Clear, Accurate Pricing? Europeans Vote 'Yes'

Think airline ticket prices are confusing? Purposefully misleading, perhaps?

The Europeans think so, and they're not going to take it any longer.

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Yesterday, the European Parliament passed a law requiring airlines to display all-inclusive prices, up front, in their advertisements and on their websites. According to the Parliament: "Air travellers will soon be able to see at a glance exactly what they have to pay for their tickets ... Airfares as displayed will have to include all taxes, fees and charges added to the basic ticket price and known at the time of publication."

In a clear indication of just how pressing the issue is considered, and how undivided the prevailing sentiment is on the matter, there was not a single dissenting vote among the body's 785 members.

According to Associated Press coverage of the story, the bill was partly in response to a May study commissioned by the European Union, which found that "a third of people who shop for flights online are being cheated by misleading ads and price schemes."

While no individual airlines or airline categories are singled out for blame, the legislation is clearly aimed squarely at discounters such as Ryanair, which has been widely criticized for advertising ultra-low fares without disclosing the extra fees assessed at virtually every point in the travel process.

But as traditional airlines have adopted Ryanair's a-la-carte pricing model, the relationship between the advertised price and what consumers actually pay has been increasingly obscured. The lack of clear and honest ticket pricing is an industry-wide problem.

There is one airline which will be unaffected by the new rules. As discussed here, Singapore Airlines earlier this year took it upon itself to unilaterally commit to pricing transparency. In so doing, they proved that it is possible for airlines to provide consumers with all-inclusive prices. (Airlines historically have cited the administrative burden of tracking, collecting, and computing the manifold fees as an insuperable hurdle to all-in pricing.)

The European Parliament has taken the next step, insisting that nothing less than full pricing transparency is acceptable in their region, and showing the rest of the world how to achieve it.

U.S. consumers can only hope that Congress is paying attention. Because until a similar bill is passed here, there will be no easy answer to what should be a simple question: "How much does that ticket cost?" Unless you're flying on Singapore Airlines, that is.

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