I put this in the "no surprise, but worth noting" category: Major U.S. airlines brought in more baggage and reservation change/cancellation fees in 2012 than they did in 2011. Delta, which collected more than $1.2 million in fees by the third quarter (fourth-quarter figures won't be available until May) topped them all -- followed by United, American and US Airways -- according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
"I think Delta is ranking at the top because they're doing a good job of rebuilding loyalty. People are flying with them and going ahead and paying the fees," said Sean Delanty, marketing director for travel site letsflycheaper.com.
Brace yourself for even more fees and higher ticket costs in 2013. Delanty predicts that the merger of American and US Airways will go through, leaving one less legacy carrier to choose from -- and to exert competitive pressure for lower prices. Among the new fees he says might pop up this year: a charge for faster, satellite-based inflight Wi-Fi access and for entertainment options such as movies. "They will nitpick. They have to recoup what they are losing. Nobody wants to pay more than $300 for a round-trip flight. It is slowly killing them."
So even if you are lucky enough to land that $300 fare, how can you make sure fees won't slowly kill your vacation bottom line?
Know your airline's weight restrictions for checked baggage, and use your scale before you leave home. Overweight bags can cost you $50 each way. Bring your own onboard snacks. And book electronically to avoid service fees of about $25 per ticket.
Send your questions or tips to travel editor Kerri Westenberg at email@example.com, and follow her on twitter @kerriwestenberg.