Benzylpyridinium ions, generated via electrospray ionization of dilute solutions of their salts in acetonitrile/water, are probed by collisional activation in an ion-trap mass spectrometer. From the breakdown diagrams obtained, phenomenological appearance energies of the fragment ions are derived. Comparison of the appearance energies with calculated reaction endothermicities shows a reasonably good correlation for this particular class of compounds. In addition, the data indirectly indicate that at threshold the dissociation of almost all of the benzylpyridinium ions under study leads to the corresponding benzylium ions, rather than the tropylium isomers. Substituent effects on the fragmentation for a series of benzylpyridinium ions demonstrate that neither mass effects nor differences in density of states seriously affect the energetics derived from the ion-trap experiments. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.