United Airlines Raises Fuel Surcharges For The Second Time This Week

United Airlines has raised its already not-exactly-insignificant fuel surcharge for the second time this week, says USAToday.

The move — which came to light as oil prices topped $115 a barrel for the first time — could pressure other carriers to follow suit. But it also runs the risk of driving customers away at a time when they are growing fed up with air travel and coping with financial stresses of their own.

“There has to be a price point where the consumer says, ‘OK kids, we’re staying home,”‘ said Terry Trippler of tripplertravel.com.

Chicago-based United, the second largest U.S. carrier, said it was technically raising its fuel surcharge, not the base fare customers typically see in ads.

Travelers on some flights, such as Chicago to Minneapolis, who were paying a surcharge of $50 roundtrip will now see that charge increase to $70, spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said.

Fliers in markets where United previously did not apply a surcharge — mostly where the carrier competes head-to-head with low-cost carriers — will now be charged an additional $10 roundtrip. Urbanski said United faces competition from budget carriers like Southwest Airlines Co. on about 80% of its domestic routes.

United last week raised fares by $4 to $30 round-trip, citing record fuel costs.

Are we staying home, kids?

United raises fuel surcharges for second time in a week [USAToday]
(Photo:tiangotlost)

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  1. coan_net says:

    Question: If someone already purchased a ticket to fly, do these charges still apply to them? (That is do they need to pay the extra $50 or $70 before they get on the plane?)

  2. Nissan288 says:

    my frequent flyer miles are dwindling….

  3. jtheletter says:

    “the second largest U.S. carrier, said it was technically raising its fuel surcharge, not the base fare customers typically see in ads.”
    And that “technicality” is precisely why there needs to be regulation for price advertisements. When fees are raised multiple times per week then there is no good way to gauge actual product cost based on advertised price. WTF does the advertised price represent anyway if multiple fees are piled on after the fact? Just make every ticket $1*, what a deal! (*Fees, surcharges, taxes, reverse credits, inverted discounts, nation debt consolidation, and capricious rate increase apply).
    I just can’t understand how it’s legal for a company to tell me a product/service costs $X until I actually try and use it, at which point the cost is totally recalculated in a way I can’t predict because the information is not available and constantly in flux.

  4. qwickone says:

    @coan_net: god i hope not.

  5. AaronZ says:

    At what point will the airlines just reduce the ‘ticket price’ to $1, and then add on 100 extra fees at their own whim?
    Sure, Travelocity lists this ticket to london at $20 round trip. Plus; $500 fuel ‘surcharge’, $25 per bag, $25 for a carry on bag, $12 for inflight movie, $5 for ‘snack’, $30 reservation fee, $115 ‘airport’ fee (departing), $79 airport fee (arriving), $90 ‘environment’ fee, $10 ‘seat cushion is a flotation device’ fee, $111 ‘we haven’t though of a name for this yet’ fee, etc.

    Does the consumer have any rights against the dozens of post-advertised-price fees?

    How is “fuel” NOT already part of the cost of the ticket? Are they going to charege seperately for oxygen next?

  6. Gorky says:

    @jtheletter:

    It’s the same way when you get a speeding ticket here in PA. The “fine” is like $28 but after all the fees they add to it (most of which have nothing to do with driving such as the court computer fee) your ticket is actually $175

  7. ironchef says:

    Just like those hotels now trying to slip a “Resort Fee” after duping you to a low initial price quote.

    They need to pass legislation mandating upfront pricing damn it.

  8. Nighthawke says:

    Morons. They didn’t do what SWAir did: They had bid their fuel contracts with a longer fixed price period. SWAir is suffering the same effects as all the other carriers, save that they are NOT raising their rates, only tapering back on rollouts of new jets to replace older ones, and taking a hit on their quarterlies.

  9. b612markt says:

    I think it stinks that they’re padding these costs on the sneaky tack-on part.

    That being said, I guess this is what it takes to stay in business. With airlines dropping like flies, I’m not too anxious to watch them all die.

  10. qwickone says:

    @jtheletter: I completely agree. There’s no meaningful way to compare prices unless you pretend you’re actually going to buy the ticket. And that’s a time consuming process, so then you lose the ticket at the price you found once you finish the research.

  11. Next: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. While we were in mid-flight, United Airlines raised their fuel surcharge again, so on your way out of the aircraft, please pay it to the crewmemember collecting it there.”

