Packaged perks better than à la carte airline fees?

Bundles, subscriptions may save you money when you travel

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects
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Author Joy Preble flies around the country to sign books and meet fans. But all that travel comes with its own annoyances. One of her pet peeves?

"People who like to lean back all the way. And suddenly you can't even put an iPad on the little tray," she said.

So for a recent trip, Preble decided to pay extra for a seat with more leg room. 

"It was a very roomy situation," she said. "And it was much more pleasant." 

Much like cable companies, cell phone providers and internet companies, airlines are now bundling extras on individual flights.  Different packages offer combinations of services such as free checked bags, priority boarding, no change fees, free wifi or extra frequent flyer miles.

"You're able to take multiple things, package them together, charge a lower price for each, the airline makes more and you get more things that you want," explained Gary Leff, a frequent flier expert with
Some airlines are also experimenting with subscription services, allowing you to pay a flat fee for benefits on any flights you take within a set time period.  

"A subscription service enables them to guarantee that they're going to have that seat available to them, guarantee that they're going to have that free checked bag," said  Jean Medina, Senior Vice President of Airlines for America, which is the Commercial Airline Trade Association..

Airlines for America says these packages and subscriptions allow consumers to get a better prices on the extras they want while airlines make the revenue they need. 

"Last year the airlines made 37 cents per enplaned passenger. Had they not offered additional services that customers were willing to pay for, they would have lost 8 dollars per passenger," explained Medina.

But Leff says it's important to examine each package or subscription  to make sure it's really going to be worth it for you. 

"A subscription really locks you into a single airline and over time you may wind up paying more in airfare if you pick the same airline over and over than you would if you were going to go around and shop for the lowest price each time," Leff warned.

In addition, keep in mind the routes you regularly travel. Regional jets may not have extra leg room seats. And smaller airports may not have a priority security line. 

"You're not going to get a refund, a pro-rated portion back, because a given flight the benefit isn't available," added Leff.

Leff says subscriptions are most worth it to travelers who fly 10,000 to 15,000 miles a year on a single airline. That's enough to get your money's worth out of the deal, but not so much that you gain elite status - which could  provide you with the same perks for free.

And remember some airline branded credit card companies offer similar bundled benefits to their customers such as free checked bags and priority boarding. and, the yearly fee may be less than you'd pay for a year's worth of packages or subscriptions from the airline. 

As for Preble, she says she's now "on board" with buying a subscription if it means a more comfortable ride.

"Not having somebody, you know, literally make me incapable of putting a glass on the tray, um I've decided that that's, that's worth it for me," she said. 

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