With a barrage of new airline fees coming at us this summer, it was just a matter of time before visitor-starved sites introduced their comprehensive, look-nowhere-else guides to surcharges. But if these references aren’t deeply flawed yet, they soon will be.
I’ll get to the reasons in a second. But first, let’s have a look at what’s out there.
Smart Money took a whack at a somewhat exhaustive airline fee list in a blog post a few months ago. But it was so vague — it offered fee ranges and listed few specifics — that it was of little use, except to maybe make people aware that fees were on the rise. As a public service, it should either revise the post or delete it.
Numbercruncher and standup comedian Rick Seaney was one of the first to introduce a more detailed fee guide. (I’m just kidding about the comedian part.) In May, he published a two-part chart, available online or as a PDF download, that described every relevant fee and surcharge at the time. It was a good effort, and a lot of influential blogs took note of it, including my good friends over at Upgrade: Travel Better.
Expedia-owned SmarterTravel.com, Airfarewatchdog.com, and SeatGuru.com recently teamed up to bring you what they modestly call the Ultimate Guide to Airline Fees, billed as a “one-stop reference chart for every major fee from every major domestic airline.” It’s a good list but it’s only available as a PDF, which can be a hassle to download. What’s more, it strikes me as a shameless “me-too” to Seaney’s list.
So what’s the problem?
Well, these lists are obsolete almost the moment they’re published.
Have a look at the introduction to Seaney’s chart, which declares that “airline fees are a fact of life (hastened by $130/barrel oil).”
Um, actually, oil is closer to $140 a barrel.
The point is — and I think the folks compiling these charts would be the first to agree — that the situation is changing so quickly, it’s almost impossible to accurately keep track of everything. These resources are, at best, a snapshot of the surcharges at a given time.
The answer isn’t more charts or better charts. Airlines must be compelled by federal law to include all of these fees in the price of their tickets. Otherwise, air travelers will be misled by these soon-to-be obsolete resources.