baggage fees

Wine flies free on Alaska Airlines


In the past 10 years the wine industry in Oregon and Washington has ripened into big business, with Oregon’s 465 wineries now contributing close to $3 billion to the state’s economy each year and Washington’s 800 wineries pouring more than $8.6 billion into the state’s coffers.

But while visiting wineries for tastings is now a popular tourist activity in many parts of the Pacific Northwest, taking home a case of wine can be costly.

Shipping a case of wine as freight can cost up to $60 via UPS and checking it as baggage on an airplane can cost $25 or more, depending on the weight of the wine and the number of other bags being checked.

“Ironically, we’d see people willing to spend $300 to $500 on a case of wine, yet that extra $25 to put it on the plane was a negative,” said Duane Wollmuth, executive director of Washington’s Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance. “It did stop people from buying the wine at the wineries.”

In an effort to stem the flow of lost wine sales, in 2011 Washington wine growers in the Walla Walla area persuaded Seattle-based Alaska Airlines to extend a program it offers to passengers traveling out of California wine country via Sonoma County Airport (STS).

The airline now waives the charge for checking a case of Washington wine for anyone flying out of three airports in the state’s winery-rich regions (Pasco/Tri-Cities, Walla Walla and Yakima).

Now, instead of just one or two cases of checked wine per week, Alaska Airlines is transporting upward of 30 cases of wine a week per participating airport during peak season, according to airline spokeswoman Bobbie Egan.

And the waived fees make a difference. For the 70 wineries in Walla Walla area alone, “the program represents at least a quarter to a half-million dollars of additional wine sales a month in the peak season,” said Wollmuth.

Washington’s “Taste and Tote” concept, which began as a pilot program,, is being extended. And through Nov. 20, visitors to Oregon’s wineries and tasting rooms can take advantage of the Oregon Wines Fly Free program if they’re flying on Alaska Airlines from any of four Oregon airports (Portland, Eugene, Medford and Redmond).

“Like any other business, we’re always trying to figure out a way to reach more people,” said Charles Humble of the Oregon Wine Board. “Tourism in many parts of our state is now incredibly linked to the wine industry and if people can come here, buy a few bottles of wine and take it home without having to pay for it to be checked, that’s a good incentive.”

But what is the incentive for the airline?

“It’s a good partnership for us,” said Egan,” “It’s a win-win for these areas that produce great wine and it’s a great way for us to promote these wonderful destinations that we serve.”

In addition to advertisements and mentions in social media the airlines gets from the participating wineries and tourism groups, Alaska Airlines asks the wineries in the participating regions to waive the tasting fees for its passengers who show their boarding pass.

That’s a benefit most wineries seem happy to offer. “Many of these folks have traveled to our region specifically to do wine tasting and they are motivated to buy,” said Ron Peck, executive director of Tourism Walla Walla, where wine tourism brings in about $100 million annually to the region.

“I think it’s clever for Alaska Airlines to appeal to the wine traveler,” said Chris Nishiwaki, a Seattle-based restaurant, food and wine writer. “It becomes an incentive for travelers to buy wine at their destinations since baggage fees have become such a nuisance. Furthermore, wine travelers spend over 10 percent more over other travelers. So it’s the ideal audience to cajole.”

(My story about the Alaska Airlines program to fly cases of wine for free first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior)


United offers baggage/upgraded seating subscriptions

United Airlines white chocolate

On Monday United Airlines announced subscription programs offering customers either a year-long access to seats with extra legroom in the Economy Plus section of the cabin, or a year’s worth of pre-paid checked baggage fees.

United says it is the first domestic carrier offering these services in subscription form.

Prices start at $499 for the Economy Plus subscription and $349 for the checked-bag program and go up depending on which region of the world you choose (Continental US or beyond) and how many companions you bring along.

Are the plans a good deal?

Baggage subscription fee

United Airlines passengers flying on an economy ticket within the continental US – and to Hawaii or Alaska – currently pay $25 to check their first standard bag and $35 for the second bag.

With a baggage subscription, a traveler pays a yearly fee of $349 (plus a $50 initiation fee; currently waived). Travelers may add a second checked bag to the package for a $50 yearly fee, the bags of one companion for $100 and the bags of up to eight companions on the same reservation for $300.

