U.S. airlines collected more than $6 billion in baggage and reservation-change fees from passengers last year -- the highest amount since the fees became common five years ago.
Passengers shouldn't expect a break anytime soon. Those fees -- along with extra charges for boarding early or picking prime seats -- have helped return the industry to profitability.
Airlines started charging for a first checked suitcase in 2008, and the fees have climbed since. Airlines typically charge $25 each way for the first checked bag, $35 for the second bag and then various extra amounts for overweight or oversized bags.
The nation's 15 largest carriers collected a combined $3.5 billion in bag fees in 2012, up 3.8 percent from 2011, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Fees for changing a reservation totaled $2.6 billion, up 7.3 percent.
The airlines took in $159.5 billion in revenue last year and had expenses of $153.6 billion, according to the government. That 3.7 percent profit margin comes entirely from the baggage and change fees.
Delta Air Lines once again took in the most fees -- $865.9 million from baggage alone -- but it also carried more passengers than any other airline.
Delta collected $7.44 per passenger -- about average for the industry. Low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines collected the most, an average $19.99 per passenger in baggage fees last year.
The government only requires the airlines to report revenue from baggage and change fees.
Passengers can expect to pay even more this summer.
Many fees were first introduced to allow airlines to offset rising fuel costs. In 2008, jet fuel spiked 46 percent to an average $3.06 per gallon as the price of oil hit an all-time high.
Airfares have climbed in recent years, but jet fuel remains costly -- in 2012 the airlines paid an average of $2.96 a gallon. Passengers have shown reluctance to book tickets if the base fare is too high, hence the introduction of more fees.