Airlines Should Refund Bag Fees If Your Bags Don’t Arrive With You

Uh oh. It looks like the DOT has found something else they don’t like about airlines with which they want to get involved. This time, it’s the refunding of bag fees when bag aren’t delivered. Guess what? I agree with the idea.

Bag Fee Refund

First I’d like to say that I hate when the feds get involved with anything, because they usually screw it up. It sounds like definition of the words “timely manner” might be in play right now, and you know this will never be implemented properly. Of course, had the airlines been more proactive in this area, they wouldn’t have had to deal with this. I realize that when Secretary Ray LaHood gets his focus on something the airlines do, he seems to enjoy rushing it through without actually measuring consequences. So, let me give some suggestions on what might make sense here.

The key is determining what exactly you’re paying for when it comes to bag fees. I believe that you’re paying the airline to deliver your bags to your destination on the same flight you’re scheduled to take when you check those bags. If you show up on that flight and your bags don’t, you should have the fee refunded. I’m not so sure it should be a full refund, but we’ll talk about this later.

Of course, bag fees aren’t new, but they’ve never impacted as many people as they do today. Bag fees have existed for ages when you think about excess and overweight bags. I would say the excess bag fees should also be refunded if the bag doesn’t arrive because you’re ultimately paying for that specific piece to go with you. Overweight bag fees, however, should not. In that case, you’re paying for the extra care and liability involved in handling such heavy bags.

The focus, of course, is on whether or not the standard bag fees should be refunded. I think they should. Others, including the airlines, will disagree. Are you paying for the bag to be delivered on your flight or just delivered at all? After all, the airline still has to do all the work to carry the bag, even if it arrives late. That’s where the amount of the refund comes into play.

As I said, I think you’re paying for your bag to travel with you, but that doesn’t mean the airlines couldn’t create a different structure if they wanted. What if the airlines said (numbers are just for demonstration purposes) that you could pay $30 to check your bag on your exact flight or you could save $15 for the airline to deliver it within 24 hours. In other words, in exchange for giving you a discount, airlines could pull your bags off your flight because it’s already full or it’s running late and put it on a later flight instead. They would trade revenue for operational flexibility. In that case, if you paid $30 and your bag doesn’t arrive on your flight but comes soon after, you’d get $15 back. If it didn’t arrive within 24 hours, you’d get it all back.

Some airlines have already tried to address this issue, and they deserve credit. The one that’s received the most attention is that Alaska gives you a $20 voucher if your bag doesn’t arrive at the carousel within 20 minutes. It’s not a refund, but it goes a long way to at least recognizing that the airline has a responsibility. I also just learned that Delta has a $25 to $50 voucher if your bags are delayed by more than 12 hours. That surprised me (in a good way).

Only one airline, however, has really stepped up to the plate. Frontier has now put the most concrete policy out there. If your bag doesn’t arrive on your flight, you get a refund of the fees. If those fees had been waived because you bought a higher-priced ticket or you’re an elite member, you’ll still get a voucher for what the amount would have been. Great job, Frontier. It’s all part of that airline’s recent customer-friendly changes. I’m planning to write about that later this week.

What do you think? Should the fee be refunded? (I suppose I’m most curious to hear from those who think it shouldn’t.)

[Original photos via Flickr users rynosoft and Unlisted Sightings/CC 2.0]

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55 Comments on "Airlines Should Refund Bag Fees If Your Bags Don’t Arrive With You"

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Nick Barnard
Member
So, I don’t like the fact that it’d be mandatory. This basically pushes the airlines into being more of a commodity by regulation. And the slippery slop argument: I pay the airline to get ME there in time, so I should get a refund of the ticket price if they don’t get me there in a reasonable time? Lets be honest that’d bankrupt the airlines if the DOT passed that regulation, but the logic is the same. In my mind this should’ve been a no-brainer for the airlines to implement when they implemented bag fees. I’m sure the people working… Read more »
Bob K.
Guest
Nicholas- Great call on the slippery slope argument and making air service even more commoditized. Commodities, by definition, have uniform standards, and the more the government regulates air service such that practices, fees, policies, etc etc are uniform, the more commoditized the market becomes and the less innovative airlnes can differentiate on something other than price. Also makes for much tougher barriers to entry when it’s even more about cost structure… I agree with you that any “smart” airline should have done this from day one, and even now I think it would be a very good pitch: “Most airlines… Read more »
aviationnerd
Guest

Your argument doesn’t make sense to me. It’s one thing for your bag to be delayed because the flight is delayed. In that case, a refund wouldn’t be in order. The rule being proposed is that if your bag is taken off the flight and put on another, then you should get a refund. That is no different than you getting a refund of your ticket if you are involuntarily bumped, not if your flight is delayed.

