Q&A: What You Need to Know About New Airfare Advertising Rules

This week, a series of new passenger protection rules put forth by the Department of Transportation (DOT) will take effect. The most visible of these rules, a law that requires airlines to include mandatory government taxes and fees in advertised fares, will officially kick in on Thursday, January 26. (Other rules pertaining to baggage fees and ticket cancellation policies started Tuesday, January 24.) But we've already seen quite a few airlines and booking sites begin to display prices for plane tickets and flight-inclusive vacation packages that incorporate airfare taxes and fees.

What should flyers expect when booking plane tickets this week and hereafter? Here's what you need to know about the new rules and how they're shaking up the travel industry:

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What Will Change on SmarterTravel?

Going forward, we'll be reporting the fares they way they're presented on the airline and travel booking sites—with the mandatory government taxes and fees built in. Of course, the prices in our airfare deals will appear more costly, but they'll reflect the new fee-inclusive advertised fares displayed on booking websites. Fortunately, you'll have to do less work to figure out the true price of your plane ticket.

Will the New Full-Fare Advertising Rules Apply to Vacation Packages?

Yes—that is, if the packages cover airfare. Travel providers (including both online and brick-and-mortar travel agents) will have to include mandatory flight taxes and fees in package costs as long as the trips include flights. Two popular vacation booking sites have already publicly addressed this issue: Apple Vacations and Go-today announced price modifications on their websites. According to Apple Vacations, "Effective January 26, 2012, all Apple Vacations' advertised pricing will change. The price you see in our advertisements will be the complete cost of the vacation including all taxes and fees associated to the airfare."

How Will Travel Booking Sites and Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) Be Affected?

Just like the airlines, travel booking sites (like Intrepid Travel and Monograms) and OTAs (like Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity), have to include mandatory flight taxes and fees when advertising airfares.

How Will Fare Aggregators Be Affected?

Fare aggregators such as Kayak and our sister site TripAdvisor Flights already include taxes and fees in their listings. A spokesperson from Kayak told us, "The new ruling has not changed how we display fares. Before the DOT full-fare advertising rule, Kayak had already been displaying fares with full taxes and fees included." So basically, there's nothing new here. 

Will All the Airlines Roll Out Fee-Inclusive Fares Right Away?

Yes. Even Spirit Airlines—the carrier notorious for its excessive fees—now displays fee-inclusive airfares on its site. (But Spirit's not exactly quietly complying with the changes.)

What Will the New Fares Look Like?

Now that taxes and fees are included in advertised fares, ticket costs will appear higher than what we're used to. Here's a sample of some recent pricing changes we spotted on JetBlue and American:

  • Before the rules went into effect, JetBlue advertised a fare from New York City to Hamilton, Bermuda, for $99 each way. The same fare is currently displayed as $299 round-trip, including taxes and fees. (JetBlue breaks down the total price as $198 for the fare and $101 for additional taxes and fees.)
  • A Boston-to-London flight was for sale via American Airlines for $500 round-trip before the new rule. That flight is now listed as $699 round-trip, including taxes and fees.

What Other Rules Will Go Into Effect This Week?

The DOT's new full-fare advertising rules are part of a larger of group of airline passenger protection regulations that kick in this week. The following rules went into effect on Tuesday, January 24:

  • Passengers will have the option to change or cancel a reservation within 24 hours of initial booking (as long as the ticket purchase is made at least a week in advance of departure).
  • Airlines can no longer increase the price of a ticket after it's been sold.
  • The airlines will have to inform passengers if a flight will be more than 30 minutes late.
  • Airlines will be more upfront about baggage fees. Costs for baggage must be displayed on the "first screen containing a fare quotation for a specific itinerary," says the DOT. Baggage fee amounts must also be displayed on electronic ticket confirmations.

What do you think about the new rules for flyers? Do you have any questions about the DOT's regulations? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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