“I’m from the airlines and I’m here to help.”
In a vacuum more information is good for consumers. But too much information, or information that’s not relevant to a customer, isn’t helpful. In fact having to sort through it all can make it difficult to find and understand the information that helps you make a decision.
That’s why mandating what airline fees get disclosed to which customers — every single time — is a bad idea because it shuts down innovation. Checked baggage fees probably aren’t as important to me as what kind of internet will be offered onboard, and at what price. Companies like RouteHappy, providing rich customer experience data, are important. We need more of that.
Airlines have made the travel booking experience more complicated. There are checked baggage fees, seat assignment fees, and fares that don’t allow advance seat assignments or even full-sized carry on bags at all.
I wouldn’t want to ban the practice because you’d be banning Spirit Airlines and Frontier, ultra low cost carriers that drive down the price of travel. I do want consumers to understand the practice, and also to shame legacy carriers that are intentionally making their product worse so that customers will spend more. I think it’s a backwards way to drive a fare increase.
Online travel agency websites aren’t as good at displaying fees as airline websites themselves are. And that’s by design, airlines resist sharing all of the information through global distribution systems and allowing full purchase ability through those systems. They don’t just want to upsell consumers, they want to upsell agencies too. They want to capture revenue for their information, and they want to keep the upsell revenue almost in full too.
So when Congress debates rules for online travel agencies — that they have to provide information to consumers about airline tickets which they aren’t also requiring airlines to provide to sites in a standard format you know it’s the airlines trying to kill off competition from online agencies, using consumer protection as a cloak. Don’t be fooled.
Travel sites worry Congress will impose requirements they’re unable to fulfill, because the airlines control baggage fees, schedule changes and other policies, and may not fully share the information.
“These proposals would put ticket agents in an untenable position where they simply cannot comply because they don’t have access to the information,” said Steve Shur, president of the Travel Technology Association, whose members include Expedia, Orbitz and Priceline. “They may have access to some of it, not all of it. There’s no guarantee that they’re going to have.”
…Kevin Mitchell, who heads a business travel group and is a frequent airline critic, worries lawmakers will give the airlines the power to kill off travel websites by simply withholding information.
“It’s a very Orwellian type of approach. They simply will not be able to comply with the legislation. Therefore, they get shut down,” he said.
Information about price should be made available to any outlet permitted to sell a product. And then sites should be able to compete to offer the best shopping experience to consumers, an experience that actually helps them to make the best decisions for themselves.
A guided process that’s relevant to a passenger is different than a one size fits all disclosure approach. And a one size fits all disclosure approach actually prevents innovation in making the travel buying process easier for consumers — something that’s desperately needed.
Consumers don’t benefit from airlines shutting down competition in ticket sales, and in the way that tickets are sold. They can’t just come out and say that’s what they want to do, so they’re going to develop talking points around helping consumers. But it just ain’t true.
Goodness knows I’m no fan of Expedia on the whole I think they’re awful. But that’s precisely why we need to allow competition in the online booking space. We need to allow new entrants to try to do things differently.
Expedia Dancers Don’t Provide Customer Service. Flickr: Juggernautco
No proposed law by the way requires airlines to show you competitor prices on their websites, by the way. And that comparison shopping has to be at least as important as fee disclosure, and more important to any given customer than disclosure of fees that aren’t relevant to them.