Fee

Tom Ungar and his wife spent $128 to fly from Venice, Italy, to Naples, which is a ridiculously low fare. But when their checked luggage tipped the scales at just over 20 kilos, their airline demanded an additional $152.

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One dollar may not sound like a lot, but when American businesses in general — and travel companies in particular — build their entire ventures on fees like that, it is a big deal. (American raked in $266 million in ticket change fees and $255 million in baggage fees during the first half of 2013. It’s on track to collect more than $1 billion in fees for the year, with most of them coming in a few dollars at a time.)

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The domestic airline industry as a whole is in the process of re-imagining its business model, moving away from one in which the price of a ticket covers the basic cost of air transportation to one in which optional fees account for much of its profits.

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Like many resort hotels, the Marriott San Juan Resort and Stellaris Casino in San Juan, Puerto Rico, adds a fee to its daily room rate to cover amenities such as bottled water, a casino coupon, local phone calls and wireless Internet. It doesn’t matter whether you use the services — Marriott’s fee is mandatory.

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Several media outlets reported that airlines are reserving more window and aisle seats for passengers willing to pay between $25 and $59 extra, which means that family members who don’t cough up the money might not be able to sit together. At the peak of the summer travel season, the reports breathlessly suggested, flying as a family might be nearly impossible.

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Earlier this week, Spirit Airlines announced it would begin charging for carry-on luggage. That drew criticism from the Secretary of Transportation, who I interviewed on Wednesday. I wanted to give Ben Baldanza, Spirit’s chief executive, an opportunity to respond — and to explain the rationale behind charging for carry-on bags. Here’s our interview.

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I never meant to openly challenge American Airlines’ indefensible policy of charging those who can least afford it – budget-conscious leisure travelers – for the first checked bag. I had no intention of making a scene when I boarded a flight to Dallas with my family last week.

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It used to be so simple: The price you were quoted for an airline ticket, rental car or cruise used to be the price you actually paid.

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I am Patient Zero for attention deficit disorder, which may explain why more than a few people with legitimate grievances e-mail me back after I’ve responded to their questions, asking me if I even bothered to read their inquiry. I did, but I was probably distracted by a screaming child in my home office or a kitten scurrying across my keyboard.

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When Drew Tipton tried to add a few more days to his Avis rental, he expected to pay the daily rate. But wait, what’s this on the bill? A $10 rental extension fee?

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