If you use an app like Hopper to score your flight deals, you may have (hopefully) noticed a pesky new fee attached to the cheapest possible flight prices: The gate-service fee. As The Wall Street Journal reports, some airlines including American and United are essentially charging travelers who purchase their cheapest fare, called Basic Economy, to use the overhead bins for their carry-on bags.
If you book a Basic Economy flight on either of these two airlines and plan on bringing a carry-on bag, you'll most likely end up paying $25 to check the bag at the gate, plus another $25 for the "gate handling fee." In other words, whatever money you saved on the actual flight will be re-upped by the airline via the carry-on fees, costing you more money in the long run.
Fortunately, I noticed the fine print mentioning the restricted access to the overhead bins when booking a recent flight to L.A. I initially found the low fee on Hopper and excitedly jumped over to the American Airlines website to book the flight on my computer. I was just about to hit "purchase" when I realized that I wouldn't even be able to put my carry-on bag in the overhead bin above my seat. I ended up purchasing the Main Cabin fare for $20 more rather than paying an upward of $25 to check my bag last-minute.
“The whole guiding principle [behind the gate service fee] is that it’s important for Basic Economy passengers to check all bags larger than a personal item," said American Airlines spokesman Josh Freed to the newspaper. "Things are better if they are not last-minute." But it's this exact sentiment that's making frustrated travelers feel like it's merely a penalty fee. "It's a little bit like cruel and unusual punishment," said Jay Hines, a project manager for a New York healthcare technology company, who fell victim to a United gate service fee.
"They charge you for checking the bag. They don't have to impose a penalty."
Do you think that travelers are justified in their frustrations about the fees? Share your thoughts below, and keep the new fee in mind when booking budget airfare.