The airline booking change that could cost you thousands in fees

The hidden change major airlines rolled out during the pandemic that could cost you an eyewatering $1,750 in extra fees: ‘Absolute robbery’

  • Some major airlines have changed economy fare structure
  • Traditionally included baggage removed from some fares 
  • Paid thousands for checked baggage? Contact:  

Holidaymakers travelling on major airlines could be forced to fork out thousands of dollars in additional baggage fees due little-known changes rolled out during the Covid lockdowns.

As Covid-19 travel restrictions brought the aviation industry to its knees, prominent national carriers – including Malaysian Airlines, Etihad and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines  – quickly moved to restructure fare systems as they struggled to stay afloat. 

Some airlines quietly broke down their economy class fare – which traditionally included free checked baggage – into different price categories depending on the number of inclusions, such as meals, luggage allowance, or seat selection. 

The new schemes were touted as a means to reduce costs for passengers who would pay less if they packed light. 

But now, as travellers return to the skies, some economy passengers are being slugged with exorbitant baggage fees after selecting cheap fares that had restrictions that did not exist in pre-Covid times.

Some major airlines changed their economy fare structure during Covid to offer lower-class tickets without traditionally-inclusive checked baggage. Pictured: a woman at Sydney Domestic Airport in December 2020

A traveler who bought Malaysian Airlines flights from Sydney to London return with her husband was revising the final details of their honeymoon plans in late April when she realised they were not entitled to any checked baggage for the first leg of the trip. 

When she called the airline, staff informed them they had purchased economy lite tickets – which allows each passenger just 7kg of carry-on luggage – and would would need to pay $1,750 AUD to add two 23kg checked bags. 

‘We were shocked. It was almost the same price as a ticket and something we had not factored into our budget,’ the woman told Daily Mail Australia. 

‘It would have only cost $20 to have the baggage option if we had selected it at the time. But $1,750 is absolute robbery. It was not a stress you want a week before you’re due to depart.’

Rather than fork out the fee, the couple luckily had a different economy fare ticket with checked baggage included for the way back, so decided to fly over with only 7kg of carry-on each and buy everything else – suitcase included – once they arrived in Europe. 

Despite the two legs of the flights having different fare classes, the woman said there were nothing built into the booking process to warn them.

Travellers are being stung with hundreds of dollars of additional fees after accidentally booking the wrong tickets

An Australian woman says she was told she would have to pay $1750AUD to add baggage to her Sydney to London after she and her husband accidentally purchased economy lite tickets. Pictured: Malaysian Airlines 'unbundled' economy fares

Pictured above are the Malaysian Airline rates for excess baggage in USD as of June 2022

‘I understand we should have been more careful, but I feel there should be a pop up notice or something to at least warn you before you proceed that your order has a massive baggage discrepancy between your flights – especially for long haul.’ 

Another traveller who was caught out by the same changes slammed the fare divisions as a ‘trap’. 

‘So, you want to fly somewhere internationally, and you choose Economy Class. In the pre-pandemic days your fare included 20kg checked in baggage allowance,’ they wrote online.  

‘You think, OK economy fare I will book. Look closely at the three categories of Economy ticket. If you just take the basic you will have … zero checked in baggage allowance! Yes, zero, just like the budget airlines. 

‘We missed the small print and booked basic, now we have had to pay a lot extra for ‘Extra Baggage’. A Scam. 

Under the fare, the couple were only permitted to take two 7kg carry on bags (pictured)

The pair decided to put the $1,750 towards buying a new suitcase and clothes (pictured) for their four-week holiday once they arrived in Europe

‘Other airlines might be employing the same trick to con people out of paying exorbitant amounts for, what was once, the basic checked in luggage allowance!!!! Shame on you Malaysian Airlines!’ 


*Malaysian Airlines launches its Economy Flexible Fare Family’ in June 2020 – which include lite, basic and flex fare options.

*Etihad – introduces hand baggage-only economy ‘deal’ fares to 14 countries in July 2020

*S7 Airlines – introduces new fare system, with economy divided into basic, standard and plus. Business standard and plus) in November 2020.

*KLM Royal Dutch Airlines – introduces lite fares in March 2021. Checked baggage allowance depends on the route 

*Virgin Australia introduced Economy Choice, Economy Flex and Economy Lite Economy lite in August 2021 for domestic and international short haul and trans-Tasman flights

*Fiji Airways introduces their new ‘Fly Your Way’ unbundled economy fare concept in February 2023 


University of Sydney Professor Rico Merkert, who is an expert in transport and supply chain management, said many major airlines began decoupling what were once complementary services from the price of a seat as a way of boosting profits.

He said this process, which is called ‘unbundling’, took inspiration from the pay structure that underpins the business models of low-cost carriers such as Ryanair or Jetstar. 

‘Low-cost carriers essentially sell you a seat and everything else comes on top,’ Professor Merkert told Daily Mail Australia. 

‘This would include items such as checked in baggage allowance (if any), seat selection, ticket restrictions (cancellations/change fees), credit cards fees and all sorts of other things, all of which are called ancillary revenues.’

‘During COVID-19 many full-service carriers adopted some of those practices and introduced economy lite fares. 

‘When yields for the seats are not sufficiently high enough, airlines tend to find other ways (i.e., ancillary revenues) to boost their revenues.’

Professor Merkert said this practice happens across the world and passengers need to look at the total cost of the ticket rather than just the seat.

