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.


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.

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