Nick Barnard
Member

The slippery slope argument in and of itself is a fallacy:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slippery_slope

Even so let me revise it. A multi-person party is flying, and one member of that party gets involuntarily bumped, should the airline have to refund and compensate even the passengers who flew on that flight?

Bob K.
Guest
Cranky, A few points… (1) I strongly agree with you that baggage fees should be refunded. (2) I do NOT think the government should get involved in this; more than just me being a libertarian, I think the government will foul it all up (as you mentioned), and create relatively less value than if the airlines figured it out themselves. The possible $30/$15 split that you mentioned, for example, probably wouldn’t survive goverment muster- even if it weren’t outlawed initially, the government would inevitably succumb to the whines of people who paid $15 and yet were absolutely OUTRAGED when their… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

A complete aside, but brought on by the “Given proper full disclosure” comment. I think airlines should have to publish their policies online in a standard format (think Credit Card disclosures, or Nutritional information) AND in a computer readable format. This way others can come in and provide “policy aggregators” so you can better compare airlines..

Bob K.
Guest
Totally agreed on this, and I would argue that one of the big reasons that some airlines are able to get away with all the fees etc that many people complain about is BECAUSE there is no standard format where people can take it all in at a glance, and few people want to sort through dozens of pages of miceprint before booking a fare… Give people the relevant information in an easy to read format (Nutrition Information is a great example of this), and make it easy to find. If the airline does X or charges Y and it’s… Read more »
Bob K.
Guest
I am totally agreed on this, and I would argue that one of the big reasons that some airlines are able to get away with all the fees etc that many people complain about is BECAUSE there is no standard format where people can take it all in at a glance, and few people want to sort through dozens of pages of miceprint before booking a fare… Give people the relevant information in an easy to read format (Nutrition Information is a great example of this), and make it easy to find. If the airline does X or charges Y… Read more »
Bob K.
Guest

Sorry, response above is a duplicate response to Nicholas…

DGS
Guest

Agree with most everybody on the two main points.

1. Bag fees should be refunded if the bags are not delivered or not delivered within “x”. (Not sure what the right time frame is…)

2. The DOT shouldn’t be the one mandating this.

Gary Leff
Guest
It’s pretty cruddy to charge a fee, not the deliver the bag in a timely manner, and not compensate the passenger. And plenty of joiurnalistic outrage is appropriate. Customers ought to know which are the passenger-unfriendly airlines. But modern day baggage fees aren’t really meaningfully different than when checked bag fees were ‘bundled into price’ and lost bags were an outrage, there was mandated compensation and voluntery compensation. The world hasn’t REALLY changed. Many passengers are just paying separately for their checked bags now. Just as the government shouldn’t ban Spirit from charging carry-on fees, but I wouldn’t recommend anyone… Read more »
Ian L
Member
You guys forget the incentve side of things. I airlins have to refund bag fees if the bag comes in late, maybe they will shape up and get the bags on the same flight as the bag owners! I do like Frontier’s ability to differentiate themselves on this point…and I have never had baggage issues with F9 for the roughly 3.5 years that I’ve flown them. That just means that some (poor baggage handling) airlines will be hit harder than others for this. Of course, all of my ire could be due to an AA flight where I was forced… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member
A bag fee is really buying a ticket for your checked bag to fly on the airplane, just as you buy a ticket to fly on the airplane. If the airlines have to start refunding if your bag doesn’t make your flight, they will just start saying you have to buy a ticket for your checked bag and as long as they get it from city A to city B in a reasonable time they will be ok, just the way it applies to you. And a two-tier system wouldn’t work, pay $40 (or whatever) and your bag will travel… Read more »
Bill Hough
Guest

I continue to fail to understand the logic of nickel and diming the passenger with extra nuisance fees on top of the airfare. I’ve discussed this with my co-workers, friends, family and business associates, and there is a general consensus among us that airlines should charge one honest fare and eliminate the extra fees. If I paid a bag fee and the bag did not show up at baggage claim, I’d immediately demand a refund of the fee and if the airline refused I’d dispute the charge with my credit card.

