Ouch: Virgin Blue doubles baggage fees

By danwarne, February 17 2011
Ouch: Virgin Blue doubles baggage fees

Virgin Blue is doubling its some of its baggage charges as part of a move to recoup rising fuel costs.

From March, passengers who have booked on a Virgin Blue Go or Blue Saver (no baggage) fare and then decide they want to check baggage, or are forced to by Virgin Blue due to their cabin baggage being overweight, will now have to pay $40 at the airport rather than $20.

Excess baggage fees are also rising 50% from $10/kg to $15/kg.

The price for pre-purchasing baggage online (as an add-on to no-baggage fares) will also increase 20%, from $10 to $12.

"These changes are being made in response to current high global fuel prices which Virgin Blue has been absorbing for some time," the airline said in a statement.

The airline group will also add another $60 in fuel surcharges on a return trip with Pacific Blue, lifting them from the current level of $170 return to $230.

The timing of the increase in charges is odd, as it comes just before Virgin is set to execute its strategy of taking on Qantas as a second full-service business airline in Australia.

However, most business travellers will be travelling on fares with baggage included, so the airport baggage fees are unlikely to affect them (unless they're forced to check cabin baggage.)

Qantas and Virgin Blue are currently locked in the first stages of a battle for business customers' lucrative travel spend.

Qantas yesterday announced it was shifting international-grade aircraft like the Boeing 747 and Airbus A330 onto domestic routes between Sydney/Melbourne/Brisbane and Perth -- a move that Virgin cannot match with its narrowbody fleet of aircraft.

Virgin has ordered two international grade Airbus A330 aircraft for its Perth route, but still will not be able to compete with the thousands of seats Qantas is making available on the route, along with lie-flat business-class sleeper beds.

How Virgin's fee hike compares to Qantas

Qantas recently changed its baggage rules to limit most customers to one bag. The only exceptions are for platinum frequent flyers in any class, and silver/gold/platinum frequent flyers in business class.

Anyone who wants to take a second bag (with the same overall weight restriction, essentially allowing them to not overstuff their one suitcase) can pre-pay online $15 for the first additional bag and $30 for the second additional bag.

However, if a traveller fronts up to the airport with more than bags, and their Qantas status and cabin class only allows them one bag, Qantas will charge $30 for the first additional bag, and $60 for the second additional bag -- still cheaper than Virgin's $40 checked bag fee.

For now, Qantas' excess baggage fee remains at $10/kg. However, from June 1st, it will only charge a flat $20 "heavy bag" fee, making Qantas the obvious airline of choice for people who are likely to exceed 23kg baggage (assuming the base fare is competitive with Virgin Blue).

See our previous article: What Qantas' new baggage rules mean for you.

How it compares to Jetstar

Like other discount airlines, Qantas subsidiary Jetstar levies hefty fees wherever it can to boost profits, including if a customer decides they want to take baggage after booking a no-baggage fare.

In such cases, customers have to pre-pay $40 to modify their booking to add a bag, either online or through the call centre, and if they turn up at the airport with a bag, it costs $80.

Despite its hefty fee hike, Virgin Blue's bag fees are still less than Jetstar's.

Jetstar's excess baggage fees are $15/kg -- equal to the new rates charged by Virgin Blue.

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