The subscription only covers bag fees in the continental United States, so someone flying to Hawaii or Alaska would need to add on the North America/Central America option for an addition $100. Adding additional regions will rack up additional fees.

“With this program, a traveler would need to check a standard bag on 14 one-way, continental US flights before they broke even on their investment,” said Tim Winship, publisher of “That’s 7 round-trips. And if you are traveling that often it’s going to be true for most people that they’ll earn elite status in United’s frequent flier program, which already includes bag fee waivers as one of the perks.”

Economy Plus Subscription

Travelers purchasing an economy class seat on United can upgrade to Economy Plus at the time of purchase, if those seats are available. “The prices of those seats vary,” said May, “It can start at $9 and go up to $215.”

The Economy Plus subscription package starts at $499 (the $50 initiation fee is currently waived) and includes automatic upgrades to Economy Plus seats – when available – in the continental United States only. To add Alaska and Hawaii, a traveler would need the North America/Central America upgrade, for $100. Adding a companion to the package costs $200 and adding up to eight companions on the same reservation is $400.

Finding the value tipping point on this option “is a bit of a quandary,” said Winship. “I used a figure of $40 for a domestic flight upgrade. And using that figure it turns out that it would take 13 flights before that subscription price gets covered.”

“If you’re flying that much you may want to consider elite status on another airline that gives you these seats for free,” said Brian Kelly, founder of

He can see some of United’s Premier Silver elite members buying this package because, due to a recent change in United’s frequent flier program, that group must now wait until check-in to claim their complimentary Economy Plus seat.

“Otherwise, casual travelers should probably just buy the one time passes,” said Kelly.

Overall, “I find the subscription plans puzzling,” said Winship. “Presumably the market for this is the traveler between the infrequent leisure traveler and the elite traveler. But the cynical way of looking at it would be that the targets for these subscriptions are gullible travelers who don’t really understand the value proposition here.”

(My story: United offers baggage/upgraded seating subscriptions first appeared on NBC Travel in a slightly different version.)

New airline fees for the new year


While a winter storm caused many airlines to issue travel change fee waivers this week, there are several new fees scheduled to take place in the new year. Here’s a sampling:

*United Airlines is raising the membership rates for the United Club. According to a notice on the United website:

“Effective January 1, 2013, United Club annual membership rates will increase by $25 and membership-with-spouse rates will increase by up to $100. Additionally, the three-year membership options will be discontinued. Current three-year memberships will be honored through their existing membership period.”

Beginning on January 15, 2013:

Alaska Airlines will no longer check bags through to a final destination when separate tickets are presented at check-in. This policy change affects passengers who start travel on Alaska Airlines, but continue on a separately purchased ticket on another airline. Alaska will continue to check bags for passengers traveling on a single ticket and connecting to one of our 59 interline airline partners.

Southwest Airlines has also rolled out some new fees for the new year:

The airline plans to begin charging a “no-show” fee to passengers who fail to cancel restricted ticket reservations and it has already raised baggage fees:

“Effective for tickets purchased on or after December 15, 2012, for travel on or after February 13, 2013, the 3rd checked bag and any bag thereafter is $75 per piece and the overweight and oversize baggage fee is $75 per piece. Large media camera equipment is $75 per item, and sporting equipment is $0-$75 per item.”

Before the change, the first and second checked bags were free and charge for the third (through the ninth) checked bag was $50. The overweight bag charge was also $50 and there was no charge for large media camera equipment. The fee for sporting equipment was $0-$50 per item.

Bag fees on Southwest subsidiary Air Tran have also gone up:

“1st and 2nd Checked Bag Fee
Effective for tickets purchased on or after December 15, 2012, for travel on or after February 13, 2013, first checked bag fee is $25 and second checked bag fee is $35 when bag fees apply.

Excess Baggage Fee
Effective for tickets purchased on or after December 15, 2012, for travel on or after February 13, 2013, the 3rd checked bag and any bag thereafter is $75 per piece.

Oversize and Overweight Baggage Fee
Effective for tickets purchased on or after December 15, 2012, for travel on or after February 13, 2013, overweight and oversize baggage fee is $75.”

