The Spreading Fee Infestation

Remember the days when you would go to buy something, the clerk would tell you how much it actually cost and you then would give him that amount of money and be on your way?

You: Yes, I would like to purchase your finest sphallolalia in taupe, please. You don’t have taupe, mauve will suffice.

Clerk: Very well, sir. We do have taupe! That will be 12 and a half dinars. 

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You: Excellent! Here are your 12 and a half dinars. Thank you, my good man.

And off you’d go with your taupe sphallolalia, confident that you struck a deal that was fair and reasonably square.

Ah, how we long for those days. But that’s a bygone era, when all men wore hats and dogs and cats were called pets, not fur babies.

Now, when these sellers, commonly referred to these days as Dark Entities, negotiate the vending of a product or a service, the cost of that product or service is only part of the overall cost. Yes, people. I am referring to (cover your children’s eyes!) … fees! We are infested with fees! And I am being told by various Internet People that there is little we can do about it. It’s officially the Way of the World.

Part of my research on fees (and I feel like I must go shower with a wire brush, “Silkwood” style, every time I have to type that word) revealed that if companies told you how much something actually costs, you just wouldn’t buy it. Want a ticket to a Yankees game? OK, that’s 50 bucks. Hmmm, kinda steep, but, why not? It’s the Yankees. You hand over your debit card and later realize you’ve been charged not $50 but $129.48. Why? Need I say it? FEES. And I don’t mean to single out the Yankees (though that’s fun). Any time you buy a ticket to anything you are going to get fee’d to death. It’s death by a thousand cuts.

According to a 2013 report by IdeaWorks, airlines around the world made $22.6 billion in ancillary revenue (fancy phrase for “fees”), worth 4.2 percent of industry-wide revenue. They projected that would reach $42.6 billion, or 6 percent of total revenue, by the following year. About half of that comes from commissions for hotel bookings and sale of frequent-flyer miles, but the rest is from “a la carte fees,” like the $100 fees many carriers charge some passengers for the right to have a carry-on bag.
CNBC says that U.S. airlines made $899.5 million in 2015 in checked baggage fees alone. And Air Canada actually polices the size of passengers’ carry-ons to make sure they get a $25 fee if they’re eligible. 

It’s bad enough that airlines almost universally charge fees to people who have the audacity to travel with luggage. But a while back, United, US Airways and Delta took things a step further by charging their “valued” customers who chose to pay for their bags at the airport, rather than online, an additional fee of between $2 and $3 per bag. That’s right... a fee for paying a fee. A fee fee. It was inevitable. 

But airlines and ticket sellers are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Do you want to get your fee ire really riled up? Check out your cell phone bill. Wait. Don’t bother. They are pretty much indecipherable. I actually brought mine into an AT&T store a few years ago to ask the clerk, er, I mean, Dark Entity, a question about it. He stared at it for a moment and then just shrugged. 

“I have no idea,” he said unapologetically to my question. “Let me make a call.”

He spent about 15 minutes furtively whispering into the phone to what I assumed was a Darker Entity, occasionally looking over his shoulder at me and flashing a queasy, predatory smile. 

I was imagining their conversation was going something like this:

Dark Entity: There is a guy here asking about the $12.99 fortuitous legal tender acquisition fee.

Darker Entity: The hell you say! How did he find out about that?

Dark Entity: You are not going to believe this, but he read his bill.

Darker Entity: Blasphemy! 

Dark Entity: Do you want me to kill him?

Darker Entity: Maybe. How much is his bill?

Dark Entity: $6,487.41.

Darker Entity: Ooooh. No. That’s a good one. Tell him we’ll expunge it from his bill, but there is going to be a $15 fee-removal fee.

OK, perhaps there is no such thing as fortuitous legal tender acquisition fee (yet), but some of the monetary paper cuts you will find on your phone bill do include things such as:

State Telecommunications Excise Surcharge: According to Verizon, this is how they recover state and local taxes they owe to the government. I am personally trying to figure out how to recover the state and local taxes I owe to the government as well.

Regulatory Charge: Despite the name, this is not a mandated charge. It’s a way for wireless providers to mitigate their own costs of having to comply with government regulations (aka laws). I find this inspiring. I am thinking of billing the Carmel Police Department for not burglarizing my neighbor’s home. They do have a beautiful sphallolalia. In taupe.

Administrative Charge: Carriers charge an administrative fee to cover costs like maintenance and interconnection (i.e., when you make a phone call to someone on a different wireless network than yours). They are essentially punishing you for having acquaintances who don’t have the same cell phone company as you.

Early-Termination Fee: The price for exiting your contract early can be as high as $350, depending on how much time is left on the contract (the major carriers prorate the fee). You can try to negotiate to eliminate or lower the early-termination fee; if you have a good reason for canceling, such as moving out of the country, you’re more likely to succeed. In other words, you literally have to leave the country to avoid a fee. Problem is, you’ll need an airline ticket for that and we all know where that’s going to lead.

I want to revisit the concept of purchasing tickets to a show or sporting event. A friend of mine recently purchased four tickets online from Ticketmaster. Cost: $300 for the set. But on top of that was a “convenience charge” of $5 per ticket that added $20 to his bill. Usually, buying online saves a company money that they’d otherwise spend on a telephone operator or a store clerk. So, why was he charged to make Ticketmaster’s existence more convenient?

Ticketmaster then wanted to charge him $2.50 so he could print the tickets from his home printer. Please note that he had the option to get the tickets via the postal service—for no charge. Where’s the logic in that? How much do you think it costs Ticketmaster to print tickets on heavier stock paper, using their ticket machines, and then pay their staff to place the tickets in envelopes with the proper postage and mail it to his house?

Ready for that wire brush yet?

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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