U.S. Airlines ‘Only’ Collected $3.36 Billion in Baggage Fees Last Year

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Airline passengers in the U.S. collectively paid $3.36 billion in fees for carry-on and checked bags last year. The figure actually represents a decrease from 2010, when we dropped $3.4 billion on baggage fees. Chances are, you paid more out of pocket to fly last year anyway.

Upon the release of the latest numbers from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the Associated Press reports that “U.S. airlines’ revenue from bag fees fell last year for the first time since they started collecting them.” U.S. airlines collected $792 million in baggage fees in the fourth quarter of 2011, bringing the yearlong total to $3.36 billion.

In 2010, domestic carriers raked in $3.4 billion in baggage fees, the all-time high, up from $2.7 billion in 2009, and just $1.15 billion in 2008, the year that baggage fees more or less became standard.

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The assumption has been that baggage fee revenues would increase for, well, forever, so even as $3.36 billion is an astronomical figure, it’s being welcomed as a sign that fees are being reined in—or at least that travelers are getting smarter about bypassing them. In either case: Hooray!

But while baggage revenues are down a smidge, many travelers are well aware that airlines are increasingly likely to be charging for a lot more than luggage lately. The AP notes:

Bag fees and reservation change fees are the only ancillary fees paid by passengers that are reported to BTS as separate items. Other fees, such as revenue from seat assignments and on-board sales of food, drinks, pillows, blankets and entertainment are not identified separately.

Spirit Airlines, which was the first domestic carrier to start charging for carry-ons, has been at the forefront of hiking all sorts of “ancillary fees.” At last check, the average passenger was handing over an extra $103.36 per round trip above and beyond the cost of airfare to the carrier.

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Apparently, many airlines have been following Spirit’s lead. In the third quarter of 2011, for instance, the industry collected $2.38 billion overall in ancillary fees—baggage, as well as reservation changes, food and beverages, standby fees, seat assignment charges, and more. That’s 10.7% more than the total from the third quarter of 2010 ($2.15 billion).

The price of airfare has risen alongside increased fees. Flight prices in the fourth quarter of 2011 were 10% higher than the same period in the previous year. This spring, it’s been more of the same, with fare hikes on international and domestic flights alike.

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So while we may have paid slightly less in baggage fees in 2011, the extra we had to fork over in airfares and other fees was likely to more than make up the difference.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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