Monday, January 23, 2012

Changes To Airline Fare And Fee Rules Coming Tomorrow

Starting tomorrow January 24, 2012, new rules from the Department Of Transportation will take effect, changing the way airlines advertise their fares and bundle their fees. Here are the most important changes that will happen:
  • All mandatory per-passenger taxes and fees must now be rolled into the advertised price and will be clearly disclosed so passengers can more accurately compare prices across airlines. Hence, we will no longer be seeing those $39/$49/$59 base fare commercials with a small asterisk saying "plus taxes and fees".
  • Ancillary services that incur extra charges such as baggage fees, on-board food, and priority seats still do not have to be included in the advertised prices. However, a list of all optional fees must now be clearly disclosed through a link on the airlines' homepage, upon booking, and on e-ticket confirmations. Undoubtedly, airlines will tack on these disclosures in fine print at the bottom of the page, but I suppose a fine print disclosure is better than no disclosure at all.
  • What's more helpful, in my opinion, is the rule stating that airlines must now provide a 24-hour window for passengers to hold or cancel a reservation without payment or penalty for reservations made a week or more in advance. This gives passengers more flexibility to price compare or plan out their itinerary without having to worry about fare increases.
  • Airlines are now required to give prompt notification of delays of more than 30 minutes, cancellations, and diversions. It is not clear how these notifications will be distributed to passengers.
  • Baggage allowance and fees must remain consistent throughout a passenger's itinerary. While this sounds great on paper, I'm not sure how well it can be implemented, especially with complicated itineraries that includes multiple codeshares and partner airlines.
On the whole, I think these are positive changes that will help passengers understand the full price they will be paying for their tickets. While there may be sticker shock initially as airlines begin to advertise fares that include taxes and fees, the added transparency will be a benefit in the long run.

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