Chicago based United Airlines saw a steep drop in the amount of revenue it collected from baggage fees in 2011, according to a report released by Bureau of Transportation Statistics this week. United's bag-related revenues dipped 11.8 percent to $276,817,000 in 2011, down from $313,207,000 the year before.
American Airlines, which also claims a hub at O'Hare, saw a 2.2 percent kick in baggage fee revenue good for about $13 million. Midway Airport's Southwest Airlines increased its baggage-related revenue by 7.5 percent or about $2.25 million.
Overall, however, American and Southwest's increases represented a break from the industry trend. The largest American carriers' 2011 baggage revenues actually dropped slightly from $3.4 billion to $3.36 billion.
In all three cases, the revenues collected from baggage in 2011 are a gigantic increase from just four years ago when the BTS began collecting data on the practice. In 2007, baggage revenue for United was around $53 million or roughly 423 percent less than the current total. American jumped 376 percent in the same period while Southwest bumped up a relatively paltry 54 percent.
The whirlwind increase in baggage revenues is largely a result of cash-strapped airlines — long suffering since September 11 at the hands of skittish customers, increased fuel costs and a recession — embracing a greater menu of fees for checked bags. Travelers have fought back by packing lighter and carrying on more bags while some airlines have introduced loyalty programs and credit cards that waive or mitigate bag fees for members.
"Passengers are becoming increasingly more savvy about packing less, packing lighter and creatively circumventing fees," said Travelzoo's senior editor Gabe Saglie. "Elite travelers are taking full advantage of a greater number of reward perks, free checked bags among the most coveted."
Though the trend in baggage revenue may be down, some carriers have embraced business models reliant on such fees, offering cut rate fares that grow larger with bag and amenity charges. Spirit and Allegiant Airlines have even begun charging for some carry-on items and Spirit recently announced it would begin charging $100 for overhead bin space purchased at the gate.