No doubt there’s more to come….so start saving your pennies.

Viral video forces Delta to change bag fees for soldiers

It’s already been pulled from YouTube, but a video-gone-viral posted by some soldiers returning from Afghanistan has forced Delta Air Lines to change its checked bag policy and allow active duty soldiers traveling under orders to check four bags for free when flying coach.

Delta changed its policy after being widely criticized for charging the soldiers $2,800 in extra bag fees.

Here’s more of the story that I worked on for’s Overhead Bin blog:

The soldiers’ military orders authorize them to travel with up to four bags. But at the check-in counter at the Baltimore airport on Tuesday, they discovered that while Delta allows active duty military personnel traveling on orders to check up to four bags for free if they are traveling in first/business class, the limit is only three bags for soldiers traveling in coach.

Several of the 34 soldiers who had an extra bag were forced to pay $200 of their own money in fees in order to make their connecting flight to Atlanta. They then posted a video of their experience on YouTube, which was viewed more than 200,000 times before it was removed from the site. One soldier said his fourth bag was a weapons case containing “the tools that I used to protect myself and Afghan citizens while I was deployed.”

The Defense Department usually reimburses such costs, which the soldiers may not have known, the Associated Press reports.

Former Congressman and Iraq War veteran Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., called Delta’s fee “outrageous.” “Here you have these heroes who have fought for our country overseas … to come home to the $200 charge per soldier? It’s outrageous.”

It’s not unusual for returning soldiers to check weapons on a commercial flight if the weapons have been certified as unloaded, Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ Washington office, told the Associated Press.

“A $200 bill for extra baggage by a government-contracted airline is the worst welcome home any soldier could receive,” Davis said. “We know this is a business issue and that the troops will be reimbursed if they are authorized additional baggage in their orders, but the shock of even being charged is enough to make most servicemen and women simply shake their heads and wonder who or what it is they are protecting.”

In response, Delta Air Lines also apologized to the soldiers.

“First and foremost, we want you to know we’re continuing to work with the soldiers individually to make this situation right for each of them,” a company spokeswoman posted on the airline’s blog. “We regret that this experience caused these soldiers to feel anything but welcome on their return home. We honor their service and are grateful for the sacrifices of our military service members and their families.”

Several other airlines have followed Delta’s lead and also changed their checked bag policies for active duty military.

Changes galore in fees and service charges on Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air

Heads up, Alaska Airlines or Horizon Air customers.  A bunch of changes to the airlines’ fees and services were announced today.  The news is good and bad…

Here’s a rundown:

Effective for travel on or after June 16 for tickets purchased beginning May 1.

Checked bags and baggage service guarantee

It will cost you $20 for each of your first three checked bags. This is a $5 increase for the first checked bag, a $5 decrease for the second, and a $30 decrease for the third.

There’s also a change to the carriers baggage service guarantee.  Yes – there’s a service guarantee!

Instead of promising you they’ll get your bags to your within 25 minutes the airlines now promise to get bags to you within 20 minutes.  And if the bags don’t show up in 20 minutes they’ll either give you 2,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles or $20 off a future flight.

Unaccompanied minors

Alaska and Horizon are also lowering the fees for unaccompanied minors ages 5 to 12.

The new fees are $25 per child for direct flights and $50 per child for connecting flights.

This is a reduction from the current $75 fee, which applied to several children traveling together.

[Note: As of tomorrow, April 23, 2010, Southwest Airlines is raising its fares on unaccompanied minors; see news about this and other airlines’ unaccompanied minor fees in my column “Are Airlines Cashing in on your kids?”]

Same-day confirmed travel

If you want to change your flight within six hours of departure, it will cost $25 to confirm a seat.

Outside of that six-hour window, you must pay the difference in fare plus any applicable change fee. Until now, for a flight on the same calendar day it seems you could pay this $25 same-day confirmed fee or stand by for free.

Instant ticketing and refund policy

Effective May 12, you will no longer be able to hold reservations for 24 hours without payment when booking directly with the airlines, but you’ll get one free change or a full refund within 24 hours of purchase on all tickets.

For more details see the Alaska Airlines website.