• Spirit Airlines has the highest hidden fees, totaling 736% of the base fare, with baggage charges being a major factor.
  • Volaris, a Mexican low-cost airline, charges 626% of the base fare in additional fees, although the base fare used in the survey was only $13.13.
  • Etihad Airways, the only major international airline in the top 5, has additional charges of 400%, mainly due to high baggage fees.

As any traveler knows, additional or ancillary charges are becoming ever more common with airlines. With many airlines, it is now very difficult to avoid paying more than just the base airfare. What started with traditional low-cost airlines has now spread across the industry, with even “full-service” business class services increasingly being sold with a list of extras.

An interesting survey from UK-based company NetVoucherCodes looked at these additional costs for 80 airlines across the world. We share here the top five airlines.

1 Spirit Airlines – 736% of hidden fees

In top place – with the highest overall additional costs – is the US airline Spirit Airlines. Total additional costs here were found to be 736% of - so over seven times – the base fare. Baggage charges push this to the highest level. The airline charges some of the highest fees - $56.99 for carry-on baggage and $54 for a checked bag. However, these percentage results should be taken in context by remembering that airlines like Spirit typically charge very low base fares.

Spirit Airlines aircraft
Photo: Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock

For clarity, the NetVoucherCodes’ survey worked by looking at similar flights (same dates, route length, and market) and adding to the base price a full set of extra fees (including seat selection, carry-on baggage, 20 kg check-in baggage, fast track, insurance, and onboard WiFi).

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2 Volaris - 626% of hidden fees

Second place goes to the Mexican airline low-cost airline Volaris. It was shown to charge over six times the base fare (626%) in additional charges.

As with any low-cost airline, this needs to be taken in context alongside the low base fare. The sample base fare used in the survey here was only $13.13, so additional charges will have a large percentage effect.

A Volaris Airbus A321neo flying
Photo: Markus Mainka/Shutterstock.

This practice of charging a very low base fare with lots of high-priced extras has spread through the industry over the past years. Those flying in the 2000s will recall when low-cost airlines would price flights without taxes and charges too (with airlines such as Ryanair offering 99p, or even 1p, sale base fares). The practice of advertising fees this way has been largely stopped, but not for optional costs. This so-called “drip-selling” practice has caused concern but is not yet legislated against (although there is discussion of this in both the US and the UK at least).

3 Etihad Airways - 400% of hidden fees

The only major international airline in the top 5 is Etihad Airways. It was shown to have additional charges of 400%. The main culprit here is baggage. Although there was no charge for carry-on baggage, a checked bag added an incredible $309.70 to a base fare of just $89. This result should be treated with caution, as many fares of course are much higher on international itineraries, so this is not really representative of the airline as a whole.

Etihad 787-10 on ground
Photo: Telsek / Shutterstock

The inclusion of Etihad Airways in the top five shows well how the practice of charging extra fees has changed over the years. Originally, it was low-cost airlines (with the trend largely begun by Ryanair in the early 2000s) that charged fees for luggage. This soon expanded to other services and add-ons and to other airlines. Full-service airlines such as Etihad now regularly have lower fare options with few inclusions (even in business class).

4 Frontier Airlines - 375% of hidden fees

Fourth in the ranking was Frontier Airlines - another US low-cost airline. Extra fees here came to almost four times the base fare, at 375%. Baggage fees were again the main reason here – with checked baggage adding $65 to a fare of just $29.

A Frontier Airlines Airbus A321neo flying in the sky.
Photo: Robin Guess / Shutterstock

The survey found that all US-based airlines now charge additional fees. And these, on average, are the highest globally. In case you are wondering, the other highest fees are from Sun Country Airlines (at 201%), Delta Air Lines (158%), JetBlue Airways (at 147%), United Airlines (at 122%), Allegiant Airlines (at 107%), and Alaska Airlines (at 105%), and American Airlines (at 95%). Southwest Airlines came in much lower at 42% despite being the only "low-cost" carrier on the list (bar Sun Country).

5 Ryanair - 344% of hidden fees

The highest hidden fees in Europe (and fifth globally) were found to be from Ryanair. This is fitting as it was the first to really start the trend of charging this way. Ryanair was shown to have additional charges of 344% - over three times the base fare.

Two Ryanair Boeing 737s
Photo: heisenferg/Shutterstock.

Once again, this is not all bad. The base fare with Ryanair was also the lowest of the 35 European airlines in the survey. Rivals Wizz Air and easyJet, for example, came in lower in extra fees (at 273% and 170% respectively), but also had much higher base fares (with Ryanair at just $23.26, but easyJet at $46.78 and Wizz Air at $43.36).

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These five airlines are by no means alone – NetVoucherCodes’ survey shows that 89% of airlines charge for one or more add-ons. Average fees globally were $51.71 – unsurprisingly, highest in the US at $76.94 and lower in Europe at $57.12. You can see the whole survey results on NetVoucherCodes’ website.

There is plenty more to discuss about airline fees and charges – from these five airlines or any others. Feel free to do so in the comments section below.

Sources: NetVoucherCodes (survey results)