10 of the World’s Most Insulting Fees and How to Beat Them

The frenzy of fees in everything from travel to banking is the financial equivalent of a cold slap in the face. Here are 10 examples, and some advice on fighting back.

You give me something I want, we agree on a price, I pay for it. It’s the way the world has worked for thousands of years. These days? Not so much.

Today, with an increasing number of businesses, it goes more like this: You provide something I want, we agree on a price, I pay, then you tack on fees to fatten your bottom line.

Unreasonable fees are more than just a drain on your finances. They’re insulting; the financial equivalent of a cold slap in the face. Check out this TV news story for some examples, and to see how far I’ll go to illustrate a concept.

Now, in no particular order, here are 10 of the world’s most insulting fees. They made my list for one of three reasons: They’re unreasonable, you’re getting little or nothing in return, or they’re ridiculously overpriced.


1. Checked baggage fees: Most major carriers charge $25 to check one suitcase, a lot more if it’s oversized, overweight or both.

This fee didn’t exist until recent years, and for good reason: The price of a plane ticket should obviously include luggage. Isn’t that an integral part of traveling long distance? No other travel-related services — buses, trains, hotels, cabs or rental cars — charge for luggage. This isn’t a fee, it’s a sophomoric attempt to disguise a higher price.

Workaround: There are two major airlines that don’t charge this insulting fee: Southwest and JetBlue, although it allows only one free checked bag. Fly them if you can. If you can’t, check this chart or one like it to see how much your airline is charging and use that as an incentive to pack light.

Some airlines also allow you to avoid baggage fees by using their branded credit cards. For more ideas, see 10 Tips to Save on Baggage Fees.

2. Carry-on baggage fees: At least when you pay to check a bag, there’s a service involved. Someone has to load it, unload it, and make sure it gets safely back into your hands. Charging for a carry-on bag is charging for nothing whatsoever. Nobody is touching your bag but you, making this fee indefensible. Spirit and Allegiant are two airlines that do it.

Workaround: Avoid flying Spirit, Allegiant, or any airline that charges for doing nothing. If they’re the only airlines available, drive. If that’s impossible, check with UPS or another freight carrier about shipping bags.

3. Lap fees, pet fees: If you have a child younger than 2, it’s typically free to carry them on your lap for a domestic flight. Leave the country, however, and you might pay a “lap fee” of 10 percent of the ticket cost. And not the cost of your ticket, the cost of a full-fare ticket, the most expensive available. Delta, United, US Airways and American all have some form of this policy, and for what? The airline is performing no service, giving no extra room and no assistance, nothing.

Ditto when you’re flying with Fido. If you have to ship your pet in the baggage compartment, you’d expect a handling fee. But bring them with you in the cabin, and you’ll pay up to $125 each way, and the pet carrier counts as a carry-on. Again, the airline is doing nothing but collecting a hefty fee.

Workaround: Check with the airline before you book the ticket to see what fees, if any, you can expect. If they’re high, shop around: Some airlines charge less than others. Check this article for more specific strategies on lap fees, and this one for flying with pets.

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  • Bob

    I agree with your comments on airline add-on fees, especially for carry-on luggage. It’s just an end-around on raising ticket prices. However, I’m a big fan of Allegiant. I can fly their routes to Florida much cheaper than the bigger airlines do out of large cities. I just use the biggest size checked bag allowed (note Allegiant has reduced checked bag weight to 40 lbs.) then stuff what I can into a backpack, which I can still carry on for free and place under the seat in front of me.

  • pennyhammack

    I agree that most of the airline fees are simply revenue enhancers but I worked in airline reservations and the pet and international lap fees go back a long time. Only one pet is/was allowed in each cabin to avoid fights and or excessive barking, meowing so we had to make a reservation and research to make sure that there wasn’t already a pet booked. Also the carrier size restriction needed to be explained and we had to make sure the pet owner was aware that 1.Only very small dogs or cats were allowed, no rabbits or exotics 2.They had to fit and stay in the container which had to be placed under the seat and 3.The pet needed a health certificate from a vet and hopefully something to calm them or make them sleep so as to not annoy other passengers. All this took time and drove up our holding time which cost the airline.
    The airlines shouldn’t be charging lap fees for short domestic flights but infants on long haul flights may need food or formula warmed, special seating, bulkhead preferred and help with carryon luggage, and maybe even someone to hold the infant while the parent uses the restroom and someone to cart away dirty diapers and someplace to dispose of them without smelling up the cabin. That fee is justified too.

  • Mike J

    you forgot two of the worst, and in my mind the kind of fees that make the blood boil:
    1) call customer service to pay a bill, and you are charged an extra $5.00 to talk to a person who is getting PAID to do exactly THIS job ~!
    2) Fees attached to your concert ticket : Building fee, etc.etc.etc; which typically adds $25-$30 to the already overpriced concert ticket..and if you buy more than ONE ticket, the fees rapidly escalate to nearly equal the total cost of your ticket !! Mike J

  • Dave G

    You forgot the magic words “overall total cost”! Simply add up ticket price plus fees, and chose the lowest total (assuming reasonable connections). For example, Southwest makes a big deal out of offering a free checked bag, but their ticket prices are almost always higher than the competition by substantially more than you save in baggage fees.

  • ModernMode

    I refuse to buy a car from ANY dealership that adds a second sticker for $300 wax jobs, pinstriping etc. And I tell the salesperson why I’m leaving.

  • gz9c0b

    fees for your spouse to drive the rental car which you have already rented.

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