A woman looking over a bill.

"You get what you pay for" is an age-old adage, but it doesn't exactly ring true anymore. "You pay more than you expected to" is more apt today. With greater consolidation across industries, from banking to airlines to cable providers, we see both the prices we pay and the profits reaped by corporations rise as a result. We're now experiencing an unprecedented number of fees levied on us in unexpected ways. Hidden in the fine print, or disclosed just before—or even after—we make a purchase, these charges can exact an enormous toll.

More on Fees

In 2018 alone, the U.S. airline industry hauled in nearly $4.9 billion in baggage fees, while American banks extracted just over $11.5 billion in overdraft fees from their customers. And that's before you get to the cable companies, rental cars, concert tickets, and everywhere else that our hard-earned dollars get siphoned off.

One of the most insidious things about the rise of the "hidden fee economy" is that it undermines our ability to make smart financial choices. How are we supposed to figure out whether we're getting a fair deal when we're left in the dark about how much a product or service will ultimately cost? How can we comparison shop with fewer and fewer options to choose from?

This month, we're taking a closer look at where hidden fees dwell, offering you ways to spot, avoid, and challenge them across a wide range of purchases. We’re also working to eradicate them with our What the Fee?! campaign to raise consumer voices and to compel lawmakers and companies to embrace honest and transparent pricing. We've heard from thousands of people frustrated by these unexpected expenses and have shared their stories with lawmakers, encouraging them to ban the most egregious practices. If you're fed up with fees, too, I want to invite you to join this campaign by sharing your story at WhatTheFee.com. Together, we can demand action to hold these companies to account.

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the July 2019 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.