Why Airline Website Prices Should Now Be More Accurate

You know that paranoid moment when you find a really good flight price online or see a bargain advertised, but wonder how much it will really cost once you add taxes and other fees? That should be a lot less common after a group of eight major airlines was forced by the ACCC to "improve the way they advertise airfares".

Picture by David McKelvey

Longtime Lifehacker readers will recall that laws making it illegal to display "component pricing" without also indicating a clear total cost have actually been in place since May 2009. That is, you can't advertise a $500 airfare if there's going to be $250 in taxes that have to be paid; you need to display the total price of $750 prominently.

The ACCC allowed a grace period for businesses to get used to those rules, but signalled its intention to start enforcing it more seriously by busting travel agents and restaurants that didn't follow the rules. Now the airline industry has come under fire, after a review of the sites for several of the most active airlines in the local market -- Jetstar, Tiger, Air Asia, Air New Zealand, Malaysian, LAN, Etihad and American -- found that they were not displaying prices in accordance with the law. (You'll note that the dominant local players, Qantas and Virgin Blue, aren't on that list.)

Each of the airlines was told to change its sites so that all international airfares out of Australia, plus any domestic activity, clearly displayed a full price. That's happened, but ACCC chair Graeme Samuel made it clear that any further non-compliance will be costly:

All airlines carrying on a business in Australia must advertise airfares that include all applicable fees and taxes. The ACCC will not tolerate further non-compliance. These pricing requirements have been in place since 25 May 2009. Non-compliance is likely to attract strong enforcement action to stop similar conduct in the future.

It's good news that those airlines will display pricing more accurately. However, it's worth remembering that this doesn't mean that the price you see when you research an airline route online will be the absolute grand total you can pay. There are still three areas where you can potentially pay more:

  • Baggage. While it used to be the case that international flights didn't attract baggage charges, that's become less common as more discount carriers have entered the sector. Even traditional players have tightened their rules, and often offer cheaper excess baggage if you pay in advance.
  • Credit card fees. You can still be asked to pay a surcharge for paying by credit card, though some airlines have partnerships with specific cards which then don't attract fees.
  • Carbon offsets. If your airline offers these, they can be quoted separately.

These numbers don't have to be included in the quoted fare, because they won't apply to everyone: you could travel with only hand luggage, pay using BPAY or an airline-approved card, and choose not to pay a carbon offset. What has to be quoted are costs that no-one can avoid paying.

Ever ditched a fare once you realised it was far more than advertised? Tell us about it in the comments.

ACCC

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman has wasted more hours than would seem rational getting total prices from Ryanair. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


Comments

    One of the many things that irks me is the *size* of the "Credit Card Surcharge" fees.
    Most merchants pay around 1-2% as a processing fee to the Bank - I imagine Jetstar with their enormous volume pay quite a bit less than that (probably less than 1%). Yet on a Syd-Mel return flight last week (Cost: $78) - They wanted to levy an 8% Credit card surcharge!
    That's not cost recovery, it's just an indirect way of lying about the sticker price of the ticket

      Oh my, that's outrageous! I can't exactly see an alternative way of paying for a flight, either. Is there any way to dodge a credit card surcharge with an airline these days?

      Jetstar seems to be getting worse with stinging you for these little fees that all add up. The credit card surcharge is just ridiculous, and a ploy to get you to sign up to their credit card. I was booking the other day and got to the screen where i could pick my seat, so i picked the seats (normal not exit row or anything special) then realised that they were charging me $10 to do it! How long until they charge you to check in like the european airlines?

    Am please to see this finally come into effect. I complained to the ACCC about it in 2006 (with evidence) and they said that this was a valid issue that they would investigate. Am thrilled to see that they have followed through.
    However its clear that airlines benefited a great deal from the hidden charges, because they still try to do it. E.g. the credit card fee. There is no way to avoid it. If you book online, that's the only way you can pay.
    When I flew to New Zealand I found that the hidden fees are still going on with the baggage charges. Arranged in advance to take an extra bag. Total allowance was within the the total weight limit. They charged me $45 extra (should have been $40) and tried to charge me $140.

      Booking online with Qantas offers a BPAY option which is charge free. Haven't spotted this with other airlines, but that's not to say it doesn't exist. Certainly uncommon though!

        I remember reading that airlines had to offer a fee-free payment option to allow them to advertise the headline price.

        From memory:
        - Qantas: BPay
        - Jetstar: Their Mastercard or POLi (direct debit over internet banking from certain banks)
        - Virgin: POLi
        - Tiger: Debit Mastercards

    I booked a Regional Express flight the other day and the only option to pay was via credit card, all of which attracted a charge. That's a clear violation to me, since there is no way you can avoid the charge.

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