Most Travelers Say Airline Fees Wrong, Southwest Benefits from No-Fee Pricing

October 15, 2008

This article is included in these additional categories:

Retail & E-Commerce | Travel & Hospitality

Nearly 80% of US consumers say the extra fees most airlines now impose on travelers for once-free amenities are unacceptable and should not be passed along to travelers, according to research from comScore.


Though consumers understand the economic plight of commercial airlines, they overwhelmingly disagree that they should have to pay extra for items such as checking luggage, beverages, pillows and blankets or aisle and window seats.

The study – which measured consumer attitudes toward airline fees, as well as online ticket sales at US sites of major airlines – also found that Southwest Airlines sells nearly 2.5 times the dollar volume of online tickets as its nearest competitor.


From Q2 2007 through Q2 2008, Southwest expanded its leading share of online ticket sales made directly at airline sites by 4.8 points, according to comScore’s passively observed online behavioral data.

While Southwest – which does not charge the same fees for extras as its competitors – has long positioned itself as an economically priced airline, part of its growth in share coincides with the imposition of fees by the majority of the competing suppliers.

“Charging additional fees for checked bags, meals, blankets and other services previously included in the cost of a ticket has received significant media attention and has been widely unpopular among consumers who, in today’s economy, have become increasingly price sensitive,” said Kevin Levitt, comScore VP. “Southwest Airlines appears to have successfully differentiated itself through its marketing position of ‘no hidden fees,’ effectively bolstering its online ticket sales and increasing its market share.”

Consumer Dissatisfaction Mounts with Prices and Fees

Some 80% of respondents believe the rising cost of fuel is the reason for increases in airfares, but less than 40% feel that current pricing is fair. An even greater percentage of consumers oppose the additional fees policies, with only 7% of respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing that fees imposed after purchasing a ticket are acceptable.

The survey of more than 1,000 airline consumers also asked consumers about their willingness to pay additional fees for a range of services and amenities.

Key findings:


  • Airline consumers indicated they were least likely to pay for a pillow or blanket (82%) said they are somewhat unlikely or not at all likely to pay for the amenity), the ability to book by phone (80%), a window seat (79%) or an aisle seat (77%).
  • They would be most likely to pay for oversized bags (24% said they were somewhat or extremely likely to pay), internet access (20%), or a second checked bag (18%).

American Airlines Flyers Most Receptive to ‘A La Carte’ Pricing

While most airlines have implemented additional fee policies for select services, some are also considering an ‘a la carte’ pricing structure, charging a low base fare with additional costs for other services a traveler selects.


Comscore found sentiment toward the ‘a la carte’ pricing structure relatively divided, with 49% of respondents in favor of this structure, 37% opposed, and 14% unsure or undecided.

Respondents who said they prefer to fly American Airlines were the most receptive to the ‘a la carte’ pricing, with 57% indicating they were in favor of the policy and only 32% opposing it.

Those who prefer to fly Continental Airlines and Delta Airlines were less receptive to the policy, with less than half of respondents indicating they were in favor of it.


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