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Airlines Add Surcharge for Holiday Travel

The number of days passengers must pay extra for flying during busy holiday periods has jumped.

Several airlines are now charging a $10 "peak-travel" surcharge per flight on 13 days around Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays.

American Airlines started the trend Sept. 23, when it instituted the surcharge for most domestic flights on three days during the Thanksgiving and New Year's holidays. US Airways and American have since expanded the number of days, and several competitors have matched. "I've never heard of such a surcharge," says Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.com, which detected the new charge.

It's not all bad news for consumers, though. Ticket prices for Thanksgiving and Christmas are 12% to 15% lower than last year because of decreased demand and cheaper jet fuel, Seaney says.

Airlines adding the surcharge: American, Delta, Northwest, United, Continental and US Airways. The surcharge is for travel Nov. 29-30, Dec. 19, Dec. 26-27, Jan. 2-3, March 14, March 20-21, March 28, April 11 and May 28.

Discounters Southwest and JetBlue have not followed suit. "We are not in the habit of adding fees like a holiday surcharge and baggage fees," says Southwest spokeswoman Whitney Eichinger.

American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith says it's "very common to charge more for fares on peak demand days." Tacking on a surcharge for a limited number of dates is "much less cumbersome" for American than filing a fare change, he says.

The airlines add the surcharge to the base fare each way.

The surcharges "absolutely are not a fee," Smith says. That may not placate fliers disgruntled by the growing number of fees for checked bags, choice seats and other services. "The new peak-travel surcharge certainly does not communicate 'happy holidays' to me," says Judy Bowers, a flier based in Houston who has flown on two vacations in the past year.

"Airlines have lost all respect for their customers," says Carol Powell of Sylvania, Ohio, who has flown a dozen round trips this year. "When I start to add up the extras, driving is looking more like an option."

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