fare classes and trying to optimize your mileage earnings.

Hard to justify legislation for it because it's all "extras" but man do they make it hard to "play the game".

switch00711 days ago

Tangential prediction: Ryanair will lead the charge in making you pay for a bag under the seat. There will be no free "personal item" option.

Whenever they lower the bar, they look for ways to lower it even further.

(The bags-under-seat needs clamping down on. It's gone too far. I've seen people with bags so big they had to rest their feet on top of it. It's an obvious safety issue but obviously for profit reasons the staff are told to turn a blind eye. The cabin crew would have to be literally blind to truthfully claim they didn't notice it)

RadixDLT11 days ago

If airlines are treated like a utility, and re-regulated, wouldn’t the American public get better service, and would airline investors and bond holders get a better (and more risk-aversive) return?

anovikov11 days ago

Admirable read for a person like me who buys their tickets through a brick-and-mortar travel agent who books them through an old-fashioned GDS available to travel agents.

dakial19 days ago

Still airlines have the worst margin (low one digit) in the whole industry. Where are all the margins going you ask? I don’t know today (I left the industry years ago) but in the recent pst it was mostly in the hands of GDS (Amadeus, Sabre and Friends…). I imagine this shifted to the online aggregators now….

yalogin11 days ago

Yep they know the moment they figured out extra fees they changed the whole reservation flow to minimize defaults and turned a lot of previously unthinkable items into paid add-ons. Every airline across every segment of travel now does this and as expected it’s resulting in a windfall. Problem is they won’t be happy with this in a quarter or two and their investors demand more, what will they do?

gniv11 days ago

Is there an aggregator that shows these fees when comparing prices? Something like the price is $X + $40-80 for the seat + $100 for checked bag.

tandr11 days ago

Pretty much all big flights searching sites (, Bing, etc) allow to specify that you have luggage, and the search results changes (sometimes quite drastically) depending on that checkmark.

ceejayoz11 days ago

I'd note that some airlines don't show up on the aggregators (like Southwest).

switch00711 days ago

By luggage on Google Flights you just mean carry-on, right? I've never seen a Checked Baggage option

LordKeren11 days ago

Google Flights lets you select the number of bags and updates the displayed flight according

(Anecdote from recent domestic US travels, your mileage may vary, etc etc)

creer11 days ago

And Google Flights shows extra notices that this or that is not allowed or included - for each specific flight.

switch00711 days ago

Carry on bags, right? Not checked bags

izacus11 days ago

The problem is that airlines have a financial interest in hiding that info from aggregators.

nojvek11 days ago

Went through Southwest that does the shenanigans of "you don't get a seat", just group number. Everyone ahead of you can choose the seat they like".

It wasn't a great experience. They charge arm and a leg to upgrade.

My best airlines has been Alaska Airlines. If you have the card, 1st bag free, complimentary drinks, seat selection, reasonable prices.

tiku11 days ago

Just had the horrible experience once again. Why is this still allowed?

I later found out that shipping my stuff was cheaper that checking in a bag..

afavour11 days ago

Is that domestic? I keep hearing this but every time I look for international flights it’s never true.

steveBK12311 days ago

I feel like we should parse these complaints as "I flew the cheapest airline that unbundles everything, and paying to re-bundle the stuff I wanted made the price higher".

shortcake2711 days ago

Yeah, this is it. People who are used to having their ticket price subsidised by other people who don’t have luggage are angry that those other people are no longer subsidising their ticket.

All this, despite the fact that the same ticket with luggage today, adjusted for inflation, is significantly cheaper than it was 20, 40, 60 years ago etc.

aronhegedus11 days ago

It all started to go downhill once airlines stopped having a free 10kg suitcase and a backpack that you could take onboard

On a return flight between Luton and Budapest, sometimes budget airline will ask for £40 EACH WAY for that small 10kg bag, which I find absurd

I understand supply demand etc, just noticing that what you get seems to be smaller and smaller each year

switch00711 days ago

I hear you. People are debating checked baggage fees but that's old news.

The carry-on fee is the latest outrageous charge.

It's a "premium" option now because airlines realised people value that their luggage is less likely to be lost and less time waiting at the airport. I bet in a way they absolutely loved the baggage handler meltdown - it's left a scar in people's minds.

Plus a price for checked baggage was set, and luggage is luggage, so the price is now equalised/approaching equalisation

Ryanair/Wizzair/Easyjet will charge your for that space for your backpack under your seat soon too, mark my words

Nifty392911 days ago

This is like saying that McDonald's makes a lot of extra fees on fries and drinks because those aren't (always) included with a hamburger.

A more honest take is that now we can pay for what we want, instead of just paying for everything and then only using some of them.

tekla11 days ago

Why does this article single out airlines? A majority of web devs in FAANG are complicit

jononomo10 days ago

It should be required by law to allow a passenger to take one carry on bag when they book a flight. It is ridiculous for an airline to sell a plane ticket and then not allow the passenger to have a bag.

Waterluvian11 days ago

Is this different in Canada? The fees exist but I’ve always immediately seen the final number that includes all of them. Then there’s some upsells but they’re not really fees because I just decline them.

ChrisArchitect11 days ago

Earlier discussion:

From airlines to ticket sellers, companies fight U.S. to keep junk fees

gjvc11 days ago

read the room

RHSman211 days ago

Easyjet went through a period of putting the return date the month after. Caught me twice! One completely missed till I tried to return and the 2nd I saw before flying so could change. Proper dark.

qaq11 days ago

Well Delta net Income for 2022 was 3.4B

Dowwie11 days ago

Drip pricing needs to be made illegal in the U.S.

Hnrobert4211 days ago

Wouldn’t “upsell” be more accurate than “fee”?

RajT8811 days ago

I don't see it mentioned, but I am convinced there's shenanigans with seat assignment as well.

I have to reserve my work flights through the work travel app, so of course the airlines know I am on business travel and who I work for. When I select an economy fare, I've noticed when I am finally assigned a seat at the airport, it's usually at the goddamned back of the plane. Most other seat assignments are paid upgrades, even within the same class of tickets. Yes, you can upgrade from economy to economy.

Another thing I have noticed is that after takeoff, they now care where you sit. Probably related to the possibility of upgrading within economy. You can't just move over to another open seat within your ticket class - but they used to not care about this at all.

matwood11 days ago

> Another thing I have noticed is that after takeoff, they now care where you sit.

If the plane is empty enough that you can move seats, it's often a weight thing on why they don't want people moving around. Otherwise, I've never had an issue moving or swapping seats with people. Then again, almost every flight is full nowadays.

tmnvix11 days ago

I've seen someone asked to return to their original seat. The reason given was something along the lines of "identification in the event of an accident".

RajT8811 days ago

Yeah, I have heard that one as well. But it is total crap; they went from 100% not caring to 100% caring about moving seats within same class.

Symbiote11 days ago

If you have the booking reference, you can often use it to log in on the airline website and select a seat (maybe for a fee) well in advance of the flight.

Some options may say "contact your travel agent".

(At least with several European airlines I'm familiar with. YMMV.)

RajT8811 days ago

For a fee! Exactly my point.

Giving people crap seats to incentivize them to upgrade. Especially if they are on work travel. That is my theory.

Thanks downvoters!

Symbiote11 days ago

Airlines I've used in recent years charge fees for the front few (2-6?) rows and exit rows. Choosing a seat anywhere else is free.