How Much Does it Really Cost an Airline to Fly Your Bag?

TWO DOLLARS. That’s what it costs to fly your bag in terms of jet fuel. Or at least that’s what a new study by the Detroit Free Press says. US carriers pocketed $3.5 billion in baggage fees in 2012, so it’s obviously a major revenue source to them, but come on. That’s a 1250% markup.

I get nostalgic for the days when all carriers in the US realized that baggage is a part of travel and should be included in your ticket price, just like the utensils that come complimentary when you purchase a meal at a restaurant. Maybe some day we’ll go back to those halcyon times.

h/t Consumerist via Detroit Free Press


  1. And the real cost of the meals is lower and the real cost of carrying a passenger across the skies is often higher than what a discount fare covers. Why is this a surprise or even news?

    • It’s news because airlines are notoriously tight-lipped about their actual costs and the analysis conducted by the Detroit Free Press was able to extrapolate the true cost. If this doesn’t surprise you or interest you, why are you even commenting?

  2. Not defending the airline here, but the article title isn’t accurate. As said in the article, it costs $2 in jet fuel *alone* to transport a bag.

    Not to mention that their method of extrapolating out a figure from an AA press release to obtain the “cost” in fuel to transport a customer bag is at best dubious for many reasons. Does it give a good indication? Maybe it’s a start, but treating it like gospel (especially so one can make a nice claim that it’s a 1250% markup) is unsound.

    No one doubts that the airline makes money on these fees. At best defence, it defrays a significant part of the transport cost for the airline that it would otherwise have to make up in other ways. But let’s not get carried away with the tomato throwing until we settle down with the facts.

  3. I’d hate to say anything positive about the airlines, but there is so much more to the cost of the bag than the fuel. What about the pay for the employees to carry the bags? What about the cost of the complicated computer systems that track the bags? What about the the cost upkeep of the scales at at the airport? What about the cost of fixing wear and tear to airplanes and equipment from the repetitive loading and unloading of the bags?

    Look, everything in life costs more than we think it should. Either pay the bag fee and stop whining about it, bring less stuff, or fly an airline without a bag fee.

  4. I tweaked the headline to more accurately reflect the story. Sorry if anyone felt misled.

    @Trevor The issue I have is not so much the actual cost of the baggage fee charge. It’s the charge in the first place. If you need to charge me $25 to carry my bag, then build that into the cost of the ticket. By making it a separate fee, the airlines are blatantly trying to make their fares seem cheaper when you’re searching for a ticket. Once you buy the ticket, though, you get dinged with the extra fees and the true cost of the flight goes up. I’d like to see more transparency from the airlines in offering me a fare that includes everything that should be included (baggage being the most important considering that virtually nobody flies without luggage or some sort).

  5. Jason,

    Part of the reason airlines unbundled those services that were once included is that passengers were complaining. When fares were going up the airlines were very transparent about the range of cost areas that the fare paid…and passengers whined about the areas they did not use (checked bags as a prime example). Now the passengers got their way, pay for what you use, and are complaining again. Until the traveling public is willing to pay the actual cost of transport, including the services, then the airlines will need to find options that speak to the broad array of passenger types.

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