US Airways Bait and Switch, or A Holiday Travel Nightmare in the Making

November 18, 2008

I want to do some traveling soon so I went online and bought some tickets from US Airways. I bought the tickets from US Air because they were far cheaper than the closest competitor for my travel dates and destination.

When I looked into the details (after purchasing the tickets) I discovered the fine print: US Airways charges for every checked bag. What’s worse, they charge $15 for the first bag, $25 for the second, and $100 for the third through ninth bags! If any of your bags are over 50 pounds the costs go up to $65, $75 and $150, respectively.

I want to check a medium-size suitcase and an acoustic guitar in a hardshell traveling case, a combination I have been traveling with at no additional charge for as long as I can remember. I know I will be paying $30 round trip for the suitcase because I have to have it and my hands are already full with a carry on. I felt I needed to determine if it is worth $50 round trip to have the guitar with me, which would make for a real price $80 higher than I thought I was paying when I bought the tickets.

But it gets worse.

Looking a little lower on the US Airways baggage policy web page I found a passage that addresses “oversize” bags. It turns out that the airline jacks up the fee to $100 each way for any bag with a total measurement larger than 62 inches, calculated by adding the length, width and height of the bag. If your bag is greater than 80 inches, the airline will not take it at any cost. You’ll have to send it via third-party transport.

Measured from its widest dimensions, my guitar case is 65 inches, raising the question in my mind whether the person at the Portland ticket counter will charge me the second bag fee of $25 or scrutinize the case and go for the $100 oversize bag fee. Because the difference between the two is a real game changer, and figuring I will have to play this roulette game on the way back, too, I decided to call the airline to get some answers.

Big mistake.

The customer service person I spoke with put me on hold for two or three minutes. He came back to tell me that his supervisor told him that guitars are commonly checked and not that heavy and I will only have to pay $25 each way to take mine with me.

On a whim I decided to call back and ask the same question to a different service person. She put me on hold for two or three minutes and came back to tell me that her supervisor said I would pay $100 each way.

Because I have no reliable way of knowing if I will be charged $50 or up to $200 round trip to take the guitar, it is staying home.

I am traveling alone and the hidden fees are staggering to me. I can only imagine the shock and awe that will be experienced by legions of oblivious holiday travelers when they get to the US Airways ticket counter with their families and learn that they will be paying hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars to take their bags with them.

Makes for a really pleasant travel experience.


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