Hidden Airline Fees: The True Cost of Flying [2023 Study]

hidden airline fees: new study

We’ve all been there—

Seeing an interstate flight for less than $50, only to discover the price is way higher at checkout.

Where did it come from?

Hidden fees.

So at Passport Photo Online, we’ve decided to poll around 950 Americans and find out just how much extra travelers are paying for airfare.

Key Takeaways

  • About 86% of Americans have run into unexpected airline costs at least once in their lifetime.
  • Roughly 39% of air travelers encounter covert fees often or always.
  • Nearly 60% of passengers believe hidden airline charges have grown since 2019 (before COVID-19).
  • The most common reaction to undisclosed charges among fliers is annoyance: 37%.
  • Carry-on (78%) and checked baggage (76%) fees were voted the most infuriating hidden costs.

Most Americans Have Run into Hidden Airline Fees

We truly meant it when we said, “we’ve all been there” earlier.

Our study shows that 86% of people have run into unexpected airline costs at least once in their lifetime.

Over 8 in 10 people have run into hidden airline fees

We then asked respondents how often they come across such costs.

Only 2% said never. 

What about the remaining 98%?

As many as 39% of airline passengers run into unanticipated expenses often or always. Another 86% face them at least sometimes.

Below are the detailed results:

86% of airline passengers run into hidden fees at least sometimes

That’s a lot of travelers paying more than they initially thought.

Hidden Fees Are Piling Up

In 2008, American Airlines was the first major carrier to introduce an extra fee for checked baggage.

But that seems like ancient history.

More recently, United and American went a step further and introduced a carry-on baggage fee in 2017.

The story goes on—

Over half of survey takers (59%) think hidden charges have grown since 2019. About a quarter (24%) says the growth has been significant.

24% of airline passengers think the number of hidden airline fees has grown significantly from 2019

Luckily, there aren’t many things left that we can be charged extra for, right?

Five Hundred Extra Because of Hidden Fees?

That’s how much nearly a fifth of Americans (19%) have paid for covert airline fees. If it’s any consolation, it’s the highest airline charge they’ve ever had to pay. 

Here’s how the cost distribution looks across the board:

27% of airline passengers have spent between $50 and $100 on their most expensive hidden airline fees

Nearly 42% of passengers had to pay less than $100 for their most expensive hidden fee.

That’s not so bad.

Until you realize the remaining 58% have run into $100+ charges.

Hidden Fees Mostly Annoy Us

Imagine you’re booking a flight to Miami.

You skipped seat selection (because you know you’d pay extra for it) and arrived at checkout.

Then you see it: your ticket doesn’t come with carry-on baggage.

Now, you need to get back, search for that option and pay extra.

What’s your reaction?

If you’re any like our respondents, you’ll grow annoyed (37%) and look for ways to avoid (36%) these added charges. 

The most common reaction to hidden airline fees among fliers is annoyance (37%)

We can’t blame you.

At the same time, nearly a third of passengers (27%) view such charges as normal at this point. 

But should we accept things as they are?

87% of people agree or strongly agree that the US Department of State should make airlines disclose all fees upfront.

Roughly 87% of respondents agree or strongly agree that the Department of State should make airlines disclose all fees upfront. 

Here’s some good news: the government might do something about it. 

On Monday, September 26, 2022, President Biden announced a new initiative to tackle the issue.

If the government succeeds, carry-on and checked baggage charges, among others, will have to be disclosed upfront. 

For now, though, it’s still just a proposal.

The Most Annoying Hidden Airline Fees, Ranked

We’ve asked respondents to rate 20+ most common airline fees.

The results are in:

The top three most annoying fees are: carry-on baggage fee (78%%), checked baggage fee (76%), and net prices (72%)

Here’s how we calculated it: 

We asked respondents to rate each fee on a scale of one (not annoying at all) to five (very annoying). 

After calculating the average, we arrived at the final scores of the top three most-hated charges, as shown in the chart above.


If you want to see how all hidden fees compare, see the table below.

Hidden Airline FeesAverage Annoyance Score
Carry-on fee4.15
Checked baggage fee4.02
Taxes not included in the initial ticket quote3.97
Automatically-added travel insurance3.96
Reservation changes and cancellation fees3.87
Overweight baggage fee3.81
Seats next to each other with multi-person bookings3.74
Name change fee3.72
Seat selection3.72
Frequent flyer mile cancellation fee3.71
Airport check-in3.71
Booking a flight over the phone or in person3.70
Airport and/or in-flight WiFi3.66
Airport parking3.65
Having one’s boarding pass printed at the airport3.60
In-flight non-alcoholic drinks3.56
Access to in-flight entertainment devices3.55
Food and goods in airports3.49
In-flight pillow or blanket3.44
Extra legroom3.35
Auto check-in3.35
A cab from the airport to one’s destination and vice versa3.31

It turns out people don’t mind the additional charge for comforts like legroom, auto check-in, or in-flight pillows and blankets. 

What we hate is paying extra for travel basics, like baggage, and learning the actual ticket price only at checkout.

After all, airlines are the only carriers that make you pay for a suitcase on board.

Stacking It All Up

There you have it.

A look at hidden airline fees.


What’s your take on undisclosed charges? Are they justified, or are they just a way for carriers to make extra profit? 

Let us know in the comments.


We conducted an online survey of 942 US respondents via a bespoke online polling tool in January 2023.

The respondents were 55.9% male, 43.5% female, and 0.6% identified as other. 10.1% of respondents were 25 or younger, 45.4% were aged 26–38, 32.5% were aged 39–54, and 12% were 55 or older.

This survey has a confidence level of 95% and a margin of error of 3%. Given the gender and age makeup of our sample size, the study’s findings are statistically significant for the population at large.

This study was created through multiple research steps, crowdsourcing, and surveying. Data scientists reviewed all survey participants’ responses for quality control. ​​The survey also had an attention-check question.

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