The new rules eliminate some of the fine print that comes with booking flights online, and "eliminates a lot of the skulduggery from airline pricing," Charlie Leocha of the Consumer Travel Alliance told the Associated Press. They involve disclosing hidden fees, notifying customers about delays, and making advertising prices more accurate.
Some airlines are fighting the changes -- Southwest, Spirit Airlines, and Allegiant Air argue that other industries don't have to include taxes on advertised prices. And David Berg, the general counsel of Airlines for America, a trade group of the biggest carriers, warned that the new rules will hurt the travel industry.
"It's basic economics," he told the AP. "History tells us (that consumers) will see higher prices and buy less."
Here's what you really need to know about the new airfare rules:
1. Airlines will have to include taxes and fees in their advertised prices. But starting Thursday, consumers will have a more-accurate idea of how much their tickets will really cost. The change applies to mandatory fees, however, not optional charges for bags and on-board entertainment -- though those fees must be more prominently displayed on airline websites as well, and they can't automatically be tacked on to your fare. Some airlines are concerned that customers won't understand what the higher prices are really all about. "We're not raising our fares, but it will look to the consumer like we've had a big price increase," Robert Kneisley, Southwest's associate general counsel, told the Associated Press.
2. You'll have 24 hours to cancel your reservation. As long as you've booked your flight at least a week in advance, you'll be able to hold your reservation (without having to pay for it) or cancel it without a penalty for 24 hours after making it -- even if you've made the reservation through a travel website instead of directly with the airline.
3. Airlines have to tell passengers promptly about delays. With the new rules, airlines will have to notify you by email, over the phone, or with a sign at the airport if there are any delays longer than 30 minutes. They also have to let passengers and the public know quickly if there are flight cancellations, if flights are diverted, or if a plane is delayed on the tarmac.
4. Baggage fees must be disclosed in advance. Instead of finding out about checked-baggage fees when you're at the curb or counter, airlines now must let you know how much you'll pay for your luggage when you make your reservation. (It can be pricey: Continental charges economy passengers $25 for the first checked bag and $35 for the second, as does Delta. American Airlines charges $25 for the first, $35 for the second, and a whopping $150 for the third -- and that doesn't count additional fees for extra-heavy bags.) The new rules also state that airlines have to disclose any baggage fees you might have if you're changing flights or switching from a major airline to one of their affiliates during a single trip.
5. Airlines can't raise prices after you've purchased your tickets. It sounds crazy, but it can happen: Some airlines stipulate in their contracts that they can raise prices after you've booked your flight, and charge you the difference before you board. According to the Associated Press, Allegiant Air has considered raising prices on already-purchased seats if oil prices rose.
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