I’ve been researching airfares for a trip I’m taking in September with some friends and trying to find both a fare that won’t cost me a month’s rent and an itinerary that won’t take longer than driving (to Central America). Regarding itinerary, it looks like unavoidable cruelty on the departing NYC end–I can’t find anything for less than $1,000 that will give me a departure time later than 6 a.m. So it looks like I’ll be pulling an all-nighter before the trip, which I suppose isn’t the end of the world.

What gets me is the capricious pricing. For one flight, Delta gives me a fare of $600, plus $82 in “taxes and fees.” For another Delta flight, with the same departing flights but different returning flights that include an unacceptable 13-hour layover in Atlanta, the base fare is the same, but T&F rise slightly to $86. Four more dollars for the privilege of hanging out for 13 extra hours in a shopping mall with jets in the parking lot? But the kicker is American Airlines, which is currently on every traveler’s shit list for their extortionist bag fees: Wow, I thought, AA has the same itinerary for only $318! What a bargain! Then I looked at their taxes and fees: $372. Yes, T&F is actually more than the fare itself, and the grand total is more than what Delta is offering. Throw in a 15-hour layover with them, and T&F rises to $387. Is there a more seasoned traveler or industry insider who can explain this discrepancy to me?