What are these extra fees on my plane ticket?



Myles Ma

Myles Ma

Senior Reporter

Myles Ma is a senior reporter at Policygenius, where he covers personal finance and insurance and writes the Easy Money newsletter. His expertise has been featured in The Washington Post, PBS, CNBC, CBS News, USA Today, HuffPost, Salon, Inc. Magazine, MarketWatch, and elsewhere.

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Trying to find the best price on airfare is complicated enough to be a full-time job.

What's more, air travelers can't just budget for the sticker price when they fly. They also have to pay a host of taxes and fees on top of the base price.

We talked to John Heimlich, vice president and chief economist for Airlines for America, an industry group, to explain the extra costs air travelers pay.

Domestic flights

Four federally approved taxes apply to domestic flights:

Passenger Ticket Excise Tax Amount: 7.5% of base fare Purpose: Funds the Airport & Airway Trust Fund, which pays for most of the operations of the Federal Aviation Administration, including construction and safety improvements at airports. (Learn the least reliable airports in America.)

Flight Segment Tax Amount: $4.20 per flight segment. One flight segment comprises one takeoff and one landing, so if you have connecting flights, you'll be charged for each one. Purpose: Goes toward the Airport & Airway Trust Fund.

Sept. 11 Fee Amount: $5.60 per one-way flight, regardless of number of connections Purpose: Funds the Transportation Security Administration, though Heimlich noted Congress has a history of diverting the money to fill unrelated budget holes.

Passenger Facility Charge Amount: Up to $4.50 per flight segment, $9 per one-way trip or $18 per round trip Purpose: Charged by airports to fund FAA-approved projects.

International flights

The Sept. 11 Fee and Passenger Facility Charge still apply.

But international flights have their own flight taxes, as well as other fees:

International Departure Tax Amount: $18.60 per departing international flight Purpose: Airport & Airway Trust Fund

International Arrival Tax Amount: $18.60 per arriving international flight Purpose: Airport & Airway Trust Fund

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Passenger Fee Amount: $3.96 per arriving international flight Purpose: Funds the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, part of the Department of Agriculture. The service inspects any food, produce or animals passengers bring back from abroad to ensure they're free of pests or disease.

Customs User Fee Amount: $5.77 Purpose: Funds inspections by U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Immigration User Fee Amount: $7 Purpose: Funds U.S. Customs and Border Protection as well as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Foreign governments will almost certainly add their own fees on top of these, Heimlich said.

How these fees add up

Airlines for America estimates that, for a typical domestic flight from Peoria, Illinois, to Raleigh, North Carolina, with a connection in Chicago, taxes will add an additional 27% to the cost of the fare. These additional costs keep rising, Heimlich said.

The Flight Segment Tax and the International Departure and Arrival taxes are indexed to inflation and rounded up to the nearest multiple of 10 cents. (So if inflation would raise the flight segment tax to $4.21, the IRS would round it up to $4.30, Heimlich noted.)

Heimlich wants air passengers become aware that the government is charging these fees, even though on your ticket it appears they're coming from the airlines.

"The passenger should care, because we certainly do," Heimlich said. "These fees have implications for the affordability of travel and the frequency of air service in certain markets." (Check out these summer travel destinations.)

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Image: Ross Parmly