On January 24, 2012 a new U.S. Department of Transportation rule took effect requiring airline carriers to include all mandatory taxes and fees in their fares upfront. Under this new regulation, airlines cannot continue to advertise bargain basement ticket prices, only to tack on fees, taxes and other mandatory charges when a consumer actually books the flight.
As a result, airline ticket pricing (and advertising) will become less deceptive, and consumers will be protected against bait-and-switch type practices by some of the “bargain” airlines. This is a good thing. It helps consumers compare the true costs of air travel, and then make an informed decision. Spirit Airlines disagrees.
In response to the new DOT regulation, Spirit Airlines has e-mailed its customers and placed a giant banner on its website (falsely) claiming: “WARNING: New government regulations require us to HIDE taxes in your fares. This is not consumer-friendly or in your best interest. It’s wrong and you shouldn’t stand for it. Starting January 24, 2012, fares are distorted.”
Spirit’s message is not only written in an exaggerated anti-government tone, it is incorrect and intentionally deceptive. Spirit claims that the regulation requires that they “HIDE” taxes in the fares. That is simply not true. There is nothing in the regulation preventing an airline from breaking out taxes and fees. If Spirit wanted to, it could disclose exactly what portion of the fare is accounted for by taxes – it just has to also disclose the full price of the ticket. As explained by DOT spokesman Bill Mosley: “[w]e simply requiring airlines to post the full fare, and we leave it to them to break it down if they want.” In other words, the regulation doesn’t require Spirit to “HIDE” anything; it only prevents Spirit from doing so.
On its website, Spirit claimed: “[t]axes and fees can be different by destination, by country, based on whether you are flying into or out of an airport, and so on. You get the point – it makes it too difficult for us to provide the list of fares. In fact, by the time we could figure out how to calculate that, you’d be done with your vacation already.” Again, Spirit is being intentionally deceptive. While it is true that taxes and fees can vary, it is clearly untrue that these costs are difficult to calculate and cannot be included in the stated fare. After all, when a consumer attempts to purchase a ticket at a deceptively low rate, the true rate is only a mouse click or two away.
Spirit Airlines argues that it is unfair to require this type of price transparency in airline tickets, if it’s not required for other forms of travel. However, Spirit ignores the fact that this regulation is a direct result of the airline industry’s long-standing practice of hiding mandatory fees and charges. Indeed, Spirit itself is one of the worst offenders. For years, Spirit has profited by advertising fares at incredibly low rates, sometimes as low as $10, only to have that price multiply when mandatory fees are added. For example, Spirit is one of the only airlines that charges passengers for both checked luggage and carry-on bags. In truth, it would not have been surprising if the new DOT regulation actually referenced Spirit Airlines in its title.
For Spirit to claim that it opposes this regulation out of concern for consumers’ interests is laughable. In truth, the tactics and the goal of Spirit’s campaign against the regulation share a common thread: deception.
Photo Credit: Frank Kovalchek