How airlines plan to have their way with fare disclosure

The U.S. House of Representatives’ suspension calendar is an unlikely ground zero for a midsummer battle over airline ticket advertising. But then, almost nothing about the oddly named Transparent Airfares Act, a bill championed by the domestic airline industry, has followed a likely trajectory.
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Who really benefits from “custom” airfares?

Mention a “custom” airfare to Joan Eisenstodt, and she’ll admit that she’s worried.
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Look out! Here comes the airfare transparency bill war

Will the real airfare transparency bill please stand up?
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Will new bill let airlines hide ticket prices?

Dabari/Shutterstock
Dabari/Shutterstock
At best, the proposed Transparent Airfares Act of 2014, a bipartisan bill introduced this month in Congress, would open a window into the many taxes and mandatory fees attached to your airline ticket — charges that the airline industry believes you should know about.

At worst, the proposed law would give airlines a license to quote an artificially low ticket price, undoing years of regulatory efforts to require the display of a full fare. And if the bill passes, critics fear that an airline could quote you an initial base ticket price, minus any taxes and government fees, leaving you with the mistaken impression that your total airfare is far cheaper than it is.
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Are “custom” airfares good – or evil?

Studio Go/Shutterstock
Studio Go/Shutterstock
One way or another, the way you buy an airline ticket is about to change.

Behind the scenes, the propellerheads who create your fares are working on a smarter way to sell tickets. The airline industry is developing technology standards that could serve up a special fare intended only for you, based on how often you fly, where you live, your gender, age or marital status. But online travel agencies and consumer advocates are skeptical of customization.

Well, this is one time the airline industry almost got it right.
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My cruise ship broke down and left me high and dry

Ritu Manoj Jethani / Shutterstock.com
Ritu Manoj Jethani / Shutterstock.com
Douglas Kauffman had the misfortune of being booked on the Celebrity Millennium. You may recall the propulsion problems that caused a string of cancellations late this summer.

Well, one of them was Kauffman’s.

Cruise lines like Celebrity have a customer-service protocol that they follow in the event of a cancellation. While these standards address almost every vacation, there is no one-size-fits-all fix. Someone inevitably feels they’ve been short-changed, and that’s why Kauffman contacted me.
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Time to get real about real-time airfares

Little Miss/Shutterstock
Little Miss/Shutterstock
Sue Marcus was looking for a flight from Washington to Tulsa.

Instead, she found trouble.

Every time the American Airlines Web site asked her to select a return flight, it came back with an error message saying that the fare she’d selected was “no longer available.” She phoned the airline to finish the reservation. “A customer service agent told me that she couldn’t use the same Web system that the public sees, though she found a fare that was $50 higher than the flight I’d originally chosen,” says Marcus, a retired government worker from Fairfax, Va.
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Bill aims to scuttle new airfare pricing rule

Enjoy the government’s new airfare rule. It might not last.

On Jan. 26, the Transportation Department began requiring airlines and ticket agents to quote fares that include all mandatory taxes and fees. Since 1988, they’d been allowed to advertise fares that didn’t include government-imposed taxes and fees.
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Stop obsessing over airfares, and buy now

Should I wait for a fare sale or buy my airline ticket now?

That’s the question I’m most frequently asked as a consumer advocate. And it’s most often asked now, just as readers are starting to think about their summer vacations.

“How far out would you advise purchasing tickets to London from Baltimore-Washington?” wonders Anna Fansler.

“Should we book soon, or can we wait for possibly cheaper deals that might come through?” asks Laura Schwingel.

I won’t keep you in suspense, ladies: Book your tickets soon.
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Holland America kept 100 percent of my airfare — can it do that?

Cruise refunds. There, didn’t your blood pressure just go up? Mine sure did.

Cruise refunds can be an endless source of frustration for travelers like Jeff Grill’s in-law’s, who missed their Holland America ship in Venice, Italy, recently. They knew they were going to lose the value of their cruise. But their airfare? When Holland America pocked that, they were surprised.

Under Holland America’s cruise contract — the legal agreement between you and the the company — any airfare refund should have been passed along to the customer. Rule 4 says, “[If] the air transportation we arrange is unavailable or otherwise fails to materialize, our sole liability will be limited to refunding the air add-on paid or cruise only credit.”

But that didn’t happen.
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