Three major travel-industry organizations begin a campaign on Tuesday to compel the airlines to disclose all fees not included in the ticket price at the same time as the actual fare — and before the ticket is issued. But will such a campaign succeed?
The groups — the Business Travel Coalition (BTC), the American Society of Travel Agents and the Consumer Travel Alliance — want consumers to sign a petition to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The text urges him “to require airlines to fully disclose their fees, whether airfares are purchased on an airline’s website or through an online or brick-and-mortar travel agency.”
“It is imperative that we, as consumers, have the ability to comparison-shop and know the full cost of a trip before committing to a purchase,” BTC Chairman Kevin Mitchell said in an e-mail message on Monday. The “airline hidden fees can surprise us at the airport, ruining our holidays, or vanquishing our business travel budgets. For example, check baggage fees can add 30%, 40% or more to the price of a ticket.”
The campaign is in support of the Department of Transportation’s Notice of Proposed Rule Making, regarding airline-passenger protections, Mitchell said.
What’s the likelihood that this initiative will be more successful than previous attempts to extract similar disclosures from the airlines? How long has the battle over false airfare advertising been going on? To this day, you see examples like this one on most U.S. airline websites: $199 each way, based on a required round-trip purchase, plus taxes and surcharges.
If a round trip is mandatory, why on earth are they quoting half of the price? It’s actually less than half, given the extra taxes. As I’ve written before, such deception is not tolerated in Europe and most other parts of the world.
If you can’t get the airlines to be open and honest about their fares, how are you supposed to force them to disclose additional fees? While everyone has to pay for the fare, many passengers are exempt from luggage, standby and other fees — an argument the airlines will no doubt use against the new campaign.
Getting those fees waived is easier than most travelers think. As I wrote in July, all you need is the lowest level of elite status on any member of one of the three global airline alliances — Oneworld, SkyTeam or the Star Alliance — to have your bags fly for free alliance-wide. And sometimes, it takes as little as 3,000 miles to achieve that.
As often happens, my advice has to do with travel education. Air travel has become a maze of rules, fees and restrictions that’s hard to keep up with. So travelers need to invest time to learn the system and find ways to work around it. My experience so far with “On the Fly” Seminars shows that most people don’t think they need to get educated. How many more fees and other frustrations will it take to change their mind?
- Nicholas Kralev is an author and expert on diplomacy, world affairs and global travel. He hosts the weekly TV program "Conversations with Nicholas Kralev." A former Financial Times and Washington Times correspondent, he has traveled around the world with four U.S. secretaries of state — Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright. He has flown over 2 million miles and visited more than 90 countries.
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