"Why don't airlines just charge what it costs to fly us and our bags in relative comfort, like they used to?" Readers have asked me that many times, and I've probably grumbled the same question after whipping out my credit card to pay for a drink at 30,000 feet.

American Airlines has heard our complaints and is taking a stab at addressing them. The airline recently began offering a range of fares, some of which include free checked bags and an onboard drink. Sure, this new bundling approach requires fliers to pay up for perks that were once free, but at least it's all part of the cost of an airline ticket. (That means more money for the feds; à la carte fees weren't taxed, but tickets are.)

You can still buy a traditional coach fare, which the airline has dubbed "Choice." But upgrade to "Choice Essential," and for an extra $68 (round-trip), you get one free bag, priority boarding and the ability to change your flight without a fee.

Do the math, and you might consider it a good deal. Checking one bag both ways would run $50, so fliers who choose this fare are paying a mere $18 for the other two perks. For people who wind up changing their plans, that's a real bargain since à la carte change fees ring in at $150.

For an additional $88 on top of the base coach fare, "Choice Plus" includes other benefits, such as a 50 percent AAdvantage mileage bonus, same-day flight change, same-day standby, and an alcoholic beverage onboard. Perks of the "Fully Flexible" fares (prices vary) include two checked bags and preferred seats. Delta and other airlines are watching closely, and may start similar programs.

Send your questions or tips to travel editor Kerri Westenberg at travel@startribune.com, and follow her on twitter @kerriwestenberg.