There have been numerous recent media reports and blogs focusing on the growing consumer frustration over unpleasant surprises related to hidden airline fees. Not knowing the cost of and being able to secure essential travel services when you buy your plane ticket is wrong. Consumers deserve transparency.
True transparency requires that when shopping for flights, whether through an online travel site or through a travel agent, consumers should be assured of some basic rights. For instance, the ability to compare the full cost of those flights, including the base fare and the extra fees for essential services like checked bags, paid seat assignments and priority boarding; and, the ability to buy those essential services at the same time and place the ticket is purchased.
Unfortunately, it is not the way things always work these days.
Today, consumers and travel agents can comparison shop the base fares of almost every airline in the world with the click of a mouse.
But, if you want to see the full cost of travel including essential services – many airlines will only show those extra fees if you go to their website – or worse still, will only disclose them at time of check-in or at the airport.
As a result, consumers face risks such as:
- Paying more because either 1) the price of the ancillary service increased between the time the traveler bought the base ticket and then went to the airline site to secure that service; or 2) the price of the ancillary service is inflated because ancillaries are shielded from the competitive price discipline of comparison shopping.
- Making an ill-informed purchase decision when buying a ticket for a specific flight based on information showing availability and pricing for specific seats or other essential services, but then finding the seat or service is no longer available, or the price has increased, when attempting to secure the service through the airline site.
- Being subjected to significant inconvenience and hassle by having to visit multiple websites or make multiple phone calls to buy both a ticket and essential ancillary services – and then facing that same level of hassle if there is a need to make a change to the reservation.
- Being burdened by the significant costs driven into the entire system by breaking apart the buying process: 1) travel agents face inefficiencies from the added time it takes to service their customers – ultimately resulting in higher service fees, and 2) consumers incur the costs of lost productivity from the cumbersome, fragmented booking process.
It doesn’t need to be this way.
As airlines seek new ways to grow revenue, it makes sense that some would seek to charge travelers extra for things they value like the best seats on the plane. Customization is a big part of the modern consumer experience. If you’ve ever shopped for a car, you know that the base sticker price changes a lot when you start adding the sunroof, power steering and leather seats.
But the thing is, when it comes to those other consumer products, the full set of additional features and fees is revealed to you before you purchase the basic item, not after. So when you make the purchase decision, you know the full cost of what you’re buying, you know whether or not you will actually be able to acquire the product with the desired features, and you can buy the complete product all at once.
Why can’t travel be the same way? The answer is it can.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is considering new consumer protection rules regarding ancillary fees that could impact the way travelers compare and buy travel.
While it’s too early to know what these rules will include, Sabre, other travel industry members and consumer advocates are asking policymakers to make it easier for consumers to compare the total cost of travel wherever airlines sell their flights – and to ensure consumers are able to buy the services that are essential to their travel, like baggage, paid boarding and seats wherever airlines choose to sell their flights.
What can you do?
We invite you to stay informed on this and other important issues by signing up for our Let the Market Fly newsletter.
And, you can make your voice heard when the DOT opens its public comment period, expected later this year. In addition to supporting this regulatory effort, you can weigh in now directly with airlines. You can let airlines know how you want to buy their product, and that both seeing and being able to book essential ancillaries – like baggage, paid seats and boarding – at the same time the ticket is purchased is critical to travelers and those who serve them.