By Kelli B. Grant
Fees for getting a paper copy of your records have taken off.
Spirit Airlines announced last week that effective Nov. 1, it will begin charging a $5 fee to have a boarding pass printed by an agent at the airport. Next June, it will add a $1 fee for printing one at the airport kiosk. (A spokeswoman for the airline says the carrier plans to reduce fares by $5 to counterbalance the new charge.) Although a handful of European carriers charge similar fees, Spirit is the first U.S. airline to do so.
But consumers have become more familiar with going paperless as a condition to avoiding fees or grabbing deals as businesses — and banks in particular — look to cut their costs. Alliance Data Systems, which handles credit card business for Ann Taylor, Victoria’s Secret and other big chains, added a $1 monthly fee last year to receive printed statements. Toll payment service E-ZPass charges $6 per year, while California insurer Anthem Blue Cross tacks on $2 per month. Going paperless is also typically a requirement to get the top interest rates of up to 6% in reward-checking accounts.
“Certainly there are substantial costs associated with printing and delivery of anything,” says Heather Honea, professor of marketing at San Diego State University. Sending consumers paper statements can run 25 times as much as preparing and sending them via email. “To the extent that they can avoid those costs, they’ll do it,” she says. Airlines are likely to be slower than banks to adopt a paperless-or-pay-more stance, simply because your boarding pass serves as more than a record to file away — you need to bring it with you to get on the plane.
“I don’t think anyone is going to copy Spirit immediately,” says George Hobica, the founder of AirfareWatchdog.com. But airlines have already made a start by offering print-at-home passes and ones downloadable to a mobile phone. “Once that system is in place and people are confident in it, you’ll start to see them phase out paper and add fees,” Honea says.
As for Spirit, avoiding the fee is simple for those with a home printer, less so for those without. The airline does not currently offer the option to download your boarding pass to a mobile phone, and only waives the fee in airports where there are no kiosks. In the end, those who want paper have the same choice as those faced with paper bank fees: “People can vote with their feet, and do business elsewhere,” Hobica says.
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