Beware hidden online travel agency booking fees

George Hobica, November 04, 2007
Fares from Washington DC:

    We recently received a complaint from a visitor to our site about a $39 fee added to a fare bought through Travelation.com. The passenger tells us that he wasn't made aware of the booking fee until he received his final confirmation.

    Checking Travelation's well hidden "Purchase Terms & Conditions" page, we found this:

    • Charges to your credit card may appear in the name of the airline involved, one of their service providers or one of our participating consolidators.
    • For each ticket a processing fees up to $25.00 USD is charged to cover expenses such as procurement, quality control and the customer service of the airline ticket.
    • Processing fees and fare adjustments will be charged by the Travel Support Center (the Customer Service and Ticketing Fulfillment Company) and will appear as a separate charge on your credit card.
    • All processing fees and fare adjustments are nonrefundable during any refund, change, or cancellation. The cancellation fee will be charged in addition to the refund charge for the processing of the fees and the fare adjustment (if applicable).
    • By clicking the acceptance box, the customer agrees to have read all of the Terms and Conditions. The customer agrees to pay all charges displayed on the final booking page, plus the eventual shipping charge for paper tickets if they are forced by the airline.
    • Charges by an airline may be itemized for each passenger on your credit card.
    • In lieu of online service fees, the Travel Support Center will add a $40.00 USD (non-refundable) per ticket charge for each ticket purchased by phone.
    • In addition to any penalties imposed by the airline, a processing fee of up to $40.00 USD per ticket will be charged for any changes to the flights in this itinerary. (if the change is possible)
    • For non-refundable fares, a $75.00 USD processing fee will be charged for itinerary changes after the ticket has been issued. (when acceptable by airline)

    These are probably the steepest booking fees we've found, and although Travelation often has low fares, fees like these can wipe out any savings. Not only will they charge you $75 to change a ticket, but the airline itself may impose a change fee.

    $40 by phone is also a steep charge, but even $25 for an online booking is way over the top. Travelation's phone number is well hidden too: it's (619) 435-3675.

    We tried booking a flight on Travelation from Boston to Baltimore in November and saw a fare of $246 RT, including a supposed $10 off sale and also including taxes. That same flight on Travelocity was $232.70, including taxes and Travelocity's booking fee  And on US Air's site, it was $236.60 (proving that sometimes Travelocity sells for less, even with its fee tacked on). 

    We also tried booking a fare from Detroit to Miami using AA nonstops leaving in January and returning in February (this is the same itinerary booked by the consumer who originally contacted us). Travelation gave us a fare of $248.80, which includes a $10 "discount" and appears to also include the booking fee, although this is not spelled out; it was $235 on Travelocity including taxes and and a $7 booking fee. And on AA.com the same flight was $228 including tax (AA.com does not charge a fee).

    So our correspondent would have saved $20 per person by booking with AA.com vs. Travelation.

     Clearly, online booking sites would inspire more trust if they spelled out their fees upfront. One site that does is Cheapair.com. They make it very clear before you even check flights (and long before you plunk your credit card down) that they charge a fixed $9.95 per ticket. Travelocity, Expedia and Orbitz do not clearly break out their booking fees; instead, they roll them in with taxes and other fees, and these fees vary depending on the airline and route (these fees are generally $5-$7 for a domestic fare). On Expedia, for instance, you need to click on the all flight taxes and fees link to see the $5 booking fee mentioned.

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