Economy

Congress might push airlines for better disclosure of fees

When you pay $200 for airfare, chances are that it will cost you more than $200 by the time you complete your trip.

Airlines started with checked bag fees two years ago.

Since then, they've introduced fees for everything from standby options to blankets to extra legroom.

Spirit Airlines recently began charging its passengers $20 to $45 for carry-on luggage that fits in overhead bins.

It may be the latest fee, but industry analysts say it certainly won't be the last.

With the industry raking in nearly $8 billion last year in fee revenues, Congress has taken notice.

At a House hearing last month, legislators questioned whether the fees should be taxed and whether airlines are not adequately informing travelers about the extra fees.

"The airlines have to be more upfront, and I think Congress is pushing that way for them to disclose everything from change fees to bag fees," said Tom Parsons, the chief executive of Bestfares.com, an Arlington, Texas-based travel website.

For consumers who don't fly that often, the extra fees charged by airlines can be confusing. They're often hard to find on airline websites.

"We need to ensure that, at the very least, if ancillary fees continue to be charged, the consumer is made fully aware prior to their travel of what to expect," said Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., at a House hearing on airline fees in July.

The Transportation Department has issued proposed rule changes that would require airlines to disclose optional fees on their websites. The proposal would also require carriers to provide up-to-date fee information to travel agents and Internet travel sites.

Rick Seaney, founder of FareCompare.com, said that when the site updates its optional fee chart, his staff must input the information manually. Sometimes, it's users of the website, not the airlines, that alert FareCompare when a fee changes, he said.

Some companies have started offering fee calculators so consumers can get a better idea of what their total air travel will cost. For example, TripAdvisor's fee estimator asks if the traveler is checking bags or wants an in-flight meal.

"The software is being developed," said Bill Swelbar, an airline researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "The question is going to be how is it implemented, and I do believe there will be a regulatory push because this is certainly an administration that is championing the consumer."

Read more of this story at Star-Telegram.com

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