Included in Airfare

The definition of an airline ticket is changing, and it will continue to change.

What is it you’re paying for exactly, asks consumer advocate Christopher Elliot. Transportation? A seat?

Today’s tickets are stripped of the basics, including food, drinks, reservations, checked (or carry-on in some cases) luggage and the ability to change an itinerary.

Airlines have raked in $2.8 billion in the last year alone by changing the definition of a ticket. While nickel-and-diming its customers, carriers continue to make the outrageous claim that fares have never been lower.

Fliers rightfully feel duped, saying that once you factor in all the fees, flying costs more than expected. A USA Today survey found that 55 percent of polled air travelers say it costs “somewhat more” and 44 percent say it costs “a lot” more.

So what should a ticket include?

The airline industry is pushing to separate even more fees from its tickets with the proposed Airline Transparency Bill of 2014, which would allow them to advertise a ticket price that doesn’t include taxes and mandatory fees.

Although airlines have managed to turn the average ticket into a virtual abomination that no air traveler from a generation ago could understand, omitting the taxes to further market unbelievable bargains is taking it too far, and the government seems to agree.

The Department of Transportation proposed a rule that would define an airline ticket to include two checked bags, one carry-on item and advance seat selection. It would also require all ticket agents and airlines to display these basics at the point which fares are being compared.

Passengers say the fare word-games have gone too far, according to a USA Today survey. When asked to rank the most important components of an airline ticket, 94 percent said they wanted the advertised fare to include all taxes and mandatory fees, followed by the ability to reserve a seat (91 percent), the ability to carry a bag (90 percent) and the access to a bathroom (87 percent).

If airlines want to separate seating option and baggage fees from the cost of a fare, then they should develop technology that allows passengers to choose amenities for comparison. This would allow airfares to be compared apples to apples. Instead, customers are constantly being tricked.

With today’s system, it’s not easy to distinguish what is – and isn’t – included in the price of a ticket without an extensive amount of homework. Peeling away essential features of a ticket only benefit investors and industry apologists, not the consumers who keep the industry afloat.

Christopher Elliot’s Guide to Keeping Airlines Honest:

  • Book a ticket from an airline that doesn’t aggressively “unbundle” its fares. For example, JetBlue and Southwest still include checked bags in their ticket prices.
  • Let the Transportation Department know what you think of its proposed new airfare rules. Click on and search for rulemaking DOT-OST-2014-0056.
  • Tell airlines what you think of their nickel-and-diming. By simply paying the fee and remaining quiet, you are tacitly endorsing these fees.