  12. goodcow says:

    Amtrak FTW?

  13. wgrune says:

    A $70 fuel surcharge for a flight from Chicago to Minneapolis? Thats about a 6 hour drive by car and less then $70 worth of gasoline. Take the money you spent on the face value of the ticket and buy a REALLY nice meal along the way. No secuirty lines, plenty of legroom and no chance of someone losing your baggage!

  14. mac-phisto says:

    @AaronZ: for real. don’t forget $30 “in-flight safety training fee”.

    Does the consumer have any rights against the dozens of post-advertised-price fees?

    (insert witty comment about the market charging what it can bear & your choice to go elsewhere or not fly at all)

    i wonder if you could bypass the fuel surcharge by showing up with your own fuel?

  15. xphilter says:

    crazy, I mean if the ticket price isn’t actually paying for the fuel then they really need to change their game. I know, get rid of flight attendants. I mean just put some vending machines in the plane and problem solved!

  16. flyingphotog says:

    The price of grain goes up, your bread gets more expensive.

    Just like any other business, airlines have to charge customers the amount it takes to break even or make a little profit. The customer now gets to choose between booking a more expensive flight or not flying at all. It’s that simple.

  17. AaronZ says:

    @mac-phisto: “insert witty comment about the market charging what it can bear & your choice to go elsewhere or not fly at all”

    Tell that to ticketmaster. :p

    But really, how can one make an informed decision as a consumer if you can’t identify the actual price? Sure the ticket is $200 r/t, but that’s not including +$25 for a bag and +(random) for fuel charge.
    If they *all* actually posted the real cost, then I could make an informed choice (or not fly at all).

  18. flyingphotog says:

    @xphilter: A vending machine can’t give you CPR or use a defibrillator.

  19. dragonfire81 says:

    Advertised based fares are meaningless, after all the surcharges and fees tacked on after the fact, the base fare doesn’t come remmotely close to representing what you are going to pay for travel.

    Keeping the base fare low may seem smart, but you still have to lay down the upfront costs for fliers before they pay for the ticket and many of will not click that button with a high fuel surcharge.

    The airline industry is a disaster lately. Seriously.

  20. AaronZ says:

    @flyingphotog: “The price of grain goes up, your bread gets more expensive.”

    The point you’re trying to make is kind of apples and oranges. Yes, if an ingredients’ cost goes up, the product price goes up. But you don’t see Wonder Bread advertising a loaf for 99 cents on the shelf and then tacking on a 50 cent ‘grain surcharge’ at the register.

  21. nightshadowon says:

    @mac-phisto: I just imagined someone carrying 4 fuel canisters under their arms and going up to check-in. “Sir that will be $150 for you ticket ooh and $70 for your fuel as of…….. wait now it is $80.” “No thanks I brought my own.”

  22. MDSasquatch says:

    Flew from Portland to Baltimore last week on Delta. I originally had a reservation on United. They would not let me make my own seat selection, but they were quite happy to sit me all the way in the back where I could not recline, but could enjoy the effervescence and endless parade only an airplane restroom can provide. I called customer service and very politely asked for a different seat. I was told that if I didn’t like the seat thy gave me, I could pay $35 to upgrade to the section of the plane that offered 5 inches more legroom.

    Called my travel agent, switched to Delta. Got two exit row seats and didn’t have any additional fees to be more comfortable.

    As a side note, the last minute switch triggered some alert and I got the “royal treatment” at security. ssss = extra screening. At least the screener was professional and very friendly.

    In the past year, I have had a horrible experience with Continental, 1 serious delay on Southwest, a decent trip on American and an uneventful ride on Delta.

    For now, I will walk before flying Continental, all other choices are purely financial. Lowest carrier wins my business, same as it has always been

  23. GearheadGeek says:

    re: “are we staying home kids?”… yes, we are. My partner and I were going to go to Europe this summer, which will be his last long break for the next few years (he’s in medical school) but between the constantly-increasing airfares and the not-increasing value of the dollar, it’s just not in the cards.

