Finally! Your Freedom to Travel...

The Hidden Cost of Air Travel

 It’s been a long time since I’ve traveled cross country to see my mother in Florida, so when I got an e-mail from American Airlines the other day noting a fare sale to the Sunshine State, I figured I’d poke around a bit. I plugged in some random dates in October and was amazed to see really cheap fares pop up…as low as $116 one-way from San Diego to Tampa.

 This seemed almost too good to be true, but I called my mom to check on her availability for a visit from her oldest daughter, and then I returned to the American website to make my plans. My travel dates were very flexible, so I started sticking in some dates in September. The fares were a bit higher than they were in October, so I skipped forward, although I realized that I amazingly already have a lot of things on my calendar for that month.

 I finally decided I could move a dentist appointment, and settled on a flight leaving San Diego late on a Wednesday morning, arriving in Tampa around 8 p.m., and returning the following Monday, getting home around 9 p.m. I’d have to change planes in Dallas/Fort Worth coming and going, but I was just thrilled with my round-trip fare: $242.

 Of course, that was just the fare. Once I hit the button to make the purchase, those inescapable “fees and taxes” came into the picture, so my final cost was $42 more, or $284. That’s still pretty reasonable, but in doing the math, I realized those extra costs increased my expenditure 17 percent over the fare alone.

 American does note in very small print that taxes and fees apply to its fares…but what makes a bigger statement is copy like “fares as low as $57.” As an educated consumer, we need to try to train ourselves to understand that an advertised airline fare only has a slight relationship to what our final cost will be.

 We all know taxes and fees are a part of life. What really astounds me about the airlines these days is all the extras they dangle in front of you before you purchase a ticket online. American inquired as to whether I wanted an upgrade package that would guarantee me Group 1 boarding and a couple other things that were so insignificant I can’t even remember them. The cost for that was $38.

 I don’t check bags, so at least I escape that outlay, but it’s not a stretch to say that a $242 fare can easily double or more when you take all the mandatory and proffered extras into account. I chose to stick with the minimum, fare plus fees and taxes, even though my mom is picking up the tab.