Travelers paid $7.8 billion in airline fees in 2009

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You knew the figure was going to be big. But $7.8 billion!?!

The Associated Press reports that overall, the $7.8 billion charged in "ancillary fees," which includes charges for checked baggage, seat assignments, food, pillows, reservation changes, and anything else travelers pay over and above the standard flight price, represents a whopping 42 percent increase from the previous year.

The fairly obvious takeaway is that the act of nickel-and-diming travelers is increasingly a core part of the airline business model. Some airlines use fees more than others, as shown in a Bureau of Transportation Statistics report, which forms the basis of the AP story.

Delta reaped in the most ancillary fees last year, to the tune of $1.6 billion, including $481 million from baggage fees. But for insight as to which airlines utilize fees the most in proportion to their overall revenues, check out BTS's Table 1B. There, you'll see that ancillary fees account for about 21 percent of Spirit Airlines' total operation revenues. That's 10 percentage points higher than the number two carrier on this list, AirTran. And this was well before Spirit announced it would begin charging for carry-on bags.

Delta's fees, by contrast, represent 9.1 percent of total operating revenues. And Southwest and JetBlue -- both once routinely described as "no-frills" carriers because they offered few amenities, but which both allow passengers to check at least one bag free of charge -- collect roughly 6 percent of their operating revenues from fees.

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