IHSW
Guest

Nice try. Then your “family and business associates” would be on the front lines bitching about how expensive it’s become to fly. At least now, there are lots of ways for a smart flyer to avoid fees. If it was all wrapped up into one bottom line price, you would just be paying more with no hope of relief. In what possible universe is that a better option?

Fred
Guest

Also, the “nickel and diming” is generating the airlines millions if not billions of dollars per year. I’m fine with this charging extra fees, simply because I rarely pay them – I almost never check bags domestically, don’t mind sitting in the middle of the plane, and don’t care about boarding first. Some people do, and they pay. Works for everyone.
Although I do agree that you should get some sort of compensation if your bags arrive really late (shorter delays are unavoidable, but anything above 24 hrs is careless) – regardless of if you paid bag fees or not.

airjunkie
Guest
As a CSR, working bag claims is its own circle of hell for both agents and passengers alike. The inability of us agents to refund bag fees on bags arriving 12, 24, 48 hours late just makes this part of air travel hell that much hotter. I can accept and defend most of my company’s fees and policies, but this is a tough one to say with a straight face: sorry, no refunds even though your bags are a day late. If it’s a particularly awful case of disservice we are allowed to offer travel credits for future travel on… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

I’d even be okay with service standards differing by airports. I checked a bag once arriving into LAS on a flight that was scheduled to arrive at 11:26 pm, I’m pretty sure it was ontime too, but that was three years ago. It took like 45 minutes for the bags to arrive at baggage claim. I was really annoyed, especially given that I had been up since 4:30 that morning…

This was before Alaska charged first bag fees, or offered the credit. Anyone know how Alaska is doing at LAS now?

A
Guest

What happens to people with platinum status or airline credit cards or other such things that waive baggage fees. If their bags don’t show up are they just SOL because they have “status” that waives fees up front? Or would the airlines just throw more miles at them and hope it’s enough? I agree that this is far too complicated an issue for the Fed’s to get involved with. Each airline should implement their own policies that work for their customers.

Crissy
Guest

I agree that something needs to be done. Since the airlines aren’t governing themselves fairly – Seriously, you want me to pay a fee but you don’t have to deliver in a reasonable amount of time?” – The Government will probably step in at some point.

If they had a more visible simple policy then this wouldn’t be an issue. But there should be set period of time for delivery, maybe 3 hours.

Nick Barnard
Member

Three hours? In many cases this’d allow them to put the bag on the next flight. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to spend three hours sitting at the airport, and I’m not sure they’d deliver the bag to your hotel for that..

al_9000
Member
If I’m paying a fee, that means my bag will be on the carousel within 30 minutes of my leaving the aircraft. Since that usually gives the baggage handlers a 10-minute head start, I have never been remotely close to having to test this. Darn right, though, that I would file a claim with my credit card company. My bigger beef is when I pay a fee only to arrive at the gate and find that free bag service is offered to those loutish cheapskates who otherwise would have tried to cram their oversized carry-ons into nonexistent bin space. It… Read more »
robertdavidek
Member
Sure, baggage fees should be refunded if the bag doesn’t arrive with the passenger, but if this is federally mandated for all airlines isn’t the end result that baggage fees will rise to pay for this? To have a two-tiered payment system for baggage would probably be too unwieldy– how would you know that your bag didn’t make the flight? Would you have to wait at the carousel until all the bags had arrived? The added expense of a text-messaging system? I’d have to believe that very few people would exchange the $15 in your example for the hassle. BTW,… Read more »
Glenn Baxter
Guest

About a year ago, my wife and I flew SNA/JFK for a wedding. Our bags didn’t arrive until 2 days later, when we were leaving the hotel to go back to JFK. AA even charged us to check the bags HOME! We never even opened them.

Nick Barnard
Member

I wonder if one of the reasons Alaska can already do this, is that they outsource a large amount of their ground handling, so they probably pass this risk onto the handler?

