What is an Airline Base Fare?

Flickr/Andrew Curie

A base fare is the price of airline ticket before fees, taxes, and any surcharges are added. In most cases, a traveler's base fare will be lower than the final ticket price. Some fares, such as ones to international destinations, may increase significantly from the base fare when additional taxes are added.

Fees Added to a Base Fare

Airlines are adding fees to the base fare for things that used to be included in the price of the ticket. We are getting used to baggage fees but that is only one example of fees. You can now be charged for food and beverages, getting an advance seating assignment, reserving a premium seat (not just first class—a window or aisle seat may incur a fee) early boarding, a second carry on, and even to have services of the airport ticket agent to do things like print the boarding pass for you.

Taxes and Federal Fees

The U.S. Department of Transportation rules mandates that your airline ticket displays the total cost which includes taxes and mandatory fees so people are well aware that the base price will not be their total ticket price. But sometimes these taxes and charges stack up. And don't think your free "reward ticket" will get you out of paying these fees. It won't. You can be charged:

  • Federal Excise Tax: A federal excise tax of 7.5% is charged on airfare.
  • Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs) (ranging from $4.50 to $18) go toward the upkeep and maintenance of airports and is set by Federal law. Up to four PSCs can apply to each ticketed trip and a maximum of two PFCs can be applied per each one-way trip.
  • Segment Fee: A Federal segment fee of $4.10 is imposed on each flight segment which is defined as a takeoff and a landing.
  • September 11th Security Fee: A fee of $5.60 is charged for each one-way flight. This goes toward funding screeners, equipment, and other costs of the Transportation Security Administration.
  • U.S. or International Departure and Arrival Charges: U.S. or international government-imposed taxes and fees of up to $200 may apply depending upon your itinerary.

Airline Surcharges

Carrier surcharges are fees airlines can charge which are in addition to the base fare, mandated taxes, fees, and charges. These airline charges don't have to be explained in detail and you may be assessed an overall fee to cover several of these items. Airline-imposed surcharges may include:

  • Fuel Surcharge: A fee assessed by an airline to account for regional or seasonal variations in fuel costs. Fuel surcharges are not necessarily charged on Frequent Flyer reward tickets.
  • Direct Ticketing Fee: This fee can be charged by the airline for booking a flight on the phone or at a ticket counter rather than online.
  • Holiday Surcharge: An airline may impose an extra charge if you travel at peak holiday travel times.
  • Paper Ticket Fees: A fee imposed if you insist on having a hard copy of your ticket rather than having it on your smartphone or device, or printing it out at home.
  • Change Fees: Charges incurred if you change the date of travel, your flight, or class of service.
  • Award Ticket Fee: An airline may charge you for redeeming points and taking a "rewards ticket" flight.
  • Baggage Fees: Both checked bags and sometimes carry-on bags can incur extra charges. Watch, also, for weight and size restrictions.
  • Food and Drink: An airline can charge for meals, snacks, soft drinks, alcohol and bottled water.

The best way to avoid extra fees is to read the fine print on your airline's website, learn what charges may be incurred and do what you can to avoid them. By packing your own lunch, limiting your luggage to one carry-on, and making your reservation online, you'll be on your way to keeping your costs low.


Was this page helpful?