Last week, I started receiving emails from readers concerned that Travelocity's Flexible Date Search tool was no longer working for international airfare searches. This concerned me, too, as I (and several of the other editors here at SmarterTravel.com) view it as the most useful flexible-search tool around.
Turns out the story is much bigger than Travelocity simply deciding to turn off its search tool, though. The following comes directly from Travelocity representatives, and paints a clearer picture of just how this unfolded:
- Earlier this year, the Department of Transportation (DOT) contacted Travelocity with questions about whether the Flexible Date Search tool for international flights met its full fare disclosure rules. The DOT has confirmed to Travelocity that they have not received any customer complaints regarding the tool.
- A number of international carriers have begun filing airline fuel surcharges differently than before. Unfortunately, the manner in which these carriers are filing means that the tool cannot calculate those charges in a manner that the DOT feels complies with its regulations.
- The tool has always been designed so consumers are fully informed of the price of the ticket (with all surcharges) before they make a purchase decision.
- Travelocity has worked with the DOT on a number of proposed solutions but, unfortunately, we have been unable to agree on one. Consequently, based on discussions with the DOT, Travelocity felt the only option left was to disable the Flexible Date Search tool for international flights effective July 16, 2006.
- Travelocity is very disappointed in this outcome and felt that this tool provided consumers with a unique and powerful way to root out low prices for international flights so long as they were flexible as to the dates of travel. The tool has been very popular and helped people save tens of millions in international air fares throughout the past year.
- The Flexible Dates Tool is still active for domestic flights as surcharges for those flights can be displayed in a manner acceptable to the DOT.
OK, back to my words again: So here we have an extremely useful tool that has helped consumers save money, and it has essentially been shut down because of a meddlesome government agency? This despite the fact that there have been no complaints? In what way does this make any sense?
Far from helping consumers, this hurts us all by removing the one comprehensive tool that actually allows travelers to search for international flights based on a range of dates rather than specific departure and return dates. It's ironic, really, but hardly surprising: The DOT is the same government agency that earlier this year proposed airfare advertising changes that would render consumers helpless in a jungle of different advertising schemes.
Good thing the DOT is here to "protect" us consumers. Now we'll all have to pay the price.