Air travelers want up-front, all-in price for tickets

A majority of airline passengers want to see an all-inclusive price for their tickets up front, according to a new survey.

Asked how they preferred to view airfares when they shopped for tickets online, two-thirds of respondents said they want to select optional fees at the start of their search, view an inclusive price quote, and compare airfares with the same options. The technology currently exists to generate such quotes, but airlines have not released their fee information in a meaningful and comprehensive way, making such a comparison impossible.

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A smaller number of air travelers (15 percent) say they don’t require as much information up front, and are happy with seeing a menu of airfares and a list of extra fees from which they can choose, but that they don’t need to compare fares between air carriers.

Slightly fewer (14 percent) said they don’t mind the current system, which requires them to visit each airline site, check airfares, look for possible fees, and then write them down to compare them.

About six percent said they want the airlines to choose what fees and options they’ll be offered, which is a system currently being created by American Airlines.

The poll of 642 travelers was conducted last week on this site and Consumer Traveler, in cooperation with the Consumer Travel Alliance (full disclosure: I co-founded the Consumer Travel Alliance, and am its ombudsman).

I should also note that this survey was subjected to some criticism, which is always appreciated.

The responses made it clear, however, that customers have a strong preference when it comes to airfare shopping. Here’s reader Bill Doran:

I am firmly convinced that the US airlines are trying to squeeze every penny they can from their customers by any method they can. If they have to be less than forthright about their prices and fees, they will do so.

They will fight any practice that give the American consumer the ability to see the true cost of a ticket or be able to compare their price against another airline’s price.

When are they going to get the message that giving their customers an excellent product, at a fair price with no add ons or ambiguities will in the long run allow them to be a profitable business with a growing market share and a satisfied loyal customer base?

Lynn Root, a former travel agent, shares his frustrations.

I would like to see one central site that lists, breaks down, and compares not only the fares but the amenities you get for those fares.

I am horrified by what’s happening in the airline industry in general. It has become so blatently mercenary and user unfriendly that I dread having to research fares and all these new fees.

Reader Dolores Coletti blames an airline industry that’s out of touch with its customer.

I don’t like what the airlines are doing and continue to try to do. The online travel sites have made it extremely easy for the public to search for prices and compare.

The airlines would like to control even more of our choices and tell us what we need when we fly.

The only ones benefiting are the airlines. We, as the travelers, are finding the airlines more and more inhospitable. The arrogance of the airlines has become out of control.

But there’s another side to the argument. Read this interview for a primer on the issue. Here’s technology analyst Richard Eastman:

The airlines want consumers to see their product offerings, tailored for the consumer’s need, available instantly and directly from the source – NOT as “packaged” digitally by intermediaries such as the GDSs, TMCs, or even a local travel agent that is earning an override by up-selling one airline over another.

Direct access and the Internet provide that capability. They provide open access to all data and can be easily searched via multiple existing search tools readily available on Internet. And those search tools can be modified by the consumer or the buyer to fit their specific needs without intervention or unknown bias having been inserted by the third-party intermediaries.

The people and organizations advocating or claiming that the airlines don’t want to provide that kind of free access – as you imply by the tone of your question – reflect the needs of third-party intermediaries that are dependent on the existing digitally-closed channel-controlled distribution model.

In the current system, nobody can get access to an airline’s total inventory because the distribution channels are so archaic that they cannot respond to buyer needs technologically; let alone, open up cross-channel pollination to offer competing products universally across the Internet.

Your questions obfuscate the reality of the existing closed-channel that provides an existing money-chain to technologies and business processes that have been surpassed by the modern communication platforms upon which YOU, Chris, derive your living.

You, my friend, are shooting yourself in the foot!

Well, this certainly has been an interesting survey. Thank you, everyone, for participating.