Consumer Group: Airlines Hide Fees from Customers

The frustration of booking fares these days is no secret, what with all the ancillary charges airlines add on to your final price. But new analysis from the Consumer Travel Alliance (CTA) manages to quantify exactly how frustrating the process can be.

CTA found that U.S. airlines are not disclosing the majority of their ancillary fees on their websites, and instead reveal specific fees as customers move through the booking process. At most, airline websites say the airline charges for something (extra legroom, for example), but do not provide a detailed accounting of how much is charged. Those amounts are only made known as the customer books.

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The lone exception is bag fees, which, in some cases, are displayed on a page accessible from the homepage.

Fortunately, fare and fee transparency is central to the Department of Transportation's (DOT) ongoing overhaul of consumer protections rules. The agency proposed several solutions, such as requiring airlines to create a single page listing all ancillary fees and link to this page from a prominent location on the homepage.

CTA found that not one of the airlines it analyzed had a single page or chart that listed all fees.

Those DOT proposals have moved past the public comment phase, but CTA is still collecting signatures from consumers wishing to voice their displeasure over fees. The petition does not call for the abolishing of fees, and in fact CTA acknowledges that "the business model has changed" and fees are here to stay whether we like them or not. Instead, the petition is a plea for full fee transparency. CTA will submit the document to the DOT this Thursday, September 23.

As the keeper of our Ultimate Guide to Airline Fees, I'm glad someone else is helping push for full fee transparency. Updating our chart requires vigilant tracking of new and altered fees, since airlines rarely publicize either, as well as a willingness to call airlines multiple times in the hopes of getting concrete information about fees only vaguely explained on airline websites. Maintaining our chart requires far more effort than any consumer can reasonably commit. And that's exactly how the airlines like it.

Readers, do you think we'll ever see the day airlines disclose all their fees up front?

Read comments or add your own insight!
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