Luggage fee could squeeze ski country |

Luggage fee could squeeze ski country

ASPEN, Colorado ” United Airlines’ move to charge domestic passengers $25 to check a second piece of luggage essentially equates to a $50 airfare increase for winter travelers to Aspen, aviation experts say.

“This, in disguise, is the largest single fare increase I have ever witnessed in the 17 years I have worked in this industry,” said Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass and the local liaison to the airline industry. “This is the first time that a major carrier has done this.”

The Chicago-based airline announced Monday that it will charge the fee beginning May 5 and is a result of high fuel prices.

Skiers and snowboarders who travel with at least two bags full of gear and winter clothes may be pinched by new the fee.

“It looks to me like it’s opportunistic gouging,” said Mike Boyd, president of the Evergreen-based Boyd Group, an aviation consulting firm. “It’s not good news for ski areas.”

The $25 fee also has far-reaching implications for travelers going to major hubs like Denver International Airport, where they arrive and travel to ski resorts throughout Colorado.

The charge will hit travelers who buy nonrefundable tickets unless they have elite status in the airline’s frequent-flier program. The airline estimated the rule change will generate more than $100 million annually in cost savings and new revenues.

“That’s tacky and poor taste to brag that they will get $100 million out of this,” Boyd said, adding that the fee likely will be charged at the ticket counter, which will put front-line employees at odds with travelers arguing about a flyer’s status. “It’s going to get ugly.”

Exemptions will go to those who have flown at least 25,000 miles on United in the last year, giving them “premier” status or higher in its mileage plan, and people traveling with frequent flyers on the same reservation.

Travelers who purchased more costly refundable tickets, people traveling in first-class and business-class and on military and government fares will not be affected. Car seats, strollers and wheelchairs don’t count as second pieces of luggage, according to The Chicago Tribune.

No other major carriers have weighed in on United’s move, but Boyd predicts that they might use it to their advantage.

“If they see United getting away with it, they might,” he said. “But they will probably use it as a competitive edge.”

Southwest Airlines last month began charging customers $25 to check a third bag.

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