Help pack a million meals for struggling seniors on Sept. 11. Volunteer today



Contests and

Driver Safety

Piggy bank on the road - AARP Driver Safety

Take the new AARP Smart Driver Course!

Happy African American couple

AARP Books

Visit the Books Section

Enjoy titles on retirement, Social Security, and becoming debt-free.

Jobs You Might Like

most popular


Fed Up With Fees

Does it feel like some companies are picking your pocket? Guess what? They are.

Charging for services that used to be free is now "good business." Need to speak with a United or American Airlines agent to book your flight by phone? That'll be $25, please. And if you call your doctor for after-hours advice, you could be charged up to $25.

See also: Don't fall for autumn home repair scams.

Illustration of man holding a cell phone while a ghost hand reaches into his wallet to take cash

More companies are charging for services that used to be free. — Illustration by Zohar Lazar

Welcome to the new America — the land of the fee — where businesses eagerly lift their recession-depleted incomes by lowering yours. "There's been a large uptick in fees recently, especially as corporations try to maintain or increase profits," says Randy Allen, a former retail-industry executive and a current associate dean at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University.

These fees aren't just a fad, adds finance columnist Evelyn Kanter, who recently learned of a $14.95 fee to pay her Macy's bill by phone with a credit card. "It's follow the leader," she explains. "If one company gets away with a fee, others figure they can, too." The evidence: Some high-end hotels now charge up to $25 to receive packages for guests, and others are charging more than $10 for housekeeping service. Plus, paper statements now cost up to $3 from some utility companies, phone companies, and banks.

Dollar bills blowing-how to avoid outrageous hidden costs

To fight the fees, complain to a manager. If they are not responsive, take your business elsewhere. — Photo by Paul Taylor/Corbis

These charges might be laughable if they weren't so obnoxious. Richard Laermer, who tracks consumer trends in 2011: Trendspotting for the Next Decade, once paid $2 for a piece of tape at a shipping center. "And when I asked to test cologne at an upscale men's store, I was told, 'That will be $2 a spritz,' " he recalls.

So how can you avoid what Laermer calls "corporate pillage and plunder"? Take your business elsewhere, when practical. And take time to complain to a manager or company president when you can. For instance, after consumers railed against Bank of America's plans to charge a $5 monthly fee for debit card use, the bank abandoned its plans in November. That said, some add-ons may be unavoidable now that charging for basic service is becoming the norm. Speaking of service, remember that $25 United Airlines fee? The president and CEO of United Continental Holdings Inc., Jeff Smisek, earned about $4.4 million annually at last count. We'll let you ponder that.

You might also enjoy: Consumer complaint? Write Ron Burley for help.

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.


The Cheap Life

Jeff Yeager Cheap Life Ultimate Cheapskate AARP YouTube web series save money

Catch the latest episode of The Cheap Life starring Jeff Yeager, AARP's Ultimate Cheapskate. Watch

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Member Benefits HomeServe

Members can protect their homes with comprehensive repair plans from HomeServe.

AARP Credit card from Chase

Members can get cash back rewards on purchases with the AARP® Credit Card from Chase.

Woman holding smartphone in city, Google map tool

Members can find discounts on the go via the AARP® Member Advantages Offer Finder app.

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.

Rewards for Good

Your Points Balance:

Learn More

Earn points for completing free online activities designed to enrich your life.

Find more ways to earn points

Redeem your points to save on merchandise, travel, and more.

Find more ways to redeem points


Advance your skills. Transform your career.

Explore your learning possibilities.