‘In Europe and the U.S. there exist consumer protection regulation around that issue to avoid passengers getting too excited when they get quoted a fare of say $20 when at the checkout it is actually closer to $150 per sector,’ he said. 

Additional baggage fees vary by airlines and routes, with some charging customers a set fee per bag while others impose a price per kilogram. 

Malaysian Airlines was among several major airlines that changed fare structures during the pandemic

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines rolled out its Economy Light fare in March 2021

Etihad's additional baggage fees are calculated at cost per kilogram for most routes except to the US and Canada, which are at a set rate per bag

Other variables include how far in advance baggage is purchased and whether the passenger adds it online or at the airport. 

An aviation industry insider told Daily Mail Australia it costs bigger aircrafts, such as 747s, around 35 cents per kilogram of baggage to account for fuel. 

On the Malaysian Airlines website, the fees for excess baggage vary by destination country and distances travelled, with the rate for Australia listed as $22USD (or $32.50AUD) per kilogram. 

While unbundling was not a new concept at the start of the pandemic, the strategy rapidly evolved during Covid-imposed lockdowns as airline passenger numbers plummeted by 95 per cent. 

In June 2020, Malaysian Airlines launched its new ‘Economy Flexible Fare Family’ featuring three options: lite (cabin baggage up to 7kg and a complementary meal), basic (additional enriched miles upgrade and 20kg checked baggage) and flex (which has several other perks including free travel insurance).

Fiji Airways introduced their new 'Fly Your Way' unbundled economy fares earlier this year

Etihad was next to amend its fare structure – rolling out its aptly-named ‘hand-baggage-only’ ‘deal’ fare to passengers travelling to 14 countries (which had only previously been available to Gold Cooperation Council nations).

November 2020 saw Russia’s S7 Airlines divide its economy class into basic, standard and plus, while KLM Royal Dutch Airlines added economy light to its pre-existing standard and flex fare options in the following March. 

In August 2021, Virgin Australia brought in Economy Choice, Economy Flex and Economy Lite options for domestic and international short-haul and trans-Tasman domestic flights. 

At the time, Virgin Australia said the decision was made after the company ‘looked at its fares, pricing and bookings and found that on average 30% of customers did not use their checked baggage allowance’.  

Meanwhile, in February this year Fiji Airways joined the trend with its new ‘Fly Your Way’ unbundled Economy fares, featuring four options: Lite, Value, Comfort and Plus.

Daily Mail Australia also contacted Malaysian Airlines, Etihad, and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines for comment.  


Most airlines include checked baggage for their most basic economy fares for international flights. 

Here is a list of the international baggage allowance for the lowest cost economy tickets across major airlines for long haul flights (six hours or longer).


British Airways: Economy Basic- no checked bag included, but allowed 1x23kg cabin bag + 1x 23kg handbag

Etihad: Economy Hand Baggage Only (select routes) – 1x7kg cabin bag + 5kg personal item

Fiji Airlines: Economy lite – 1x 7kg cabin bag permitted

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines: Economy light – 12kg hand luggage (1 bag & 1 personal item. One checked in bag included for Europe – Africa flights.

Latam Airlines: Economy Basic – 10kg cabin bag

Malaysian Airlines: Economy lite – 1x 7kg cabin bag permitted

Scandinavian Airlines: SAS Go Light – under bag seat only for flights within Europe, 1x8kg carry on bag for Asia and US flights

S7 Airlines: Economy Basic- 1x10kg hand luggage

Turkish Airlines: Economy Class EcoFly – 1x 8kg carry on bag


Air China:  Economy – 1x 23kg bag (2x 23kg bags for some routes)

Air Canada: Economy – 1x23kg checked bag included 

Air India: Economy- 1x bag (weight allowance is 23kg – 40kg based on route) 

Air New Zealand: Economy – 1x 23kg bag

Air Niugini: Economy Promo – 1x30kg bag

All Nippon Airways (ANA): Economy – 1x23kg bag 

American Airlines: 1x 23kg bag (1x 32kg bag some routes) 

Austrian Airlines: 1x 23kg bag

Cathay Pacific: Economy light – 1x 23kg bag

China Airlines: 1x 23kg bag

Emirates: Economy Special – 1x20kg bag (1x23kg bag for some routes)

Etihad: Economy Sale 1x 20kg bag 

Japan Airlines: 2x 23kg bags 

Korean Air: Economy Class 1x 23kg bag (2x23kg or 2x 32kg bags for some routes)

Lufthansa: Economy Class – 1x 23kg bag 

Philippine Airlines: Economy Supersaver – 1x25kg bag (1x30kg or 2x23kg bags for some routes)

Qantas: Economy Class – 1x 30kg bag (1x 32kg bag for some routes)

Qatar: Economy Lite – 1x20kg bag (1x23kg bag for some routes)

Royal Brunei Airlines: RB Super Saver – 1x20kg checked bag 

Scandinavian Airlines: 1x 23kg bag 

Singapore Airlines: Economy Lite – 1x 25kg bag 

SriLankan Airlines: Economy Lite – 1x 25kg bag 

SWISS: Economy – 1x 23kg bag  

Virgin Australia: Long haul flights are carried out by the airlines’ partners, with 1x23kg bag or up to 1x25kg bag included depending on the route 

Thai Airways: Economy – 1x 23kg to/from USA/Canada or 20-35kg for other routes including Australia, NZ, Europe, Africa and Middle East

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