New rules on airline booking “transparency” went into effect today, and surprise, the world didn’t change overnight. Booking air travel can still be an incredibly frustrating and aggravating process—but some things should improve.
The biggest change is that the DOT imposed a new truth-in-advertising rule that should eliminate most of those shameless $99 fares to London scams that, when you scrolled through to the purchase screen, mysteriously ballooned to $900. Prices mentioned anywhere, in any context, must now include all required taxes and fees (but not, of course, discretionary ones, like bag check charges.) The other notable change is that any one-way fare “based on roundtrip purchase” must clearly show the total tab. The biggest impact will be evident on international itineraries where the various fees can really pile up, often exceeding the base fare. Domestic fliers won’t get as much sticker shock under the new regime.
- Airlines must give you a full refund if you cancel your paid reservation within 24 hours; for unpaid reservations, they must hold them at the promised fare for 24 hours.
- Consumers will now have to opt-in to buy additional products and services during the booking process, such as preferred seats or insurance; some airlines were adding those to the tab, forcing buyers to deselect an item to avoid payment.
- Prices can’t increase after a purchase has been made; the only exception is if a government-imposed tax or fee has increased.
- Baggage fees must be clearly mentioned upfront, and e-ticket receipts must clearly outline the specific charges and requirements for bags. Airlines can’t just list a range, as some were before.
- Airlines must notify passengers of any delay of more than 30 minutes.
“It’s basically leveling the playing field,” by giving consumers the full story early in the booking process, said Warren Chang, vice president of fly.com, which is part of Travelzoo and one of the industry organizations in favor of the change.
For the past three days I’ve been checking airline websites and independent online travel-booking sites, and, frankly, I’m not seeing all that much difference. First, the airlines had already braced for the change, and were already adjusting their displays (and not always without comment—Spirit Airlines has been trying to convince customers that change is actually bad for them). Secondly, policies such as the one that gives fliers a day to reconsider, were already in effect at many airlines, although consumers didn’t always know to ask—which is part of the reason why DOT felt the need to hold airlines accountable. But yes, I did get the total fare up on the screen right away—and while the higher price did make me hesitate for a second, the knowledge I could back out in a day was some comfort.