Airlines collect $6 billion in fees

Delta Air Lines collected $1.6 billion in baggage and reservation change fees in 2012.

Story highlights

  • Airline baggage and reservation change fees added a lot to the bottom line
  • Delta Air Lines collected the most fees of any U.S. airline reporting
  • American was the first U.S. airline to charge baggage fees, starting in 2008

Those airline baggage and reservation change fees add up, to the tune of more than $6 billion.

U.S. airlines collected $3.5 billion in baggage fees and $2.6 billion in reservation change/cancellation fees last year, according to U.S. Department of Transportation data. That was a 3.8% increase in baggage fees and a 7.8% increase in reservation change/cancellation fees compared with 2011.

Delta Air Lines came out on top in baggage and reservation change/cancellation fees, collecting $1.6 billion last year. Delta's baggage fees totaled $865.9 million and it collected $778.4 million in change/cancellation fees.

United Airlines landed in second place in both categories, with $705.5 million in baggage fees and $660.9 million reservation change/cancellation fees.

And the most satisfying airline is ...

Frontier introduces carry-on bag fees
Frontier introduces carry-on bag fees

    JUST WATCHED

    Frontier introduces carry-on bag fees

MUST WATCH

Frontier introduces carry-on bag fees 02:35
PLAY VIDEO
And the worst U.S. airline is...
And the worst U.S. airline is...

    JUST WATCHED

    And the worst U.S. airline is...

MUST WATCH

And the worst U.S. airline is... 01:04
PLAY VIDEO
Luggage delivered to your door for a fee
Luggage delivered to your door for a fee

    JUST WATCHED

    Luggage delivered to your door for a fee

MUST WATCH

Luggage delivered to your door for a fee 02:18
PLAY VIDEO

Those fees returned the airlines to profitability in 2012. Total revenue for all passenger airlines last year was $159.5 billion, while total operating expenses were $153.6 billion. For the 10 largest U.S. airlines, that translated into net income of $201 million last year, up from a $500,000 loss in 2011.

And there's no sign that the fees are going away.

Delta, United, American Airlines and US Airways recently raised the cost of changing a reservation from $150 to $200 for many nonrefundable tickets for domestic flights. Frontier Airlines will soon start charging a $25 to $100 carry-on bag fee to many customers who book their tickets through third-party sites, excluding certain members of its frequent flier program.

American was the first U.S. airline to charge customers for the first bag checked, starting in June 2008. The fee was $15, and other airlines quickly followed suit. That year, American collected $277,991 in baggage fees, according to U.S. Department of Transportation data. The U.S. airlines collected $1.1 million that year.