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5 Things That Are No Longer Free

Products and services that were commonly available at no charge now come at a price 

Interior of commercial airplane with passengers in their seats
iStock / Getty Images

“Nothing in life is free” couldn’t be truer these days. Consumers are paying extra for everything from an aisle seat on an airplane to a plastic bag at the grocery store. Why freebies are fading is complicated, but experts suggest the internet is partly to blame. Consumers are way more price-conscious because of it, so companies are keeping prices down by offering stripped-down products and services. Extras now come at a cost. ​

“In any area people can separate some aspect of the product or service from another,” says Jonah Berger, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “Not everyone uses the pool at the hotel. The same on a flight. Some people want a certain seat; others don’t.” 

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The freebies that are disappearing can be found pretty much everywhere. They include these five. ​

1. Grocery bags

To protect the environment, some states are banning or reducing the use of plastic bags in grocery stores. Instead of getting free plastic bags, one will cost you 5 to 10 cents. Don’t want to pay for plastic bags at the grocery store? Bring your own reusable ones. 

2. Seat assignment on a flight

In the past, the price of an airline ticket was no different if you were in an aisle seat or at the window. Now how much you pay for a ticket can depend on where you want to sit. If you prefer an aisle seat or one with more legroom, you’ll pay more. According to an analysis by NerdWallet, Delta charges $15, on average, each way for seat selection; American charges $19. Discount airline operator Frontier charges the most, at an average of $23 per one-way flight. 

To avoid this fee when booking online, consider skipping the seat selection if you can’t pick a seat for free. Airlines don’t promote it, but you don’t have to choose your seat on a flight in advance, according to NerdWallet. One will be assigned by the airline at no charge at check-in, though it may be a middle seat. If you do care about the seat, go with an airline that charges a low fee — or no fee — for seat selection. 

Automatic tire inflater for vehicle at gas station
iStock / Getty Images

3. Air at the gas station

Filling up your car tires used to be free at gas stations across the country. Not so much anymore. That’s changed partly because of legislation enacted in some states. Gas stations in those states are required to provide motorists with access to compressed air. But while the air is free, the gas stations are allowed to charge you for use of their compressors. Connecticut is an exception. The law there requires gas retailers to provide “an operable free air compressor.”

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​Fed up with paying to maintain the correct tire pressure? FreeAirPump.com can help. It provides a list of gas stations and convenience stores around the country that offer free air. You can also use a bike pump if the tires need only a few pounds of air, but it may be a bit of a workout. 

4. Resort amenities

For perks from Wi-Fi to parking, some hotels around the country tack on a fee for amenities they used to throw in for free. Some will even charge you a separate fee to use the pool, secure lounge chairs or hit the gym. Resort fees range from a few dollars to over $30 per night, depending on where you stay. About 1,779 hotels in the U.S. charge a resort fee, according to ResortFeeChecker.com. That’s down 17 percent from the peak in 2018, but the number is growing with more people traveling again. ​

One way to try to dodge resort fees is to use credit card reward points to pay for the hotel room. Many operators waive resort fees if you are redeeming loyalty points. Don’t have any rewards? Then search for a hotel that doesn’t charge resort fees. They are in the minority, but you should be able to find a handful in the area you’re staying. ResortFeeChecker.com is a searchable database of hotel fees. 

5. Reservation at a restaurant

Making reservations used to be easy. You call the restaurant, tell them how many are in your party and reserve a time to dine. If you don’t show up, no big deal — unless you own the establishment, especially if that table goes unused. To prevent that from happening, a growing number of restaurants require you to provide your credit card information when reserving a table. If you don’t show up or don’t provide enough cancellation notice, the restaurant will charge you a fee. It doesn’t cover the cost of the entire meal, but it can range from $20 to $40 per person. Some high-end restaurants require you to pay for your meal in advance.

Read the fine print of your reservation confirmation. To avoid this fee, it’s important to cancel by the cutoff, typically 24 hours before the time of the reservation. If it’s a last-minute cancellation due to, say, a legitimate emergency, you can call the restaurant and ask for the fee to be waived. The restaurant may be more amenable if you agree to rebook for another date. There are also plenty of restaurants that don’t charge a no-show fee. If a credit card is required to make a reservation, that will clue you in that you could be on the hook for a no-show fee.