Nancy Trejos, USA TODAY
Travelers are starting to get used to fees charged by airlines.
But they're increasingly being faced with more fees once they land. Hotels are doing more of it. Rental car companies are doing it. And now even cruise lines are dallying with it.
And customers often have no choice but to pay up.
Aaron Gellman, professor of transportation at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, said the industry is "trying to push the limits until they find out what they are."
"How far can they do it before there's a rebellion?" he asks.
Airlines push limits
The answer: Airlines will go pretty far.
• This year, Allegiant Air joined Spirit Airlines in charging for carry-on bags in addition to checked bags. Fees range from $10 to $35 each way. Next month, Spirit, which introduced the carry-on fee, will increase it to a maximum of $100 one way if you don't pay in advance. If you do, you'll have to come up with only $25.
• Spirit charges $5 if you skip the airport kiosk and ask the customer service agent to print your boarding pass.
• Virgin America this summer started charging $20 if you call to upgrade or select a seat and $20 if you need your itinerary re-sent.
Experts say airlines have just about exhausted the fees they can introduce for services they used to offer for free, such as choosing seats and getting a snack on board.
Airlines have taken on a new role: They're becoming retailers by devising new services and products to sell. American Airlines, for instance, introduced a baggage-delivery service within four hours of arrival from $29.95 to $49.95 depending on the number of bags. And U.S. Airways now has a premium meal in economy on international flights for $19.99.
"Your ticket is just getting you from A to B. Anything else in terms of bags, meals, where you sit on a plane, at what point you board, is up for sale," said Blaise Waguespack, an aviation marketing professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. "They are going from a fee mentality to a retail mentality."
U.S. airlines in the first half of this year collected $1.7 billion in baggage fees alone, according to the Transportation Department. Delta led the pack with $430 million. United followed with $351 million.
"It's made the difference between red and black" ink, said George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, which tracks the airline industry. "Fees are here to stay."
Hotels introduce more extras
Hotels introduced a "resort fee," usually for the use of swimming pools and other amenities, in 1997. According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, 19 percent of luxury hotels now charge resort fees.
But over the years, hotels have started charging for much more, according to Bjorn Hanson, dean at New York University's hospitality school.
At many properties across the country, fees are being charged for parking, early departures, faxes, in-room safes, mini-bar restocking, housekeeping and bellman services, Wi-Fi and even luggage storage. The fees vary widely by service and property.
"These are very profitable, because in most cases the service or function already existed," Hanson said.
Last year, hotels collected $1.85 billion in fees. Hanson projects that this year, the industry will collect $1.95 billion.
Joe McInerney, CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association, said hotels aren't profiting from fees. "They're passing on costs," he said.
McInerney said hotels have to charge for Wi-Fi because people are showing up with more than one device and draining the hotels' broadband.
Budget hotels tend not to charge for Wi-Fi. But 84 percent of luxury hotels do, according to the Lodging Association.
Adding onto car rentals
Go online and select an economy car from Thrifty to be picked up at Atlanta's airport, and you'll find a menu of options. The base price is $32.72. But for $12.99 a day, you can get a GPS navigation system. For $7.99, you'll get a pass to avoid the long lines at electronic toll booths. For $12 a day, you'll get an infant car seat.
"You could end up paying double," said Peter Thornton, CEO of VroomVroomVroom.com, which compares rental car prices.
The Global Business Travel Association this summer listed the most problematic fees for business travelers.
Rental car fees for toll passage, late returns, drop-offs of one-way rentals and fuel charges were on it. The group picked them because they are the least predictable, can't be paid in advance and are difficult to track individually.
Cruising to fees
Even the cruise industry is experimenting with fees.
This summer, Carnival Cruise Lines rolled out a pilot program called "Faster to the Fun" for $49.95. It includes early embarkation, early stateroom availability, express luggage-delivery service, priority dinner seating and early or late debarkation.
Cruises are still billed as all-inclusive, but increasingly they're excluding in the base fare certain dining experiences and activities.