The biggest offender charges almost $100 more for a round-trip flight on average.
The truth is, there’s almost no such thing as a $20 flight; whether you’ve found a deal within the U.S. or one across the pond, those rock-bottom prices represent your wallet’s death by a thousand cuts. A bag fee here, a seat fee there, and suddenly, you’re square with how much that ticket normally costs—and one airline stands out for its incidental fees.
To no surprise, Spirit Airlines charged the most “ancillary fees” of any airline in 2016, coming in at $49.89 per passenger, on average, according to a study by IdeaWorksCompany, a consumer research company. That means if you fly round trip, you should expect to spend $100 on top of the listed price of your ticket. What’s more, those ancillary fees—for more legroom, a checked bag, or choosing your seat—accounted for 46.4 percent of Spirit’s total revenue last year: In other words, the airline’s making nearly as much by nickel-and-diming you as it does from selling everything else.
Allegiant Air landed in the no. 2 spot, charging $48.93 per passenger, while Frontier Airlines landed at no. 3, charging $48.60 per passenger. None of these airlines should come as a surprise, given their a la carte pricing models—but the fourth-place finisher, United Airlines, beat out some low-cost carriers, averaging $43.46 per passenger. None of the other U.S. legacy carriers finished in the top 10, but it should be noted that United made the most “ancillary revenue”—money derived from frequent flyer programs, a la carte charges, and travel retail commission like car rentals—of any airline surveyed, beating out American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and Delta Air Lines, all of which carry more passengers. For comparison, United generated $6.2 billion in ancillary revenue last year, and flew about 100 million passengers, while American generated $4.9 billion and flew 144 million passengers.
If those numbers seem onerous, digest this: United flew 31 percent fewer people than American, but made 27 percent more in ancillary revenue. The bottom line: United makes a lot of money through means other than just selling tickets.
Check out the full top 10 airlines that charge the most fees below—and then maybe pause before you buy that too-cheap-to-be-true ticket.
- Spirit: $49.89
- Allegiant: $48.93
- Frontier: $48.60
- United: $43.46
- Jet2.com: $42.46
- Qantas: $42.38
- Virgin Atlantic: $42.25
- AirAsia X: $34.41
- Korean Air: $32.59
- Alaska Air: $31.41