Should hotels advertise “all-in” prices, too?

If you recall last month’s dust-up about airfare pricing, you’ll know that airlines feel singled out by the federal government, which is now requiring them to advertise fares that include all mandatory taxes and fees.

Here are a few details about that dispute. Never mind that other federally-regulated industries have the same pricing requirements, including anyone buying gas, cigarettes or alcohol. Airlines wanted to see other examples in travel, dammit.

And so did readers.
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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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Ridiculous or not? When a “fuel surcharge” costs more than an airline ticket

When Walter Nissen signed up for a British Airways Chase Visa card recently, he thought he’d be jetting off to London after earning just 50,000 miles.

He overlooked one little detail: A glance at the fine print revealed he’d have to pay an extra $400 in fuel surcharges.

“We’re not talking a few dollars for mandatory government taxes and fees,” says Nissen, a computer scientist from Livermore, Calif. “Their secret surcharge goes right into British Airways’ pocket. That’s dishonest in my book.”

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The Travel Troubleshooter: Maybe the price guarantee isn’t all-inclusive?

Question: I am writing to complain about poor service I received in connection with Travelocity’s price guarantee. We recently returned from an 11-night trip to Cancun, Mexico. Our package, which included airfare and accommodations at the Valentin Imperial Maya all-inclusive resort, cost $4,615.

About a week before we left, I found the exact same package on Travelocity for $1,170 less. I filled out a form on its site and followed up several times by email. I sent screenshots as proof. Each time they responded they claimed to have not received the proof. Finally, I posted the proof to a website to be sure they could see it.

Last night, I called Travelocity and was told they would get back to me in a few hours by phone. They did not. I have always been happy with Travelocity’s service — until now. Why is this such a problem? Travelocity has a guarantee. Is it asking too much for them to honor it? — Steven Estrella, Fort Washington, Pa.

Answer: You qualified for Travelocity’s price guarantee, which promises a $50 coupon and up to $500 back if you find a “qualifying” lower rate up until the day before you check in. Travelocity should have processed your claim — or at least responded to it — promptly.
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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.

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.
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Are customized prices next for the travel industry?

Here’s a story that might have a familiar ring: Sue Clark was planning a theme park vacation for her family in Orlando when she found an affordable rate at Disney’s upscale Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.

Clark, who works for a telecommunications company in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, stepped away from the computer to consult with her family. When she returned and re-queried the site for the same hotel, the price had doubled.

She logged on to her husband’s computer, found the cheaper rate again and booked the trip. But Clark wonders why the Grand Floridian had switched prices. “I think the computer recognizes you and then changes rates,” she says, using cookies, or snippets of information on your Web browser, to identify you from your last query.

Perhaps. “We don’t target people with cookies,” says Disney spokesman Charles Stovall. The Disney site does allow guests to use special discount codes when they book online, but they have to be entered manually, something Clark hadn’t done.

But the travel industry is warming to the idea of showing you a price based on who you are. Or who it thinks you are. Last spring, a United Kingdom-based hotel site called VivaStay reportedly displayed slightly higher prices to visitors who came to the site through affiliate links than it showed to those who clicked directly on the VivaStay site. The company apologized, but said that it was unaware that price variations were frowned upon.
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Weekend survey: When should an airline or travel agent show the “all-in” price?

When should an airline or travel agent show the “all-in” price, particularly when it comes to fees that used to be part of the ticket?

(Update: This survey is closed. Here are the results.)

As you know a debate is going on in Washington between the airline industry and a group of consumer advocates, travel agents and corporate interests. One side is trying to make the booking process as opaque and confusing as possible. The other is demanding transparency.

Congress will have to decide who is right. In the meantime, you can weigh in on this issue.

Please send me your thoughts or post them in the comments. I’ll have the results early next week.

“I called them and told them to cancel everything”

Jim Stewart’s trip was a disaster before he even left for the airport. When he tried to reserve a package vacation through Expedia, the price mysteriously went up. He made another reservation, tried to cancel it, rebooked another one and — you guessed it — ended up with two reservations for the same trip.

He explains,

I booked a flight, hotel and auto with Expedia for $872. Three days later they informed me the “new” price was $1,091. I called them and told them to cancel everything.

I then booked flights, etc., on my own for the exact dates that Expedia had originally booked. They went ahead and billed us for the $872 [for the first trip]. When we called them, they said I did not cancel the original flight.

I’ve talked to at least four different people who seemed trained in talking in circles. I finally wrote the general counsel on Aug. 3 and again on Aug. 17, but haven’t heard anything.

There’s so much to learn from this case, it’s hard to know where to begin.
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Why does one day less cost three times more?

alamobusQuestion: My car rental company has more than tripled the rate it charged me, and I don’t know what to do. I had prepaid $390 for the car through Alamo’s Web site. When my flight was canceled, I called Alamo to tell it I could not get the car until the next day. I was told that my reservation would be held for 24 hours.

I picked up the car the next day and returned it on time. When I dropped off the rental, a representative said the computer system was down. But when I got my bill the next month, there was an additional $1,116 charge because of the late pick up.

I believe this additional charge to be unfair and am requesting a refund. I believe Alamo should honor its promise of the prepaid amount as well as the representation that my reservation would be held for 24 hours. Can you help? — Alexandra Seldin, San Diego

Answer: So Alamo is charging you another $1,116 even though you rented one of its cars for one day less. Where’s the logic in that?

The answer: It’s airline logic. Air carriers have figured out a way to quadruple the price of a ticket depending on the time you bought it. So a “walk-up” fare purchased at the last minute can be hundreds, and even thousands, of dollars more expensive than an advance-purchase fare. But you’re getting the same seat.
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