The total cost of an airline ticket today comes buried in hidden fees and shady price tricks. Capitalism works best when consumers clearly understand a product, its cost, and its competitor’s cost – apples to apples. However, many airline and travel websites today use smoke and mirrors to hide the bottom-line ticket price by not clearly explaining terms and fees until late in the booking process. Even the upfront websites feel pressure to change when they watch the shady sites grab more business.
Two main problems:
• Cost of a ticket. Question: If the Internet puts information at our fingertips and computers can crunch reams of data in a microsecond, why can’t we type “lowest airfare Chicago to Orlando” into Google and immediately see it? Answer: Because confusion helps online travel websites make more money – clarity does not.
By law, airlines and travel suppliers must list the total cost of an airline ticket before purchase – the base price plus all taxes and fees. However, that total cost doesn’t always appear on the first page of a website. Many times, the advertised price is for the base fare only; below it, in teeny tiny print, the words “plus taxes and fees” appears. Four pages into booking the ticket, you discover the real cost – and most of that time, that real cost matches the price a competing website advertised on its first page. (And right – you didn’t choose the honest website because it appeared to be more expensive.)
• Cost of “upgrades.” The word “upgrades” is in quotes because it can include very basic services, such as a seat assignment when you book the ticket. It includes TVs and phones and food and … well, almost everything except a cheap seat. At least one foreign airline was considering a lavatory fee. And in most U.S. carriers, it includes a luggage fee that, for at least the first bag, is … what’s the word … well, stupid.
Want to get involved? A group is fighting for legislation to level the playing field and make travel websites easier to understand. For more info, go to http://www.faretransparency.org/. According to the site, the group is asking “Congress to require airlines to provide clear, easy-to-find information about their fees everywhere they sell airfare – whether through their own websites or through travel websites or agents.”
It seems like a simple request.