So What's That "Sale" Flight Really Going to Cost Me?

Courtesy skinnylawyer/Flickr

Soon, you won't have to ask that question, because airfare ads will have to include all mandatory taxes and fees.

When does a $59 flight cost a lot more than $59? Pretty much always. By now, most travelers understand the annoying particulars of the typical airfare sale, in which prominently listed flight prices are followed by tiny asterisks. In the fine print below, it's inevitably revealed that all sorts of additional (and mandatory) taxes, fees, and surcharges aren't included in the featured prices.

Figuring out exactly how the traveler actually has to pay out of pocket for such the flight requires a visit to a booking engine or the airline's website. In some cases, it turns out that the true cost of the flight is 10 percent, or even 20 percent more than what was advertised.

All of this rigmarole should soon disappear, though. Starting on Jan. 26, 2012, the Department of Transportation states that all "carriers will be required, among other things, to include all government taxes and fees in every advertised fare."

As a result, the prices travelers see in ads are the full prices, in their entirety, that travelers can expect to pay (provided availability). Hopefully, this will mean that fewer travelers feel like they've been subjected to a bait-and-switch, in which the fare that first attracted them to book is replaced by a flight that isn't quite as good a deal.

In the months before the new rules take place, the DOT has gotten more aggressive in dealing with airlines that fail to properly information regarding fees and taxes. In early January, the DOT fined AirTran $60,000 because the airline's website listed routes and prices in one place, but failed to provide details regarding taxes and fees in the same spot. (To get that info, a customer had to scroll way down to the bottom of the page.)

Likewise, in November, Spirit Airlines was fined $50,000 by the DOT for the way it advertised $9 fares on billboards and posters and made consumers jump through multiple hoops before revealing mandatory taxes and fees, along with the requirement that to qualify for such a fare, a round–trip purchase was necessary.

Mind you, it's only the non–optional taxes and fees that must be included in advertised fares. A wide range of optional fees, including those for baggage, seat selection, in–flight entertainment and refreshments, won't be included in the fares you see. For some travelers, these fees will come as a most unpleasant surprise.


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