According to preliminary data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, for the third consecutive year Delta Air Lines beat out all other U.S. airlines in checked baggage and reservation change fees. Out of a total of more that $6 billion in fees collected by all reporting U.S. airlines, Delta took home more than $1.6 billion.

Delta’s share of fees is in line with its share of U.S. traffic; it carried more passengers than any other U.S. airline in 2012. But the second most-used airline, Southwest, is much further down the list in slots seven (baggage fees) and six (change fees). United, American, and US Airways round out the top four.

The real go-getter on the list is Spirit which, despite not being among the top 10 in passenger numbers among  U.S. airlines, Spirit manages to rank as number five in baggage fees and number eight in change fees.

Unless another airline comes up with a clever new fee in 2013 — we’re looking at you Spirit — Delta will likely retain the top spot in 2013, before likely being unseated in 2014 by the new American Airlines once its merger with US Airways is completed.

Overall, baggage fees rose just 3.5% in 2012 over 2011 numbers and change fees rose 7.5%.

Total revenue for all passenger airlines for the full year 2012 was $159.5 billion. All U.S. passenger airlines collected a total in 2012 of $3.5 billion in baggage fees and $2.6 billion from reservation change fees. The additional fees kept airlines from reporting a loss for last year, according to the BTS, “For the full year 2012, the 10 largest airlines reported net income of $201 million, up from $0.5 million loss in 2011.”

Baggage fees in 2012

Dollars in thousands (000)

Airline1Q2Q3Q4Q2012
Delta198,352231,351233,123203,053865,879
United156,761194,587187,282166,917705,547
American139,239149,194138,260130,692557,385
US Airways124,333136,230129,364126,279516,206
Spirit38,02344,03643,48342,687168,229
Alaska33,16538,45244,08635,772151,475
Southwest*7,71650,52346,06640,170144,475
Allegiant16,06920,75125,75826,97889,556
JetBlue17,20317,13218,93817,51570,788
Frontier17,20117,90818,77016,29470,173
Hawaiian16,11416,51318,13717,06567,829
Virgin America12,91314,80916,21413,47457,410
Sun Country4,1833,4223,6263,24214,473
AirTran*4,1830004,183
Mesa3109411,0621,0133,326

Change fees in 2012

Dollars in thousands (000)

Airline1Q2Q3Q4Q2012
Delta192,282201,025200,417184,674778,398
United160,170174,977171,873153,923660,943
American127,336133,647129,214127,511517,708
US Airways74,47476,50376,21570,501297,693
JetBlue34,64133,40432,83532,891133,771
Southwest*011,43910,98310,04832,470
Virgin America6,3457,0788,4978,72430,644
Spirit6,8156,8486,7797,32127,763
Alaska7,4816,1714,8774,68123,210
Hawaiian4,6444,3504,7504,54118,285
Frontier4,0813,4473,4483,24114,217
AirTran*10,40000010,400
Allegiant1,8701,9081,6981,9527,428
Sun Country4234174474131,700
USA30002800028
Source: Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Schedule.
Note: The merged Southwest and AirTran began reporting jointly in 2Q 2012. Previous numbers, including 1Q 2012, were reported separately.
Photo Credit: A worker loads supplies onto a Delta plane a day before the annual Thanksgiving Day holiday at the Salt Lake City international airport in Salt Lake City. George Frey / Reuters