ASTA Testifies at DOT on Enhancing Transparency of Ancillary Fees

ASTA Testifies at DOT on Enhancing Transparency of Ancillary Fees

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The American Society of Travel Advisors’ Executive Vice President of Advocacy, Eben Peck, testified before the Aviation Consumer Protection Advisory Committee in the U.S. Department of Transportation on Thursday regarding DOT’s proposal that would require airlines and travel advisors to increase transparency of ancillary fees for flights to, within and from the U.S., including in “offline” transactions, such as over the phone.

Peck spoke upon two specific topics during his testimony, including the disclosure of ancillary fees, such as baggage fees, and the problems that may arise with the part of the proposed rule that requires travel advisors to explain the ancillary fees and why air carriers should be required to provide information about ancillary fees to Global Distribution Systems (GDSs).

“ASTA has long believed that consumers deserve full transparency in airfares and optional ancillary service fees, as well as the ability to buy those services – ‘transactability’ – regardless of the channel in which they elect to book their travel,” said Peck.

Ancillary Fees and Agent Responsibility

Part of the proposed new rule is to have those making offline bookings, such as over the phone or in-person, which many advisors do, explain a carrier’s ancillary fees even prior to booking.

“During a given encounter (phone call or visit), the Department is proposing that a ticket agent or carrier not wait until after the consumer has decided to make the reservation or purchase the ticket to disclose the baggage fees, change fees, cancellation fees or family seating fees that may apply,” the proposal states.

“Instead, the disclosure would be required to be made at the time that the scheduled information is being provided to the consumer during the ‘information’ and ‘decision-making’ portion of the conversation,” the proposal explained. “In essence, a carrier or ticket agent would not be in compliance if it were to provide a quote for a ticket price over the phone or in-person without also providing the baggage, change, cancellation, and family seating fees that apply.”

Peck argued that this would cost advisors too much time, and his solutions include offering such information upon consumer request instead of it being mandatory or to create a system within the DOT’s website that advisors can refer their clients to in order to read the fees for all carriers.

Ancillary Fees Within GDSs

The proposed bill asked the question of whether air carriers should be required to share their ancillary fees within Global Distribution Systems.

Peck said, “Our view on this is, unequivocally, yes, the Department should require this, if carriers are currently distributing fares through the GDSs. These are the tools our members use to search, compare and book air tickets and much more for their clients…Moreover, if not via the GDSs, then how would this information be transmitted? Direct connections between hundreds of airlines and tens of thousands of travel agencies? In our view, a tool exists in the marketplace to transmit this information – we should use it.”

The proposal was first created on September 26, 2022. It is unclear when any official amendments will be made, or when it will be enacted.

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