Transparency of Information

Travel Tech

Transparency of Information

Transparency of Information

Travel Tech advocates for full transparency of information in order for the travel marketplace to grow and thrive.  Consumers deserve easy access to all extra fees at the time of booking.  

Airlines continue the trend of unbundling services from the base fare, leading to an even greater need for increased transparency in airline ancillary fees for such options as checked or carry-on luggage, assigned or upgraded seats, and early boarding. Generally, being able to pay for baggage or select an upgraded seat can only be processed on the airlines’ websites or at the airport.  When ancillary services are not available in independent channels, consumers cannot accurately compare options or assess the true cost of an itinerary.

Travel Tech has consistently stated that any new rule from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) should further the objectives of promoting transparency, informed choice, and purchasing efficiency for travelers. The only way consumers can truly benefit from having access to these ancillary services is to make them “purchasable” through the independent channels, so that they can lock in the quoted price at the time of booking. 

Some airlines are blocking certain travel search websites from displaying publicly available fare and schedule information.  These restrictions show up in a variety of forms:

  • Some airlines prohibit certain metas from displaying any fare and schedule information.
  • Others limit what fares can be shown by:
    • prohibiting the display of OTA fares (remember, according to IATA, travelers pay 7% less at an OTA than on an airline’s direct website),
    • limiting combinability (meaning the ability to show two one way tickets on different airlines together as a complete itinerary to better suit the requirements of the consumer),
    • or limiting codeshare itineraries.
  • Airlines are even pressuring their alliance partners to adopt this behavior, as legacy carriers are insisting that new partners take on their “distribution standards.”

Airlines do this to draw consumers to their direct websites where they are not listed next to the competition and where they have opportunities to upsell on ancillary services.

By interfering in the exchange of flight information online, airlines diminish consumer access to comparison shopping for flights, leading to:

  • American travelers will pay up to $6.7 billion more in airfare - $30 more per ticket, and up to 41 million may choose not to travel at all if airlines continue to interfere with the free-flow of information online.

On the other hand:

  • If airlines no longer prohibit the display of publicly available information, consumers will have better access to all of their options, including the lowest-cost itineraries, and will be more likely to fly.
  • Travel is a top 10 industry in 49 states and D.C.  1 out of 9 jobs in the U.S. depend on travel and tourism.
  • Every $1 million in sales of travel goods and services generates 9 jobs for the industry.
  • Further, when people fly they also spend money on food and lodging.  In 2015, travelers spent $235.4 billion on food services, and $194.8 billion on lodging. 

What’s the remedy?

  • DOT has the authority over consumer protection in travel, and can bring an end to these practices by deeming them “unfair and deceptive or an unfair method of competition.”  Currently, DOT has an open Request For Information on this topic.  While currently delayed, we expect the department to take up this issue when fully staffed and up to speed.
  • No new regulation or rulemaking is necessary.  DOT can simply issue guidance about what is and isn’t acceptable which will give consumers the protection they need from airlines’ attempt to censor information.
  • While the airlines claim that government action would interfere with their business arrangements, the truth is that no new business arrangements would be necessary.  Metasearch sites simply want to provide consumers with all the publicly available information regarding flight choices.  They do not book tickets, or transact on services, but rather direct consumers to all the venues where they can do so. Airlines relationships with their authorized ticket agents need not change – no new relationships need to be formed. 

What do consumers think about it?

Consumers are troubled by legacy airlines – who control the vast majority of the market – interfering with the availability of information on travel search websites.

New survey shows 60% of Americans want the government to stop the airlines from censoring fare, pricing and schedule information online.

  • This isn’t a partisan issue. Nearly 6 in 10 Republican and Democrat travelers say the airlines should not be allowed to behave this way.  Over 55,000 consumers submitted comments to that end at DOT.
  • They believe the government must do something.  76% believe the government should protect consumers from unfair and deceptive behavior in the air travel marketplace.
  • 92% find having access to all the options helpful in making a booking decision.
  • 67% believe access to all options allows them to purchase the lowest-cost tickets.  Considering 53% of Americans have flown in the past year, spending an average of $461 on their last round trip ticket, it is no surprise that they are focused on finding the best possible fare.