One other thought, Alaska often scans each bag as it hits the baggage claim. In Seattle they have someone doing it manually(!) believe it or not…

jACK pURSELL
Guest

If the bag does not arrive with your flight a FULL refund is in order; because you may be going on from the airport city by car,ship or tour.
Example; 1 bag does not make connection in Paris–so 1 bag short in Barcelona.
Departing on cruise ship from Barcelona. Since we had 2 days in Barcelona–we got it in time–but had we had a tight connection with ship—SOL BABY

Marks
Guest
I think this should be looked at slightly differently. It is not only the cost to the airline and refunding of fees that is important, there is also the question of the extra expense that the airline’s failure to perform has caused for the traveller. If I pay someone to do something, and they fail to do it, not only should I get some of the money back as CF is suggesting, but also, they should recompense me for my losses as a result of their failure to perform. Do I have to go back to the airport in my… Read more »
tharanga
Guest

I chuckle at all the people saying it’s a good or needed idea, but the government should stay out of it. Outside of a couple instances cited by CF, I don’t see the airlines doing it on their own.

dan powers
Guest

does FED EX or UPS give you a refund if a parcel is late?

Jim
Guest

It all depends on the words “timely manner”.

Dale
Guest

Here is my solution. Mandatory 100 percent of matching bags with passengers aboard the airplanes with a zero tolerance policy. The Federal Government should whack the airlines with a 250K fine for EACH and EVERY mishandled/lost bag. There should be a small RFID chip on each baggage tag so each bag could be tracked and there should be NO excuse for ANY lost or mishandled bag.

Nick Barnard
Member

So you’re wanting to pay $20.000 to fly between LAX and JFK in a middle non reclining coach seat?

Besides the TSA already did away with the bag matching requirement when they rolled out the current luggage scanning machines.

Nick Barnard
Member

Er, and to be clear, I briefly dropped into the European system of presenting numbers on my iPhone. I intended to say $20,000.

Chris
Guest
Let’s say Dale’s idea is implemented. How will he feel the first time one of his fellow passengers gets drunk or sick or is held at the TSA checkpoint and misses his flight, and said flight is delayed for half an hour while digging through the baggage compartment for that person’s specific bags? How about when a fellow passenger is actually on the plane, but customs agents have determined that the electronic equipment they bought overseas needs some extra personal inspection, and the flight is delayed while they manually look through it for an indeterminate amount of time? What if… Read more »
BW
Guest
Positive bag match takes away flexibility that the airlines need to run the operation smoothly. It simply won’t happen on domestic flights. Some airlines try to do it on domestic flights, but it’s never 100% because of other constraints, such as weight limits on express aircraft. As far as bag fee refunds go, there’s too many moving parts in the equation to nail it down to just the airline. There isn’t enough visibility right now into every step in the bag’s journey (and why it went that way) to be able to do it right. CR you assume too much… Read more »
trackback

[…] Fees As we discussed yesterday, if your bag doesn’t travel with you, you get the fees refunded. Even if you check a bag and didn’t have to pay a fee, they’ll still give you a voucher […]

Tomstrr
Guest
Hey, Crank, just short while ago you were advocating for airline fees based on the presumption that charging fees would provide incentive to the airlines to do a better job (related to that task). If they screw up and still keep the money, where’s the incentive? So, yah, like you, I think that if the bag don’t show, they owe you the dough – show on time, that is, else all of the dough, including overweight charges, etc. NOTE, if the bag doesn’t show at all, they already will owe a lot more, and should. Fed EX offers a refund… Read more »
matt weber
Guest
I take the view that baggage fees are in fact a contract for specific performance. I.E. you pay the fee so that your bag will travel with you and arrive with you. I am compelled to point that the big package delivery companies provide service guarantees. Even a residential ground United Parcel Service Shipments comes with a standard service guarantee. We guarantee to attempt delivery within X business days of shipment. If they don’t, there is a no arguments refund. You pay the carrier a fee for a specific service: Your bag is on the same flight you are on.… Read more »
jboekhoud
Member

If the airlines are smart, they’ll come up with something proactively like Alaska did. It’s hard for the DOT to argue for intervention if the airlines have already put a fair policy in place voluntarily.

trackback

[…] Bag Fee Refund Rule Has No Teeth We talked about the proposal to require airlines to refund bag fees if bags are lost or delayed here last week. Now the rule is out and it’s not nearly what it could have been. Bag fees now […]

Ryan
Guest

Just wanted to say that I read the article on cnn.com and wanted to mention my one instance of having this issue with Southwest. In May, I took a trip on Southwest and it was the first time that I have ever not had a bag arrive with the plane that I was on. Upon talking with their customer service, and giving them my contact information, they had my bag within two hours and immediately gave me a $50 voucher for a future flight.

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