United is Charging for Overhead Bins — and That Might Not be a Bad Thing

December 7, 2016
by Dana Sitar
Staff Writer
Saving money

Travelers are in a tizzy about United Airline’s new Basic Economy ticket option, which — as most reports frame it — “bans” the use of overhead bins.

United isn’t doing itself any favors in its explanation of the new fares, either. It leads with, “Basic Economy fares have some important, additional restrictions compared to standard Economy fares…”

Let me help you out, United. Here’s the message you should be shouting from the rooftops (or writing in the sky?)…

Hey! United Airlines just introduced a cheaper plane ticket!!

The Basic Economy fare works much like the fares for low-cost carriers like Allegiant or Spirit. You get a seat, and that’s about it. If you want to bring a carry-on, choose your seat or change your flight, you’ll pay extra for it.

The benefit?

You get to fly in a United cabin, instead of in a cramped low-cost carrier’s seat, which seem to have forgotten that our legs only bend once. And you have the option to purchase in-flight food and entertainment that low-cost carriers don’t even offer.

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer isn’t happy about the fare. He even went so far as to call the overhead bin “one of the last sacred conveniences of air travel.”

Let’s rein in our adjectives, Senator. Overhead bins are many things — oddly-shaped, lower than you were expecting when you stood up, and filled with the jacket of some guy who thinks he deserves the space more than you — but “sacred” they are not.

Schumer isn’t the first senator to speak out against airline fees. In March, the Forbidding Airlines from Imposing Ridiculous (FAIR) Fees Act was actual legislation two senators proposed in response to airlines having “increasingly charged consumers fees for basic aviation services” in recent years.

The “basic” services mentioned include checking a bag, or changing or canceling a flight.

But I’d argue these fees aren’t “ridiculous” at all. They’re actually key to saving money on almost everything.

Wait, What?

I’m a capital-F Frugal traveler, and as such, I rarely pay extra fees.

I avoid checking a bag, or even bringing a carry-on when it costs money. I bring my own snacks, don’t care where I’m seated and provide my own in-flight entertainment.

All I usually need out of a flight is to get to my destination.

Everything else is an extra, and I’m happy to have the option to forgo it to save money.

Any Penny Hoarder should be.

How Added Fees Help You Save Money

Airline passengers are inclined to feel an injustice when they’re hit with these extra fees.

Many people feel like an airline takes advantage of their need to travel by tacking on fees for every little thing.

But look at it the other way: Think of those fees as costs removed from the price of your ticket.

Instead of charging everyone one higher rate and handing out extras for free, airlines can bring their prices down overall and recoup costs by charging people who use additional services.

Hate paying $25 to check a bag? You have the option to pay less if you travel light. If checked bags were free, you’d pay the same amount as other passengers, regardless of your baggage.

I fly low-cost carriers who don’t offer free drinks or snacks. Think about how much that saves the airline — savings they can pass on in the form of cheaper flights.

Instead of a $350 ticket, I’ll pay $200 and fork over $6 if I want pretzels 30,000 feet in the air.

Why You Pay Extra for Guac

Airline fees are probably the most noteworthy — and sometimes, most painful — fees we face.

But the logic of extra fees extends far beyond travel.

Do you hate paying $1 to add guacamole to your burrito? Or 50 cents for a side of sour cream or extra salsa?

It’s annoying, right? You’d think Chipotle would be able to survive without your pocket change.

The point isn’t that guacamole costs a lot. But the price you pay to add guac helps keep the cost of the burrito down in the first place.

If you want a cheaper burrito, you don’t have to add it.

And I’m glad I don’t have to pay extra for my burrito because you order guacamole every time.

Do You Want Convenience or Savings?

Yes, it feels better when everything you want is included.

You feel cared for, instead of nickel and dimed. And there are no surprises at the register.

Businesses know that, and some use the all-inclusive option to attract customers.

You don’t pay for extras at Qdoba, so skip Chipotle if you prefer not to budget for your preferred ingredients.

You don’t pay to check bags on Southwest, so choose that airline instead of a low-cost carrier if you need four pairs of boots for your trip.

But I prefer Chipotle’s quality, and Southwest rarely has the $150 round-trip flight I can find through Allegiant or Spirit.

As with a lot of things in life, you can choose between the convenience of having everything included or the savings of paying only for what you use.

I prefer to go for the savings. But mostly, I’m glad I have the choice.

Your Turn: Do you prefer all-inclusive rates or fees for extras?

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).

by Dana Sitar
Contributor for The Penny Hoarder

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