Proposed government rule would force airlines to disclose “full price” of tickets

Today’s sweeping rulemaking proposal by the Transportation Department is so enormous, it can’t be analyzed in a single post. But let’s not bury the lede as they say in journalism: The government wants to do us all a big favor by requiring airlines to post a “full price” — including all mandatory fees.

You can read the entire document here (.DOC).

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Here’s the relevant language:

The Department is considering changing its enforcement policy concerning this rule to enforce the “full price advertising” provision of the rule as it is written and, consistent with longstanding Department enforcement policy, to clarify that the rule applies to ticket agents.

This change in enforcement policy would also include a requirement that all advertisers include all mandatory fees in the advertised price.

Given technological innovations and new methods of communication, carriers and ticket agents are finding new and creative ways to advertise airfares, some of which circumvent the spirit if not the letter of the full- price advertising rule and Department enforcement policy.

Consumers now receive airfare solicitations through print advertisements, radio advertisements, internet advertisements, and solicitations sent directly to consumers via email newsletters, social networking websites, text messages, and applications designed for many different kinds of cell phones. The ease and speed of information sharing also allows airfare information to be presented to consumers in many different forms.

Even in cases where those forms of advertising comply in a technical sense with our enforcement policy with regard to the full-price advertising rule, we are concerned that in many cases consumers are not easily able to determine the total cost of air transportation services or are deceived regarding the true price.

Accordingly, we believe consumers would be better served if we enforce our existing full-price rule as written and prohibit the practice of advertising fares that exclude any mandatory fees or surcharges, regardless of the source.

The proposal goes on to say the government “no longer see[s] a useful purpose in presenting what purportedly are “fares” to consumers that do not include numerous required charges and, in our view only act to confuse or deceive consumers regarding the true full price and to make price comparisons difficult or improbable.”

In a related move, the DOT wants to end the onerous practice of “opt out” marketing I’ve highlighted on this site.

No longer will carriers or ticket agents be allowed to require that a consumer opt out of purchasing such products or services in order to avoid being charged for them.

The proposed rule, as part of the current full-price advertising rule, would also apply to carriers and ticket agents that advertise tours which include air transportation. Examples of such opt-out procedures the Department has seen in recent years include fees for travel insurance, rental cars, transfers between airports and hotels, priority boarding, premium seats, and extra legroom.

Oftentimes the consumer does not realize that the ancillary services are included in the total price of the ticket due to the deceptive nature of such opt-out provisions.

Sounds as if the government is as tired as customers with having to wade through a myriad of footnotes and hyperlinks regarding government taxes and fees. It’s time for airline to make the full-price calculation themselves to establish which among many displayed “fares” is the real fare.

What do you think? Is this going to help air travelers — or is it unnecessary government intervention in a free market?

You know where I stand on this issue. How about you?

(Photo: Vidiot/Flickr Creative Commons)