Low-fare lies


We’ve all seen the tables of “lowest air fares” in the Sunday papers. I remember using them regularly. But I’ve never really examined them for accuracy. I always assumed they were a true listing of low fares.

Not so. They’re often flat out wrong.

In fact, the charts I just examined in the Boston Globe (and many other newspapers) are often wrong and misleading.

Just after Independence Air began flying to Boston from Washington, I took a look at the “lowest round-trip air fares chart” in the Boston Globe. Strangely, Independence Air wasn’t mentioned at all. And jetBlue wasn’t mentioned anywhere as having the lowest air fares.

Then I noticed flights from Manchester, N.H., and flights from Providence, R.I., and noted that no Southwest flights were listed.

How can a Lowest Air Fare Chart not even mention these three airlines? Independent Air, jetBlue and Southwest are the epitome of low cost airlines and in most cases lead the low fare fray. Without them, we would still be paying $800+ for a walk-up fare to Philadelphia and thousands of dollars for transcontinental flights.

Upon closer examination, I noticed that the fine print at the bottom of the Lowest Round-trip Air Fares Chart said, “Air fare information is supplied by Orbitz on the internet at www.orbitz.com.”

Ah ha!

Orbitz doesn’t list Independence Air, jetBlue or Southwest. Hence the chart in the paper is a product of journalistic laziness. Heaven forbid, that a newspaper journalist research flight costs between various points by checking out more than one Web site.

They should check out flyi.com, jetblue.com and southwest.com at the very least. And for any sense of the real “lowest air fare” they should surf to expedia.com and travelocity.com. Any traveler who has used the Web knows that the lowest fair shifts between these sites regularly.

The Boston Globe “Lowest Round-trip Air Fare” chart includes details such as noting that these air fares “qualify for 21-day advance purchase, midweek travel, and Saturday-night stay.” These qualifiers are an anachronism.

Real low-costs airlines don’t subject the public to those restrictions-air fares are based on availability and don’t require the Saturday-night stay. The chart then mentions the $5 service fee, which incidentally, has been raised by Orbitz and now ranges from $6 to $11.

Errors just in the introduction.

The Boston Globe on June 27, 2004, pronounced that Continental had the lowest air fare from Providence to Baltimore for $138. Wrong. Southwest offered the same route for $117. It listed the lowest air fare between Boston and Ft. Lauderdale as $141 on American and Delta. Wrong again. Jetblue flies the same route for $135.20.

The list goes on-Boston to Los Angeles was wrong; Boston to Tampa was wrong. Boston to Orlando was wrong, Boston to Dulles was wrong. And more …

Major newspapers are simply publishing misinformation. Either they are just plain lazy and unprofessional, taking what seems to be the easy way out, or the print media is being deceitful.

Rather than helping consumers, they are confusing and misleading them. Newspapers such as the Boston Globe are engaging in journalistic irresponsibility.

Their actions are simply disgraceful.

Perhaps the Boston Globe chart is an Orbitz ad. In that case, it should be marked and I want the $6 fee I was charged on my last Orbitz reservation reduced to $5.

Perhaps another paper, whose “Lowest Air Fares for Popular Routes” chart is sourced from Travelocity, needs to include more of a disclaimer. They certainly need to do more research to make any claim of Lowest Air Fares.

The travel reporters should do some minimal homework and research so that they can present their readers accurate, clear and trustworthy information.

By the way, I sent an e-mail to the Boston Globe editor last week requesting a comment. I received no response.