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Exposing Hidden Airfare Fees

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Another victory for passenger rights is in the works. The DOT is planning to strengthen its regulations regarding how airlines—and, for the first time, online search engines, such as Google—display the ancillary fees that count for an increasing portion of your overall ticket cost. 

The proposed rules come even as some in Congress are trying to roll back the passenger protections that the DOT enacted in 2011. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s proposed (and misleadingly named) Transparent Airfares Act would unbundle government fees and taxes from the base cost of an airfare, making it difficult for fliers to see what the final cost of the ticket would be.

The DOT, however, is hoping to take its widely applauded 2011 rules to a new level, requiring both airlines and fare-search sites (the agency names Kayak and Google, specifically) to prominently display the cost for checked and carry-on bags, as well as advanced seat assignments. Revenue from ancillary fees accounted for more than $42 billion worldwide in 2013; domestic carriers took in roughly $3.35 billion in baggage fees alone last year. These new DOT regulations would help to ease the sticker shock many fliers encounter at the airport. It could also, more significantly, reduce the competitive advantage airlines have when their unbundled fares appear in searches and, instead, give a boost to those that don't charge baggage fees, namely JetBlue and Southwest.

Additionally, the DOT will make it easier for people searching for airfare to see if a flight is operated by a code-share partner. So no more heading to the wrong terminal before a flight.

The DOT is accepting public comments on its proposed rules for the next 90 days. You can read up on them and offer your thoughts by searching for DOT-OST-2014-0056 on this site.

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