  24. mac-phisto says:

    @flyingphotog: it’s not that simple. the issue is not that prices are going up – i think we all understand that shit is more expensive these days. the problem is that “surcharges” make it impossible to calculate the “real cost” of a ticket which makes comparison (at best) a real pain in the ass.

    which would you rather fly:
    airline A: $99 ticket + $200 in surcharges
    or
    airline B: $249 ticket (no surcharges)

    assuming everything is equal, any rational person would choose B, but in reality, they will choose A b/c they are advertising a $99 ticket & don’t reveal fees & surcharges until booking is complete & they are about to charge your card. only then do you realize that you paid a $50 premium to fly with A.

  25. xphilter says:

    @flyingphotog:
    a vending machine also can’t pass their bitterness about working at a crappy airline to you…I bet a copilot could give you CPR or use a defibrillator though…

  26. bloodhound96 says:

    I just hope that if the price of oil ever does go down again, that the fuel surcharge would also go away. I wouldn’t bet on it though.

  27. urban_ninjya says:

    With the cut throat competitiveness and overbooking, really the only way to avoid charging a fuel surplus is to buy futures of other derivatives. But the only airline that has enough money to afford that is Southwest.

    I wonder if there’s a market to market travel insurance that will cover surcharges.

  28. StevieD says:

    @coan_net:

    Your ticket is purchased, money is exchanged. The fuel surcharge was included in your price. You don’t have to pay more. Conversely, if fuel would drop dramatically you would not get a refund on your previously purchased ticket.

  29. StevieD says:

    @bloodhound96:

    I deal with fuel surcharges on my freight shipments.

    Yes, the fuel surcharge does indeed go down when fuel prices drop.

    Airlines may be slimmy, but market pressures will cause the airline to drop their fuel surcharges or adjust ticket prices if fuel prices were to go down.

  30. youbastid says:

    @StevieD: Problem is, it’s unlikely that fuel will ever drop below $100 a barrel again.

  31. I just did some quick math. A Boeing 737 can hold 132 passengers, carries 6,875 gallons of fuel, and has a range of 3,050 miles. Since that range doesn’t drain the tank dry, we’ll round the miles per gallon to 0.5mpg.

    Using data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (bts.gov), jet fuel is around $2.50 a gallon right now.

    If it takes two gallons of fuel to fly one mile, that means it costs $5 to fly an airplane one mile (fuel costs only). If the plane holds 132 passengers, then each person is paying $0.037 to fly one mile.

    With that number, if United charges you a fuel surcharge of $70, you’re getting ripped off if your flight is shorter than 1,850 miles. Hmmmm.

  32. Edit: I found other data suggesting jet fuel as high as $3.50 a gallon, which makes the break even distance about 1,400 miles.

    Either way, $70 fuel surcharge from Chicago to Milwaukee is a rip off.

  33. ARP says:

    At least search engines like Kayak usually show the total fees, but I imagine airlines are going to make more of an effort to hide them.

    Hopefully the market will push them to show their “Total Fees” but I doubt it. I’m not a big fan of regulations, but it may be needed because the cost of airline flight is so dynamic. With other places, they may have surcharges, but their costs usually don’t fluctuate minute to minute and so you have a little time to comparison shop.

  34. youbastid says:

    @Canadian Impostor: Don’t forget that before the “fuel surcharge” the cost of fuel is already built in to the ticket. You’re only paying an EXTRA $70 for fuel because of the added costs of fuel these days, on top of whatever was already built in to the price of the ticket. Take the $3.50 a gallon number and subtract what it cost at it’s highest when there was no surcharge ($2? $2.50?), and recalculate! You’ll probably break even if you fly from Boston to Auckland.

  35. @youbastid: That’s a good point. I just wanted to do some quick math to show that these fuel surcharges aren’t fairly dividing the increased cost of fuel amongst passengers, they’re generating profit for the airlines.

  36. shufflemoomin says:

    @flyingphotog: Yes, but you don’t pay $1 for you bread plus a 50c ‘grain tax at the register, do you?’. You don’t have to pick up the bread and pretend to buy it to see how much it’ll cost you in total. If the price of a component of something goes up, the total price goes up, not the ‘surcharges’. I can’t think if any other service or commodity that is priced this ridiculous. I just wanna see an upfront clear price to help me choose.

  37. I can’t wait to see the cost of my flight to England for Hatton/Mayweather II.

  38. LUV2CattleCall says:

    @nightshadowon:

    Please make sure that all four of those fuel canisters are under 3.4 oz. each and fit into a 1qt zip top bag.

    In the meantime, enjoy the TSA Gangstaz:


    + Watch video