The next step is a DOT ruling that will mandate that airlines release all fees and surcharges so that consumers can compare the full cost of airline travel across airlines everywhere airlines choose to sell their tickets.
Basically, the Consumer Travel Alliance (CTA) has called on airlines who now must by regulations reveal all “mandatory taxes, surcharges and fees,” to begin disclosing other “optional fees” so that consumers can compare, apples-to-apples, the full cost of transportation across airlines.
An NPRM is soon to be released by DOT that will propose just such a regulation. At the same time, IATA, the International Air Transport Association, is proposing a new distribution capability (NDC) that will effectively gut the ability of consumers to comparison shop for airline tickets and create a world of personalized pricing based on loyalty and other characteristics, such as marital status.
The airlines envision a world where there are no fixed everyman tariffs on air travel. They are dreaming of a world where prices will only be served up after passengers reveal personal data that will allow airlines to serve a customized price to their customers and, perhaps, offer additional packages designed to fit each passenger’s personal travel profile.
In their proposal to DOT, IATA admitted that the airlines are not providing consumers adequate information to “make an informed choice.”
Now, more than ever, consumers need protection from the airlines’ marketing dreams. Discounts here and there are fine, but when significant portions of the cost of transportation are withheld by the airlines during the ticketing process and the ability to comparison shop is thwarted, DOT should act.
Today, the “airfare” between Washington and Manchester, NH, for example, might be $160 while baggage fees and seat reservations may add $160 to the final price. In the real world, a 100 percent increase in the cost of travel because of ancillary fees seems significant. Those kinds of fees should be able to be included in comparison-shopping engines.
The airlines claim that their new marketing plans are being hindered by “old” technology. That may be partially true. But, the real roadblock to technological development is the withholding of data. Without transparent and dynamic ancillary fee data, new technology cannot be developed even by state-of-the-art organizations such as Google (no technological slouch).
This next NPRM will propose that airlines disclose their “optional fees.” Consumers won the first round with “mandatory taxes, surcharges and fees” now mandated to be included in advertised prices. Step two will be fulfilled when airlines begin releasing all their pricing data in a dynamic fashion.
The next six months will tell the story. CTA believes that this new rulemaking will set the stage for less deceptive and misleading air travel prices. It is always nice to be able to comparison shop and to know that advertised prices reflect the full cost travel.
Photo: by Mark Fischer Flickr Creative Commons