Consumers Want Airline Fees Revealed

airlineAdvocates of airline fee transparency got a boost from a new survey that shows 94 percent of Americans who recently used an online travel company (OTC) to book their travel agreed that all airline fee information should be available to travel agents and online travel websites. 

The survey of 2,310 adults was conducted by Harris Interactive for the Interactive Travel  Services Association (ITSA) and the Open Allies for Airfare Transparency. The results may also give a boost to consumer advocates of a Department of Transportation rulemaking on fare transparency.

In addition, 95 percent of Americans who used an OTC to book their summer travel agreed that it would be easier to comparison shop if all airline fee information was available on online travel websites and to travel agents, they survey found.”

"“These results should be a wake-up call for the Department of Transportation,”" said David Kelly, executive director of Open Allies. “"Consumers do not like to be held captive by the airline industry, whether stuck on the runway or shopping for a summer vacation."

"The survey data demonstrates that consumers expect airlines to share fees in a transparent and purchasable format in all the channels where they sell their fares, and if the airlines will not do this on their own, then the Department of Transportation should exercise its authority to require it," Kelly said.”

While online travel sites are required to disclose a list of baggage fees charged by airlines, the airlines are not required to fully disclose various charges such as checked baggage or preferred seat assignment fees in a way that allows consumers to shop and compare the all-in price (fares+taxes+fees) or to actually purchase those ancillary products or services, such as seat assignments for a family that wishes to sit together, Open Allies said.

An expected federal rulemaking to address this flaw in the airline distribution process is being considered by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), Open Allies noted.

"As a result of the airlines'’ continued refusal to share this information, 31 percent of Americans who used an online travel site to book their travel agreed with the statement that they “paid for fees that were not fully disclosed when they initially purchased tickets for flights. That translates to more than 5 million Americans who were surprised by and forced to pay hidden airline fees after purchase of the ticket or during the transportation process," Open Allies said.

"“Millions of travelers should not have to experience the frustration of unexpected fees because the airlines refuse to share this information with online travel sites and travel agents,”" said Kelly.

There is also good news for the airlines in the survey results, Open Allies said in its analysis of the survey. "Not only do Americans want airline fee information to be available to online travel sites and travel agents, they also indicated they would likely purchase these services if they were available through those channels."

The Open Allies said that 57 percent of Americans who used an OTC to book their summer travel agreed that they would “purchase additional services (e.g., extra leg room, early boarding, checked bags) if the airline fees for these services were available through online travel websites and travel agents.”

The association noted when asked an open ended question why they supported having airline fee information available to online travel sites and travel agents, "Americans gave a number of common sense responses." This includes:

• To know the total cost up front

• No unexpected expenses

• Dislike hidden fees/charges

• Ability to compare airlines/fees

• So consumers can know exactly what they’re paying for

• To get the best deal

• To make informed decisions

“"These survey results clearly show that consumers are being harmed because the airlines are refusing to share fee information with popular online travel sites and travel agents which account for more than 50 percent of all travel booked in the U.S.",” said Charles Leocha, founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance (CTA). 

"“There’'s simply no excuse for the airlines to keep consumers in the dark about the total cost of their travel. That’'s why it’s time for the DOT to step in and restore the ability for true comparison shopping by requiring the airlines to share fee information with online travel sites and travel agents.”"

The survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of the Interactive Travel Services Association, a founding member of Open Allies, from September 4-6, 2012. 

Open Allies for Airfare Transparency is a coalition of individuals, companies, and organizations that believes that all airline airfares and fees should be transparent and salable to the traveling public. Members include more than 380 travel management companies, corporate travel departments, consumer groups and travel agencies.