Last month JetBlue increased its first checked bag fee to $35 but kept it at $30 if prepaid online. Now United has announced they’re matching the move on domestic and short haul Latin America and Caribbean routes,
We are making changes to our checked bag fee on certain flights, effective for travel on and after March 6. The changes do not apply to customers who booked their trips before February 21, and will not apply to customers who prepay online before check-in. As always, MileagePlus Premier customers and those who purchase tickets with an eligible MileagePlus credit card will continue to receive complimentary checked luggage.
There are (3) ways this benefits United:
- This will mean fewer transactions at the airport, saving time and staff
- And some customers may pay for bags, planning for the savings, and not wind up checking one – fees therefore that United wouldn’t otherwise earn
- Plus customers who check bags at the airport will pay more
In the meantime, until American matches and Delta matches, there’s some risk that customers at the margin book away. United hasn’t minded taking that risk with Basic Economy, where they acknowledged that getting out ahead of American cost them about $100 million and where they remain the only airline to completely ban basic economy customers from bringing a carry on bag on board (and they also ban basic economy customers without checked bags from online check-in, requiring them to wait in line at the airport to check in).
A year and a half ago JetBlue was first to raise its checked bag fee from $25 to $30 and other airlines. Now JetBlue is clearly ‘the new fee leader’ raising bag fees, and signaling to competitors to follow.
For its part American just rolled out prepaying checked bags online, a feature that really only make sense if there’s an incentive for customers to pay early like a discount.
Domestically ‘full service’ airlines are becoming like their ultra low cost carrier brethren. Spirit Airlines charges its lowest fees for checked bags online. Fees go up at the airport. And they’re higher still if a customer has to check a bag at the gate. They’re using fees not just to generate revenue, but to drive channel customer behavior in ways that lowers the airline’s costs.
Higher checked bag fees mean an even greater incentive for customers to bring their life’s belongings on board. That in turn causes delays, both because bags take longer to stow and because more bags than a plane can handle means taking the time to gate check bags.
United is getting rid of bag sizers at the gate and higher bag fees may exacerbate the ‘bring everything on board’ mentality.