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Is There Such a Thing as a “Good” Bag Fee?

In general, baggage fees make people cringe. I don’t think it’s that it’s because charging for a checked bag is bad in theory, but rather it’s just that everybody was used to getting a couple bags included in the price of the ticket. The transition has been rough on customers, but one is at least trying to make the transition easier. Alaska seems to be trying to prove that there are, in fact, “good” bag fees by being the first to offer a guarantee in return.

Up until now, it’s been a pretty standard deal on most airlines. What you used to get for free, you now have to pay for, though airlines have been tweaking this to some extent. I believe US Airways may be the first Can a bag fee be good?legacy carrier to try price differentiation. If you pay online in advance to check your first bag, it’ll cost you that now-standard $15. If you pay at the airport, it will now cost you $20.

But the airlines have been missing something here, and that’s that the relationship changes when you have to pay for something like this. Now that you’re paying an amount specifically tied to the delivery of that bag, do airlines have additional responsibility to get to you in a timely manner? So far, the answer has been no. You aren’t treated any differently than you were when checking your bag was free. But Alaska is challenging that model.

Currently, Alaska still allows you to check one bag for free. But for tickets purchased beginning on May 1 for travel beginning July 7, it will now cost $15 to check that bag. Seems standard, right? But they’ve actually included a guarantee. And that’s what makes this a “good” bag fee, sort of.

If your bag doesn’t make it to the carousel within 25 minutes, you will now be entitled to either 2,500 miles or a $25 certificate to be used on a future flight. Does this cost them much? Nah. But it makes the customer feel like they’re actually getting something in return for paying the fee.

Of course, the fine print has exceptions. This only goes through December 15, though if it stays low cost I’d bet it will stick around. The more troubling exception is this:

Alaska and Horizon reserve the right to suspend the BSG in cases of airport baggage system malfunctions, severe weather events, or other conditions out of the airlines’ control that limit or prohibit timely baggage delivery.

I know that force majeure clauses are pretty standard, but come on – it’s not like they’re offering an embarrassment of riches here. We’ll see how often they invoke this clause.

But at least they’re trying to do something to address the changing relationship here, so for that, I give them credit.

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