American Airlines considers new price structure...choose your level of discomfort

Brace yourself for more changes in the airline industry. American Airlines, the company that paved the way for all the other airlines to charge for checking your luggage, is considering more fees for fliers.

Charges for checked luggage have been a real moneymaker for airlines, with most estimating several hundred million dollars in additional revenue since adding the charges, usually in the neighborhood of $15-$25 per regular-sized bag. The charges are also likely doing a lot to save the airlines on fuel, as passengers try harder to lighten their loads and avoid the fees.

While the baggage fees have been successful for airlines, they're still struggling financially, so American Airlines plans to lead the way once again with new a la carte pricing for "extras" on flights. Things that up to now have been "free," or rather, included in your fare price, will be "unbundled." Starting in 2009, American will introduce charges for things like beverages, blankets, special seating, and more. This new price structure will allegedly reduce the baseline fare (this frequent flier is skeptical) so that only those who want extras will have to pay for them.

Air Canada has used a similar price structure successfully for the last several years, offering four different ticket levels. Passengers can choose which level to purchase, and that will determine what freebies and perks they receive on the flight. According to Air Canada, more than half of their customers select a ticket above the bottom level.

The airlines sell you on this idea by saying that it will lower the basic fare prices and only charge you for the services that you choose to use. However, if the airlines truly expect this change to increase revenue, either they're going to charge an arm and a leg for the passengers who want pillows and sodas, or the basic fare is going to have to drop by much more than the cost of a 3-hour blanket rental and a $0.50 can of Coke to be competitive.

Still, experts agree that this nickel-and-diming is here to stay. Right now we know we'll be charged for our oversized bags, most checked luggage, and any alcohol on the flight, but we should expect more charges to come. Expect charges in the future for carry-on luggage, all beverages and snacks, exit-row seating, and anything the flight attendants used to give you free of charge. Soon, everything on your plane will come with a price tag.

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