Airline Travel Turns into a Proverbial Buffet of Individual Options

 In News, Travel

Remember when airline travel was easy… even fun and enjoyable (like riding with SMART Cars is today!) back in the early days when customer service was still a priority above stuffing travelers into airplanes like little sardines? The trajectory of airline travel has continued to shift toward more crowded conditions; more individual charges for things we used to take for granted and less flexibility to find the flight schedules and accommodations you’re looking for.

The move towards à la carte pricing on everything from snacks to extra leg room and baggage fees is widely seen as inevitable in an industry that’s under increasing pressure from its shareholders to embrace new sources of revenue.

In a recent travel article, “According to research by IdeaWorksCompany, global airline ancillary revenue soared nearly 1,200% between 2007 and 2013 as more carriers embraced the concept of “unbundling,” or charging separately for a variety of services.

Last year, airlines around the globe generated US$31.5-billion in ancillary revenue, consisting of à la carte charges like baggage fees, commissions on travel-oriented services like car rentals and hotels, and the sale of frequent-flier points. That’s up from US$2.45-billion in 2007 and amounts to an average of US$16 per passenger.

There are now only two major airlines in North America that don’t charge for first checked bags: New York-based JetBlue Airways Corp. and Dallas-based Southwest Airlines Co. And unfortunately JetBlue has indicated that it won’t be a bag-fee holdout for much longer. President Robin Hayes told analysts on the company’s second-quarter conference call that the airline will roll out a new concept called “fare families” in the first half of next year, which will allow it to charge certain customers for first bags.”

Southwest, on the other hand, prides itself on not charging for bags and said it has no plans to change its strategy.

And fall travel isn’t going to be any more affordable than the hot summer season was. Leisure and business travelers considering fall travel are likely to find slightly higher hotel prices this season, but at least airfare so far is in check.

Flights around Thanksgiving are currently 14 percent cheaper than last year’s prices, according to Hopper travel data, which analyzes airfare searches from multiple sources.

Hotel room rates in the United States this year are up 4.5 percent on average, and are forecast to climb at a 5 percent rate in 2015, said Jan Freitag, a senior vice president at Tennessee-based travel research firm STR.

Across the U.S., demand keeps going up and there are only 100,000 hotel rooms under construction nationwide, Freitag told CNBC. Right now, “it’s a sellers market” when it comes to room rates, he said.

So the bottom line is, as always in this competitive travel market, book early, plan for long lines and a frustrating shuffle through security and bring goodies to entertain yourself and your family. It’s going to be another harried travel season!

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