Earlier this week I booked a flight from New York to Miami. Even though JetBlue only flies to the nearby Fort Lauderdale, I couldn't pass up the advertisement in an e-mail sent to me: Book Today, $89 each way from JFK. When I went online to look up fares, I did not see that fantastic rate; instead the fares were through the roof with the flights I wanted ringing up to $500 round trip. I didn't note the little asterisk (pictured at left in the screenshot from my e-mail), which referred me to a very lengthy paragraph entitled "Taxes, Fees and Restrictions."
Hopefully that's the last I'll see of miseading airfare offers. Earlier this week, the Department of Transportation issued a release outlining new regulations that went into affect Jan. 27. Two important parts of the new rules: Taxes and fees now must be included as part of the advertised price, and baggage fees must be clearly disclosed up front. "Airline passengers have rights, and they should be able to expect fair and reasonable treatment when booking a trip and when they fly," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in the statement.
What these changes mean for you
These rules, as Mary Jane Credeur explains in an article on Bloomberg News, are not going to make flying cheaper. Instead, the mandate from the DOT just means that fare-rate advertising will be more straightforward. No longer can JetBlue claim, as it did in the email I responded to, that rates are $89; now all airlines must declare the final total price that combines the base fare with all required taxes and fees. This is a very big deal for international flights since the taxes and other surcharges can double the base fare of the ticket.
Consumers can also benefit from what George Hobica of AirfareWatchdog.com dubbed the "24-hour rule." Passengers are now permitted to hold a reservation without payment and even cancel a booking without penalty 24 hours. Note that the reservation must be made at least one week before departure.
But not all of the guesswork is being taken care of. US News and World Report mentioned that airlines will have some leeway: any transactions on board for things like on wireless access, in-flight entertainment, food and drinks, as well as pillows and blankets, will not be included in the advertised rate, and will not require up-front disclosure.
There were a few glitches when the mandatory regulations went into affect. CBS News reported that American Airlines' website had problems. Additionally, Spirit Airlines has been very vocal in its discontent with the new policy claiming that this is the government's way of hiding tax increases from the consumer's eye.
As a frequent flier, I know that I will enjoy knowing that the advertised price will be the rate I eventually pay. How do you feel about these new airline fare regulations? Is the DOT really being fair with fares?