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Say Goodbye to Bag Fee Transparency: DOT Nixes Pricing Rule Proposal

SmarterTravel

Fees are now more or less an expected part of booking airline travel, especially bag fees. But as the practice grew over the past eight or nine years, consumer advocates have fought for, if nothing else, maximum transparency around what those fees are so that consumers can make informed buying decisions. Until now.

The Trump administration’s Department of Transportation announced it will cancel a proposed rule that aimed to require airlines to display their bag fees to customers throughout the entire booking process.

The rule forced airlines and ticket sellers to display the total ticket cost up front, rather than add in those fees late in the process. Airlines and ticket sellers can do this if they choose, and hopefully many still will. But eliminating this rule gives airlines total leeway on what fares they display, and allows them to entice consumers with a fare that is much lower than the final booking price. In some cases, customers may be several steps into the booking process before they know what they’re paying.

The administration said the bag fees disclosure rules would have a “limited public benefit.” But to consumers, this could be a mess. Airfares are becoming increasingly arcane, with multiple classes of economy tickets, widely varied fee structures, and a wide range of booking and comparison options. Eliminating the ability to compare total pricing up-front not only creates a ton of extra legwork, but increases the likelihood of missing out on the lowest fare or the best value. Which, of course, is the point.

Is it possible to compare total prices up front? Of course. Airlines are still required to display their full menu of fees from a link on the homepage. That’s of course not as ideal as having those bag fees baked in to the fare displayed in your initial search. In fact, the booking process absent this rule is almost deliberately cumbersome: Instead of simple, clear side-by-side comparisons, passengers will need to take notes, do math in their head, and go deep into the booking process with multiple airlines or ticket sellers.

If airlines need these bag fees to remain in business, so be it. (In a related move, the administration also nixed a rule requiring airlines to disclose total revenue from ancillary fees.) But customers deserve better than this. There is already pushback to reverse the reversal, so let’s hope it succeeds.

Customers have, grudgingly or not, accepted that fees are the cost of doing business. So a little transparency shouldn’t be too much to ask. Or is it?

What do you think of the original proposed rule? The cancellation? Comment below

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