Skip to main content

Opinion: Truth in airfare advertising is the best policy

By Charlie Leocha, Special to CNN
January 25, 2012 -- Updated 2106 GMT (0506 HKT)
Consumers may think they're seeing airfare increases, but they'll just be seeing honesty, Charlie Leocha says.
Consumers may think they're seeing airfare increases, but they'll just be seeing honesty, Charlie Leocha says.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Consumer advocate says airlines should do more to disclose fees
  • He says new pricing rules are a step forward for air travelers
  • Passengers will receive specific baggage fee information on itineraries

Editor's note: Charlie Leocha is director of the Consumer Travel Alliance, an organization that worked with congressional staff and regulators crafting new consumer-friendly rules. The alliance is still working to encourage airlines to disclose baggage fees and reservation fees up front.

(CNN) -- We've all seen that "great deal" airline ad, only to discover that with surcharges, taxes and fees, the great deal is not so great. Starting Thursday, when airline consumers see an advertised price of $500, that will be the price they pay. (Of course, there will still be some additional irritating "optional" fees like baggage charges, seat reservations, etc.)

Here is a synopsis of new rules going into effect this week affecting airfares and airline fees:

Full-fare advertising

Starting Thursday, all advertised airline prices will have to be the full cost of travel. Airlines are squirming, claiming that their business will suffer if they are required to advertise the full cost of travel and suggesting that consumers will be scared away when they see a jump in prices when this rule comes into effect. Consumers may see what seems to be an increase in prices, but only transparency and honesty will be to blame.

Commentary: New rules make airfares seem higher

Many airlines and some analysts have argued that making airlines play by a different set of rules than other industries is, well, un-American. However, the Department of Transportation has found itself all but forced to act because of the astounding discrepancies in the advertised price and the real price of airline travel.

On some domestic routes, the difference will be minimal. On international routes, the price increases may seem astronomical.

On Monday, the price on Orbitz for a flight from Boston to London Heathrow, departing on April 17 and returning on April 24, was advertised for $130, round-trip! After airlines, airports and governments add $622 in taxes and fees, the total cost is $752.

Is it honest to advertise a flight from Boston to London for $130, when the lowest cost to travel would be $752? I think everyone would agree that it is not.

Unfortunately, this rule applies only to mandatory per-passenger taxes and fees, not the slew of "optional fees." Those fees, especially baggage charges and seat reservation charges, can add more than $100 to the cost but are still concealed from airline shoppers unless they do some digging.

The airlines are not making comparison shopping easy when it comes to examining the full cost of travel across airlines, including optional fees. And, yes, consumer groups are encouraging the Department of Transportation to mandate that airlines disclose, at least, specific baggage and reservation fee information before consumers have to press the "buy" button.

Exact baggage charges

Passenger-specific baggage fees are now required on flight itineraries. Airlines must tell passengers exactly what the baggage fee will be based on their frequent flier status, class of service and the credit card with which they purchased the airfare, and they must take into account whether the passenger is traveling with others, on the same ticket record, who have benefits or dispensation that they can share.

Though airlines still refuse to disclose baggage fees that can be compared across airlines during the buying process, this measure will allow passengers to know what they will have to pay, rather than find themselves surprised at the airport.

Baggage fees across code-share and alliance flights

The marketing carrier must provide passengers a common baggage charge that will apply throughout their trip when travel involves code-share and alliance partners. For instance, a ticket purchased on Delta Air Lines may not involve any flights on Delta, but Delta baggage rules will apply. If the first flight with a Delta flight number is on an Air France plane to Paris, the second is on Alitalia from Paris to Rome, and the return flight from Rome via Amsterdam to the U.S. is on KLM, the Delta baggage rules will apply.

As confusing as domestic baggage fees have become, international baggage fees on a Delta-flight-number ticket used to be indecipherable. Now, consumers may get baggage fees that are comprehensible.

Besides the new pricing rules that come into effect this week, airlines must allow a 24-hour grace period to change airline tickets or cancel them after purchase. They will be forbidden from increasing prices after airfare purchase. And airlines will be required to inform passengers of delays of 30 minutes or more, and cancellations and diversions within 30 minutes of the carrier becoming aware of the change.

Finally, airline consumers are getting some respect.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Charlie Leocha.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT