This installment of our review of the government rules that apply to travel advisors will address baggage fees and the rules governing changes in quoted prices.
The relevant part of the DOT policy regulations related to baggage and other fees is in 14 CFR § 399.85. There are, as usual, multiple parts and layers.
If you, as travel advisor, are publishing a website through which ticket purchases can be made, you must ”clearly and prominently disclose on the first screen that displays a fare quotation for a specific itinerary selected by the consumer" that:
(1) additional airline fees for baggage may apply, and
(2) where consumers can see those baggage fees.
Your website may but is not required to display the baggage fees – it may refer consumers to the airline websites where the data is displayed (as required by another section of the regulation).
However, regardless of how the purchase was consummated, the rules require that all e-ticket confirmations issued by a travel advisor that advertises or sells air transportation, including the summary page at the completion of an online purchase and a post-purchase email confirmation, must state:
(a) information regarding the specific passenger's free baggage allowance,
(b) carry-on bag fee, and
(c) first and second checked bag.
While airlines are required to provide this information in text form in the e-ticket confirmation, travel advisors may provide this information:
(a) in text form in the e-ticket confirmations, or
(b) through a hyperlink to the specific location on airline websites, or
(c) their own website where this information is displayed.
This is important: the fee information provided for a carry-on bag and the first and second checked bag must be expressed as specific charges that account for factors that affect those charges, such as frequent flyer status, early purchase, among others.
It’s a good idea to create a checklist of these items to assure compliance for each traveler, not only to comply with the rules but to avoid misleading a client as to the charges they can expect.
Optional service charges
In the DOT regulations, “optional services” means “any service the airline provides, for a fee, beyond passenger air transportation.” Thus, the relevant charges are those for at least the following:
(a) checked or carry-on baggage,
(b) advance seat selection,
(c) in-flight beverages,
(d) snacks and meals,"
(e) pillows and blankets, and
(f) seat upgrades.
Importantly, while most such charges may be shown as a range, baggage fees must be stated as specific charges that account for factors that affect those charges for each traveler (such as, frequent flyer status, early purchase, among others).
Note that the rules on Optional Service Charges do not specifically apply to travel advisors. However, travelers who consult with you about buying air travel are going to expect to be told about these charges, and you should assure that none of them is surprised to learn about them for the first time at the airport or on the plane.
Special rule for code-share flights
In the case of an airline that markets a flight with the identity of a different carrier that will operate the flight, the marketing carrier must disclose on its website “differences between its optional services and related fees and those of the carrier operating the flight.”
Your clients will expect you to provide this information as well.
Price changes during and after ticket purchase
DOT’s rules governing changes in prices apply to scheduled air travel and tours that combine scheduled air travel with a tour or tour component (such as a hotel stay or cruise). 14 CFR § 399.88 and .89.
The rules are confusing in part because they are presented in reverse order from the way they operate. We will sort them differently. In all cases we are referring to either scheduled air service alone or scheduled air service combined with a tour component.
Thus, in the period before the full price has been paid, you must:
- notify a consumer of the potential for a price increase that could take place prior to the time that the full price has been paid.
The potential price changes covered by this rule include (but are not limited to):
- price of the seat,
- price for the carriage of baggage,
- fuel surcharges, and
- government-imposed taxes or fees
You must get the traveler’s written consent (save it, please) that an increase might occur, and you must get that consent before accepting any payment.
Failure to do any of these things is an unfair/deceptive practice if a price increase occurs and you attempt to collect it from the traveler.
Moving next to the period after you have received full payment for the air/tour/tour component, the rules forbid any increase in the price of the:
- air transportation
- baggage fees
- fuel surcharges
- tour (that includes air)
- tour component
The only exception noted in the rules is an increase in a government-imposed tax or fee. Those fees may be increased after the traveler pays the full price for the underlying services. But failure to warn the traveler of that possibility prior to accepting full payment is a violation of the rule if the fees are in fact increased.