In a shocking reversal of common sense, sorry, revelation of the obvious, a recent survey found that 94% of travelers using online travel sites want all airline fee information freely available to them in the online booking process.
The survey, carried out by Harris Interactive on behalf of the Interactive Travel Services Association, asked 2,310 adults aged 18 and older about their recent summer 2012 travel experiences.
Among those in the cohort that used an online travel company to book their travel agreed to the statement, "All airline fee information should be available to travel agents and online travel websites."
In addition, 95% of online travel purchasers agreed that “it would be easier to comparison shop if all airline fee information was available on online travel websites and to travel agents.”
David Kelly, the executive director of Open Allies for Airfare Transparency, points out that consumer expectations should drive government action.
“These results should be a wake-up call for the Department of Transportation. Consumers do not like to be held captive by the airline industry, whether stuck on the runway or shopping for a summer vacation. The survey data demonstrates that consumers expect airlines to share fees in a transparent and purchasable format in all the channels where they sell their fares, and if the airlines will not do this on their own, then the Department of Transportation should exercise its authority to require it.”
The desire to see, compare and purchase the full, actual cost of an airline ticket is massive, and the DOT has been taking steps to require airlines and travel agents to fully disclose all fees during, rather than at the end of, the booking process.
However, the DOT stalled on requiring airlines to distribute all fees to all GDSs, meaning that the OTA system that millions use to book travel does not fully disclose all fees for a particular flight. The only fees required for display on OTAs are any related baggage fees, meaning that consumers looking to comparison shop according to change fees, preferred seating fees, or any other fees are not currently able to do so. There is no way to see the total cost of a trip - especially if you are a group traveling together who wants to sit together - in the current system.
Consumers booking on OTAs are not getting a complete picture of their trip costs, with a final fare including flight, taxes and fees unavailable for comparison. Most fees do not even become visible until after the ticket has been purchased and the consumer has checked the reservation on the ticketed airline's website, leading to an aggravating feeling of being taken advantage of.
With such opacity frustrating consumers and challenging their ability to accurately budget for travel, the survey found that 31% of respondents agreed that they “paid for fees that were not fully disclosed when I initially purchased my ticket for my flight this summer."
With nearly 17.5 million OTA bookings, that means that a whopping 5,420,000 customers had some sort of unexpected fee - a massive consumer fairness issue that is without precedent. Where else do 5 million+ customers get slapped with unexpected fees after purchasing a product online?
But most importantly, the survey demonstrated that a majority - 57% - were ready and willing to purchase additional services if they were available for purchase in-line on the OTA websites. This is a gigantic market opportunity to sell extra leg room, early boarding, checked bags, and all the other ancillary services airlines profit from. By taking these products off the table, airlines are losing the chance to sell to consumers already in a buying mindset - when they get closer to their trip, they may be much less willing to purchase ancillary services.
The survey also offered a free-form write in, which elicited some completely rational responses from consumers seeking full fee transparency in the OTA booking process. Reasons consumers want to know their fee-inclusive fares:
• To know the total cost up front
• No unexpected expenses
• Dislike hidden fees/charges
• Ability to compare airlines/fees
• So consumers can know exactly what they’re paying for
• To get the best deal
• To make informed decisions
Seamlessly displaying all ancillary fees is not a technological problem. So why don't airlines and OTAs just set aside their differences and work it out themselves without the burden of government regulation? They would be creating a better, more transparent product that would deliver more satisfied customers. Statistics like the ones in this survey just highlight the fact that regulation will come - it's just a matter of when.
NB: Covert money grab from Shutterstock