Death of Airline Competition by Thousands of Fees

Have we fallen behind again? It could not have been more than 2 years ago that ACTA was very proactive in taking this issue to the airlines and leaders within our industry; receiving positive feedback and in some instances, agreement that the issue of airline transparency can and should be improved.

Where do we go with those who continue to fall behind and ignore the issue? Rest assured that ACTA continues to work closely with the CTA which have become sensitive to this topic. They, as ACTA, look forward to seeing improvement in this area and hope as an industry we can arm the travel agency community with the information they need to better position themselves to service their customers the way that is expected in today's purchasing enviroment.


By Charlie Leocha
Director, Consumer Travel Alliance

If one were to listen to airline executives giving speeches across the
country, the only conclusion would be that the airline industry is the most
perfectly transparent industry in the U.S.A. when it comes to pricing - it
is a comparison-shopping nirvana. Airline passengers, on the other hand, say
airline pricing has become so complicated that figuring out comparative air
travel costs requires a spreadsheet. Applying for a mortgage may be easier
and more straightforward.

Why is there such a disconnect? Why do the leaders and executives of
airlines claim they are bending over backwards to disclose airfares and fees
while passengers feel that digging out extra fees is next to impossible?

I believe this difference in what airline executives believe they are
clearly explaining and what passengers are hearing comes about because
airline executives don't buy airline tickets and they never compare prices
across airlines. They never jump through the same shopping and purchasing
hoops that a passenger must in order to purchase airline travel.

Plus, they may not be aware that fees have proliferated to such a degree
that they are humanly impossible to calculate, let alone compare across

Once upon a time (before 2008), purchasing airline tickets was a simple and
straightforward process. Passengers could call the airlines, go online or
visit a travel agent and get a price for a flight that included the
reservation, a seat, a couple of bags and sometimes a bite or two. Not any

It is true that airfares are fairly easy to discover using the Web, travel
agents or airline reservation centers. Passengers can easily see the airfare
between two cities. But, airfare is only the tip of the iceberg. Unlike the
pre-2008 days, airfare does not include anything more than the right to walk
onto the aircraft and be transported. Checked baggage, telephone reservation
service, seat reservations, meals, pillows and blankets, and in some cases
even carry on baggage, have all been "unbundled" from what was once airfare.

Today there are legions of fees for services with exponential options and
exceptions. A husband and wife flying on either of America's largest
airlines face a matrix with 64 different variations of baggage fees (the
most basic of fees). This complex matrix includes factors such as what
credit card was used to purchase each ticket, when the baggage fees are
paid, are both travelers listed on the same record locator and are both
passengers elite frequent flyer members of the airline in question or an
affiliated airline.

This 64-choice matrix is only for baggage fees for a couple purchasing a
simple domestic flight. Add in two children with their parents, perhaps on a
separate reservation, and mathematician friends of mine calculate
checked-baggage fee variations could reach 4,096 permutations based on
airline booking options and exceptions.

After baggage fees, passengers are faced with seat reservations. Once a
simple process of choosing a seat, the seat reservation map has been
complicated with more exclusions, exceptions and variable seat definitions.
Some seats are first-class, business and coach, then choice seats, aisle
seats and window seats, front-of-the-plane seats and extra-legroom seats.
Each of these seats may be available to various passengers based on the
credit card used for airfare purchase, elite levels in frequent flier
programs and reservation codes.

Not all airlines allow passengers to choose seats, and thus, passengers do
not know how much various seats cost until they fill out TSA questions
(name, date of birth, etc.) and then poke around the seating chart on an
airline website to check various charges. A family traveling together faces
a daunting task to find four seats together that do not have a premium
charge on many airlines.

Multiplying only three different seat options for a family of four with the
4,000+ baggage fee options brings the options faced by them to more than
50,000 different possibilities - that's on only one airline. Imagine
comparing two or three airlines for the best overall travel cost and value.

Now, imagine that this family has been shopping for airline tickets through
an online travel agency. They cannot even find the specific baggage and seat
charges nor can they pay for these fees. Families are forced to spend more
time checking airline-to-airline for thousands of combinations of baggage
and seat reservation fees.

Airlines claim that they are offering choice. That is true. However, by not
disclosing these fees to ticket agents that provide open platforms on which
the flying public can compare the total cost of flying, including baggage
and seat reservation fees across airlines, they make finding the total cost
of flying complex, at best, and they make effective comparison shopping

America's airline passengers, both leisure and business, have been without
the ability to effectively compare the cost of travel across airlines for
almost half a decade. It is time that DOT requires airlines to disclose the
full cost of travel so that those costs can be compared across airlines and
purchased wherever the airlines choose to sell their tickets.

The public deserves to know the full cost of air travel, have the ability to
compare total costs and pay for their basic airfare and fees wherever an
individual airline chooses to sell its tickets. That's how the free market
should work. That's not too much to ask for.

# # #

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. Our members
include more than 380 of the world's leading travel management companies,
corporate travel departments, consumer groups and travel agencies.