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Travel Industry Factions Face Off Over Hidden Fees

The travel industry may rely on agents and online travel sites as well as planes and airports, but a recent controversy over hidden fees shows that they don't always see eye to eye.

You may be looking for travel deals to an upcoming annual meeting, but airlines are finding new ways to charge you at the airport.

With premium services, baggage fees, and early boarding among the fees you might face long after you book your ticket, it’s becoming a lot tougher to find the best deal using sites like Travelocity and Orbitz.

It’s a situation that’s putting a number of travel-related associations with differing interests at odds—and now federal regulators are considering getting involved. A roundup:

The conflict: One of the many issues facing the travel industry is transparency. As airlines add fees at the gates, associations representing the online travel industry, travel agents, and the global distribution systems that allow them to do their jobs are pushing back, claiming that the airlines don’t provide enough information about additional fees to give a true picture of the cost of a flight. Simon Gros, chairman of the Travel Technology Association, put the situation this way: “What other industry can you think of where a person buying a product doesn’t know how much it’s going to cost even after he’s done at the checkout counter?”

What other industry can you think of where a person buying a product doesn’t know how much it’s going to cost even after he’s done at the checkout counter?

Federal intervention: The Department of Transportation is considering whether to require airlines to be more upfront with third parties that sell their tickets about extra charges or hidden fees. And the DOT is fighting the airline industry on another front: They’re in a court battle over a requirement that airlines include taxes in the advertised price of a ticket. The industry argues the requirement violates free-speech rights and is petitioning the Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court ruling that upheld the rule.

The industry’s goal: The reason this is all coming to a head? The airline industry—represented by groups like the International Air Transport Association—is trying to join the customization trend, aiming to encourage consumers to become less price-focused. “Technology is changing rapidly. We are going to be part of the change,” said Airlines for America Vice President Sharon Pinkerton. “We want to be able to offer our customers a product that’s useful to them, that’s customized to meet their needs, and we don’t think [the Transportation Department] needs to step in.” The airlines would like to require online travel sites to acquire more information about individual travelers in exchange for deals, and that concerns consumer advocates.

Is there room for associations with such greatly varied interests to find common ground here? How should the industry deal with the prospect of additional federal oversight?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

(Creatas/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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