Personal Finance

More airlines are charging for everything from carry-ons to soft drinks

A Delta employee helps travelers near the Delta check-in counter at LaGuardia Airport.
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The cost of that plane ticket may end up being a lot more than you think, especially if you expect to sit by the window, bring a carry on-bag or sip a soft drink.

Airlines increasingly are unbundling their offerings so that they can offer the lowest possible fares, according to a new report by Hopper, a research firm that tracks more than 3 billion price data points related to airfares.

The combination of lower jet fuel prices and excess capacity has forced airlines to lower prices in order to sell seats, even as the industry returns to profitability. At the same time, competition between carriers has increased as a new breed of "ultra low-cost" carriers expands in the U.S. and around the world. (Flights from California to Europe for $69?)

As a result, there's been rapid growth in so-called "ancillary" fees for services like ticket changes or cancellations, seat assignment, baggage, in-flight food, drinks and entertainment. Ancillary revenue now accounts for about 10 percent of total airline revenues, according to Hopper.

For example, there's already a $25 fee for one piece of luggage, on average, Hopper said, but as more airlines roll out basic fares, more fliers can expect to pay for their carry-ons too. Frontier and Spirit both already charge $35, on average, for carry-on bags. Forcing fliers to shell out for soft drinks may follow, Surry said.

But it's not all bad news for your wallet. Delta, for one, is bringing back free meals for economy class passengers on some long U.S. flights over the next several weeks.

"It's all part of this experimentation," Surry said. "Carriers are trying to figure out the right way to package and sell tickets. It remains to be seen what will work in the long term."

"Ultimately, consumers will vote with their feet in terms of what types of tickets they buy," he said. (Or they can rant about their experience on Twitter or Facebook, it turns out airlines are listening.)