Lois M. Collins: Hidden fees everywhere — just give me the price

Published: Tuesday, May 7 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

What looks like a deal on airfare, for instance, may not be one if you plan to take luggage. Just as we're getting used to checked-bag fees, a few airlines charge for carry-on luggage.

Michael Dwyer, AP

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We try to take a plane trip every year as a family. The very act of getting on an airplane says we're going somewhere special. But it's becoming harder to do, hampered in no small part by the fees that keep getting tacked on — and airlines are not the only entities adding fees that range from unwelcome to a nasty surprise.

It's the surprise factor that is especially annoying. It's becoming difficult to figure out what services of all sorts will actually cost because consumers are often provided with a "price" that doesn't include the surcharges/fees.

What looks like a deal on airfare, for instance, may not be one if you plan to take luggage. Just as we're getting used to checked-bag fees, a few airlines charge for carry-on luggage. Frontier, for example, said it will soon charge $100 for bags that don't fit under the seat ($25 if you pay it in advance), and you can eliminate the fee entirely by booking your reservation directly from them. The airline apparently doesn't want to pay fees — yeah, I see the irony there, too — to online travel sites and travel agents.

It's a similar situation when you shop for a cell phone carrier. Last summer when we changed carriers to take advantage of a deal, it took some serious calculation to figure out what the monthly bill would actually be once various fees were added.

Remember the days when most carriers provided a free phone to soften the blow of the two-year contract? The major carriers now charge a fee to upgrade the phone, ranging from $18 to $36. In my experience, it's not really an upgrade. By the time I've had a phone a couple of years, it's pretty worn out. The phones are apt to cost now, too. Experts say consumers must read every word before they sign contracts, for this and other services.

Banks have been on this path for some time. CBS recently did a round-up of banking fees. No one thought late fees and returned-check fees were so bad; you could avoid them by paying on time and you are not supposed to write checks for more than you have in your account. But as CBS notes, one bank now charges $25 a month to avoid fees associated with using an out-of-network ATM. Another charges $5 to replace a missing debit card, with extra to rush it.

A number of banks charge to use a human teller. A monthly fee for dipping below a certain balance has been around for ages. But how do you feel about paying to get a print-out of a statement summary at the ATM? The CBS report added a new one I hadn't heard of: a bank that "lets a caller jump over other callers on hold" for $1 a month. Sign me up. But if a lot of people sign up, will we all have to pay more to jump over those who pay less?

The American Bankers Association said fees are needed to cover costs, including those for services like privacy protection and fraud prevention. It told CBS 59 percent of consumers don't pay any fees at all.

Cable companies often charge a regulatory cost recovery fee. That's fee-speak for the cost of complying with laws, including those designed to protect consumers.

My big complaint is this: If you are going to charge virtually everyone certain fees, then stop pretending they're not part of the price. Give me the price "including fees and taxes." If there are other fees that will be tacked on, just tell me so I can make a decision.

I can handle it.

Deseret News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by email at lois@desnews.com. Follow her on Twitter at loisco.

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