Why do you pay fees?

During a discussion on Morning Edition, Cathy Wurzer asked me whether people will rebel against fees like the one that Spirit Airlines is threatening to charge for carry-on luggage. “No,” I said. “Consumers are reluctant to use the power they have.” Indeed, we make decisions every day on whether fees are worth paying for the service provided, while convincing ourselves that we have no choice.

Want to buy a Twins ticket online? It’ll cost you extra to print it on your computer, using your ink and your paper, while saving the Twins the cost of postage and the cost of an envelope and the cost of printing a ticket because it’s a convenience that Major League Baseball has decided you’ll pay rather than picking up the tickets at “will call” or driving to a Twins outlet to buy the ticket.

It’s that way with the current baggage fees, too. Airlines charge them because you pay them, especially if you’re flying on business and you’re not the one paying.

Renewing your license plate tabs in Minnesota online? Tack on an extra $1.75 “technology fee.”

Fees also accomplish another less-publicized function. They prevent you from comparison shopping. Southwest and Delta, for example, might have roughly the same published fare to Chicago, but Delta costs much more because of the fees that Southwest doesn’t charge. The price for a cellphone plan in the morning newspaper advertisement isn’t the real price because cellphone companies add “regulatory fees.” They’re not, as many consumers expect, required fees by the government. Cellphone companies make them up and put them on a bill for no other reason than it’s a way to increase the cost of their monthly plans without putting it in their advertised price.

But back to Ms. Wurzer’s question. When’s the last time you decided to go without something because of a “fee”?