Have you ever tried to keep a note of how much time you spend booking travel?
I fancy if your Apple Watch could keep track of it for you, you’d resent how long it takes to find, say, the best airline fares.
Even then, how do you know you’ve got the best deal?
Actually, it’s likely that you haven’t.
The reason for this is quite sad. You see, airlines have been going out of their way for some time to ensure that you simply can’t compare fares. Accurately, that is.
You know, including all the nickel-and-diming elements that go into the modern airline fare experience.
They leave it until the last moment — or the very tiniest print — to tell you that there are additional charges for, say, bags.
They also try and make sure no objective site can even publish that information, even though you might think it’s public information.
“The airlines block consumers from seeing complete airline schedule and fare information in a way that most businesses could never get away with,” Kurt Ebenhoch, executive director of the travel search companies’ advocacy group the Air Fairness Travel Coalition told me.
He explained how some online booking sites had worked out ways to put together itineraries that would be cheaper for passengers. These itineraries would, however, comprise flights from two non-aligned airlines.
So the airlines threatened to remove the inventory from that online booking site.
When you go to so-called metasearch sites like Kayak — ones that appear to show all the available fares, from the cheapest to the most expensive on your route — airlines go around blocking the source of the information from which the metasearch site gleaned the information.
Moreover, airlines try to do everything they can to hide any additional fees that might be payable. Baggage fees, for example.
(By the by, do you know how much airlines made from baggage fees last year? $7.1 billion.)
You might think, though, that separating out fees makes the actual fares cheaper.
One study by the Travel Technology Association revealed that passengers paid an additional $6.7 billion more than when baggage fees were part of the airfare.
I cannot confirm that airlines are now considering going into the used-car sales business.
Please, though, let me pause for you to enjoy some words uttered to consumer advocate Christopher Elliott by Kathy Allen, spokeswoman for Airlines for America, a trade group for the airline industry.
“The marketplace is working. Carriers must be allowed to continue offering optional services in a manner that makes sense for both customers and the industry, without government interference,” she said.
Some might translate this as: “Look, we run a business here. We have to con people into paying more. It’s the American way, right?”
You might by now be lamenting that more than 80 percent of all U.S. airlines seats are owned by just 4 airline groups.
But what can be done? The only option seems to be legislation, but does any government have the courage — or even incentive — to enact it?
Congresspeople fly First Class, right?
Of course, in time perhaps airlines will try and own the whole retail process, thereby centralizing all fare distribution — and all fare information — exclusively through their own systems.
Now wouldn’t that be fun?