Travel Agent

Travel companies are liars, says consumer advocate Christopher Elliot.

If the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014 sails ceremoniously through Congress, the they’ll  be able to lie even more.

Despite a petition garnering thousands of signatures to stop it, the potential law poses to give airlines a federal license to advertise a low “base” fare, adding taxes and fees later in the booking process.

That great bargain you thought you were scoring could more than double when all is said and done.

But, this bait-and-switch advertising is all too common in other parts of the travel industry. Car rental companies will advertise a “$90-per-day” rate, but fail to include the mandatory “airport concession recovery fee,” the “facility” charge, a motor vehicle tax, “vehicle license recovery fee,” and, last but not least, the sales tax.

Hotels will also feature a “$129-a-night” room rate, but the “daily resort charge,” per-day Internet access fee, shuttle services, boarding pass printing, and golf club storage won’t appear until the very end.

Car rental companies and hotels are only lightly regulated at the federal level, unlike airlines. The Federal Trade Commission can’t force them to quote a full price and only requires that a company advertises with a “clear and conspicuous” disclosure that additional fees and taxes will be charged later.

So, if travel companies lie, they shouldn’t be surprised when its customers lie right back. And if the ability for airlines to misrepresent airfares is enshrined into federal law, they deserve the lying passengers they get, says Elliot.

“Airlines are quietly making the case to Congress that quoting an artificially low airfare will be an economic stimulus – people buy what they believe are cheap fares,” he wrote. When those same customers lie right back in order to get a price break, claiming to have a death in the family to qualify for a bereavement fare, airlines shouldn’t be shocked,” he wrote in USA Today.

Congress should give the FTC the authority to stop deceptive “gotcha” pricing, forcing all American businesses to quote a full price. Anything else is a lie.

HOW TO STOP THE LYING (from Christopher Elliot):

Refuse to patronize travel companies that bait and switch. For example, Enterprise will offer (albeit in smaller type) a total including taxes on its site when you request a price quote. Other car rental companies don’t.

Sign the petition started by Travelers United, an advocacy organization. (Disclosure: I’m the co-founder of the consumer organization.)

Tell Congress to reject the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014. A companion bill is being considered by the U.S. Senate. Let your elected representative know you don’t want “transparent” prices.