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Imagining more new airline fees

A travel website's founder guesses what the future might hold. Also: Corporate America will spend more on trips this year, a business travel group predicts.

January 24, 2011|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times

Ready for new airline fees for traveling with an infant or perhaps bringing a carry-on bag?

George Hobica, founder of the travel website Airfarewatchdog.com, predicted airlines will be tempted to adopt new fees to compensate for higher fuel costs. After all, the nation's airlines collected more than $6 billion from such fees in the first nine months of 2010, according to federal statistics.

Hobica drafted a list of possible new charges, some of which he said have already been imposed in the U.S. or Europe. For example:

• Infant fee: a charge to hold a baby on your lap during a flight. Europe's Ryanair charges 20 euros, or roughly $30, each way.

• In-person check-in fee: a charge to check in with an airline employee instead of checking in online or at a kiosk at the airport.

• Credit card fee: a charge for buying tickets with a credit card. Hobica says foreign airlines already charge a small fee to passengers who don't pay with cash.

• Lock-in fee: a charge to lock your fare for three to seven days while you consider buying a ticket. Continental Airlines introduced the option in December, and several European carriers already had been charging for such price insurance.

• Carry-on bag fee: a charge to bring luggage in the cabin that doesn't fit under the seat. Florida-based Spirit Airlines added a charge of up to $45 for such bags last year.

While new airline fees in the last few years have prompted many travelers to choose a different mode of transportation, Hobica says most are resigned to paying those costs.

But after publishing his list of possible new airline fees on his website, he said the most common response from website visitors was, "Don't give the airlines any ideas."

Business travel group has 'cautious optimism'

To gauge the strength of the economy, some experts look at consumer spending, retail sales and unemployment numbers.

Not surprisingly, the trade group for the nation's corporate travel managers focuses on business travel spending.

Based on that criterion, the National Business Travel Assn. says the economy is looking strong. The group says business travel spending grew 2.3% last year, compared with a 14% drop in 2009. The group's research arm predicts that business travel spending will rise 5% this year.

When business executives feel optimistic about the economy, they spend more on travel, group officials say. As a result of such spending, they say, the economy thrives.

"Our research is ringing in the new year with reason for cautious optimism," said Michael McCormick, the group's executive director.

In another sign that the corporate world may be willing to spend more on business travel, a new survey of business travel managers found that the top criterion when choosing a hotel was proximity to a meeting location.

In previous surveys by other travel companies, the top criteria were low prices, loyalty program points and wireless Internet access.

In the latest survey by Travel Leaders, a travel agents network based in Minneapolis, price ranked 9th.

"It's interesting to see that location is coming out so far ahead of price," said Kath Gerhardt, a spokeswoman for the network. "It definitely shows you that other things are more important to making business travel easier than price."

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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