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Will airlines’ summer travel surcharge hurt Vegas tourism?

Airline surcharges

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Major airlines, such as Continental, American, Delta, United and US Airways, have implemented peak travel surcharges for most of the summer.

Updated Saturday, June 5, 2010 | 7:23 p.m.

First, there’s the plane ticket that costs a few hundred dollars. Then once on board, there are the $3 for a pair of headphones, $7 for a cocktail, $20 to check a bag and another $30 for more leg room — all of which can break your vacation budget before you even land at your destination.

This summer, travelers are being hit with even more fees, thanks to major airlines tacking on surcharges just for traveling during the warmer months. It’s not just bad news for travelers. The fees could have an effect on destination cities such as Las Vegas that are struggling to regain the visitation numbers of pre-recession years.

Major airlines, such as Continental, American, Delta, United and US Airways, have implemented peak travel surcharges on 74 of the 98 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

The airlines have added the highest fee — $30 — on Sunday flights and $10 fees on less popular travel days such as Mondays and Tuesdays.

The surcharges can be a significant expense for families or groups traveling on tight budgets. A family of five traveling on $30 days could pay an extra $300 round-trip.

Peak travel fees normally have been reserved for travel around big holidays, but airlines are cashing in on the expected increase in travel this summer. Airline travel has declined over the last two summers, but the Air Transport Association of America, the trade group that represents most U.S. airlines, expects air travel to rise 1 percent this summer over summer 2009, for a total of about 202 million passengers.

“With the idea that people are sick of cutting back on traveling and are ready to escape reality for a little bit, now the airlines are calling the entire summer ‘peak travel season’ rather than just focusing on specific holiday weekends,” said Gabe Saglie, senior editor of Travelzoo, whose website and newsletter advertise travel deals.

The surcharges come on top of airfares that are 10 percent to 40 percent higher than last summer, Saglie said.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which partners with several airlines to offer vacation packages, declined to comment on the summer surcharges.

Chris Elliott, a consumer advocate and author of a syndicated travel column, said an extra $30 could affect where vacationers go.

“People are very price sensitive right now and instead of flying to those big destination cities with higher fares, they may choose other vacations spots,” Elliott said. “They could make a decision not to go to Las Vegas and go somewhere like Branson (Missouri) instead or take a cruise to gamble.”

Saglie said people might take advantage of low fares to the Caribbean.

Elliott and Saglie said surcharges could have greater effects on convention and business travelers, who are locked into certain travel days.

The U.S. Transportation Department proposed rules this week that would require airlines to break out each fee individually so travelers can compare airlines and know exactly what they are paying for.

The proposed rules won’t lessen the fees; they’ll just make travelers more aware of them.

“In a perfect world, we would all stop flying because of all these shenanigans, but that’s not how it works,” Elliott said. “For a lot of us, this summer is the first time people are going to be taking real vacations. Everyone is expecting business to come back and people aren’t going to opt out of flying. They’re just going to be a little more frustrated.”

CORRECTION: This story was updated to reflect that about 202 million people are expected to travel by air this summer. The last name of Travelzoo senior editor Gabe Saglie was corrected. | (June 7, 2010)

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