The corporate fee game


The golden goose is flying high!

That’s not some sort of nonsensical code used by spies, but an exultation by airline executives who’re thrilled by the surging success of their main line of business. Flying is, of course, what airlines are supposed to do, but that’s no longer their core profit center. Instead, they’re in the fee business! Fees R Us, they squeal as they squeeze their own customers with as many extra charges as their little sadistic minds can invent.

Whether booking your flight by phone, requesting a pillow, or simply checking your bag — you’ve gotta pay more. It’s somewhere between irritating and infuriating for passengers, but these add-ons add up, and they’ve become the golden goose of revenue for the industry. “Take a look at bag fees,” says the happy CEO of Continental. “We expect bag fees to generate $350 million for us this year.” That’s extra cash for them, taken right out of your pocket. The industry calls it “unbundling” — taking apart the services that previously were included in the ticket and charging you extra for each part.

It’s such a fun game that other industries are now playing it. Some hotel chains, for example, not only sock you for five bucks to take a beer out of the mini-bar, but they also slip a $5 “restocking fee” onto your final bill. “Well,”
huff these highway robbers, “unbundling is just an example of corporate
efficiency applied to consumer pricing. Get used to it.”

Since these same executives
are always demanding that government be run like a business, I suppose
they’d be happy if the public services that they enjoy were unbundled. A
lawmaker’s salary, for example, is covered by us general taxpayers, but
why not assess an extra fee-for-service on corporate chieftains and
lobbyists who use our Congress critters to do favors for them? Let’s
charge them for each favor!

Respond: For more information on Jim Hightower’s work — and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown — visit