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As recently as 20 years ago, the telephone was the preferred method for booking airline travel, as it was more convenient than the only feasible alternative: buying in person at the ticket counter. With the advent of the internet, however, it’s safe to say that phone sales have taken a backseat to online sales. In fact, the majority of airlines now charge a fee to customers who buy their tickets over the phone.

Travelers might reasonably ask why this is so. After all, plane travel is expensive enough as it is, without tacking on a lot of extras, and booking by phone isn’t going to guarantee more legroom or earn the caller an extra bag of peanuts. So why the fees?

First of all, it is expensive for an airline to employ people to answer phones and assist customers with booking tickets. Employees must be hired, trained and of course paid, including benefits. It is much less expensive for an airline if the transaction is completed online, which requires no employee engagement. Also, when booking by phone, there’s a far greater risk of error. The booking agent might misspell the names of the travelers, or the person calling could mumble their words, creating confusion. This results in more time spent trying to resolve the errors, when the airline could be working instead toward earning more business.

Of course, to avoid the fee, you may wish to book online. Also, for certain airlines, purchasing directly from the ticket counter remains the least expensive way to book a flight, and the reasoning behind this is simple: The airline waives the passenger usage charges when the flight is booked directly, in order to save money on the federal excise tax. This option isn’t popular in this day and age, as most people prefer to book in advance for planning purposes, which is another reason the airlines are able to offer such a deal.

Sometimes you have to book your tickets by phone. There are a number of credit cards that offer deep discounts and perks to cardholders. The catch is that these discounts often aren’t available online; they can only be redeemed when the flight is booked over the phone, so you may not be able to avoid making a call. The airlines are able to recoup some of their losses by charging customers the extra telephone booking fee. While it may sound counter-intuitive to spend extra money to get a discount, the fee is often significantly less than the savings represented by the cardholder discount. Therefore, it’s a win on all sides.

In short, the phone booking fee represents another opportunity for the airlines to provide their customers with the best possible experience. While it’s true that they’re also looking out for their bottom line, it’s important to remember that if the company fails to make a profit, it will only result in more cut corners and a possibly pricier flight the next time around. As travel expenses can add up, it is always smart to purchase travel insurance in case unexpected issues arise with your trip.

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