As summer turns to fall, plenty of consumers are shopping around for deals on airline tickets. The good news is technology has made it easier than ever to book a getaway. The bad news is it's getting harder to figure out the bottom-line cost of an airline ticket. And a bill making its way through Congress would make things much worse.
The bill, which was recently approved by the U.S. House, has a terribly ironic name: The Transparent Airfares Act. It's ironic because airfares would actually become murkier, not more transparent. The bill would allow airlines to conceal government-mandated taxes, fees, and surcharges until just before you buy your ticket.
At Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, we strongly oppose this legislation. It would let airlines advertise a fare that's significantly lower than the full price, making it tougher for you to shop around for the best deal.
Backers of the bill claim that consumers are being harmed because taxes and fees imposed are being "hidden," which is simply untrue. In fact, several U.S. airlines allow shoppers to break out such mandatory fees on their sites. At the same time, airlines typically don't make it easy to break out their own fees for things like checked baggage, preferred seats, and calling reservation centers.
The bill would essentially reverse the 2012 Department of Transportation Full Fare Advertising Rule, a consumer protection law that mandated airlines to advertise tickets at the price that the consumer will pay. That rule allows airlines to publish the breakdown of the base fare and the taxes alongside the full fare price. Before the House passed the bill, it was rushed through the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee with no hearings, no public debate, and no calls for comments.
This bill serves little purpose other than to mislead you about the real price of your airline ticket. The airline industry says it will help consumers, but understandably, we see that as something less than a ringing endorsement. And in our conversations with consumers, we've yet to hear from anyone who wanted less, rather than more, pricing transparency.
We believe you have the right to get the full and complete bottom-line price of an airfare before making a reservation, no matter how you shop for your airfare. Now that this bill has passed the House, the Senate should not clear it for takeoff. Congress ought to ground it and replace it with a truly transparent airfare bill.