Monday, December 17, 2012

More Airline Fees and Increased Trouble for the Online Travel Agencies

The ground is shifting. Or perhaps it's more correct to say there's been a change in the direction of the wind, as airline after airline rejiggers its fare and fee structures in time for 2013.

Several weeks ago, I told you of Frontier's plan to bitch-slap passengers who didn't book directly at the airline's website (the punishments:  a combination of ugly fees and the inability to reserve specific seats in advance). Last week, American announced its new "bundling plans", which will divide American economy class pricing into three tiers, the top two carrying some interesting perks. And again, at least at this stage, American's new program can only be booked through the airline's website (or with a travel agent). Click here for the scoop on AA's new pricing policies.

Friday, Southwest, the airline that touts itself as fee-free (or nearly fee free) jumped with both wings in the ancillary revenue race with its announcement that it will be upping the fees it has (for priority boarding and overweight luggage) and adding a new one. Beloved for its no-change fee policy, the airline is now going to punish those who simply don't show up and then expect to be able to change their ticket later. A no-show fee is in the works, though  there's no word yet on how hefty that fee will be.

This last move doesn't hurt the big online travel agents (I'm talking Orbitz, Priceline, Travelocity, etc.) as much as the other moves have the potential to do, as Southwest never sold tickets through these third-party sites anyway. But American and Frontier's recent moves are big blows, and my guess is more are to follow.

The big agencies are also getting slammed on the hotel front, with the nation of Switzerland investigating alleged price fixing from several sources. This follows on the heels of similar investigations taking place in the US and the UK (scroll through this blog for more on that).

So what does all this mean for travelers? Frankly, I'm worried. With each byzantine fare structure added by the airlines, it will get harder for consumers like you and me to do a simple fare search. Not that everything was clear before, what with all the hidden fees. And these allegations about hotel price fixing certainly are disturbing (another reason to turn to vacation rentals when possible, I suppose).

Stay tuned!

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