One Fine Mess

Fine print is all around us and the travel industry leads the pack. While the terms and conditions are always available somewhere, they rarely are clear and concise. More often than not, they are so onerous and restrictive that the consumer does not have a fighting chance.

Once again, when it comes to the tiny print (or that terms and conditions button) the best advice seems to be – buyers beware.

Take a recent ad for Northwest Airlines’ holiday fares, for example. Lansing to Washington: $59. But the small print tells a different story. All or part of the flight may be operated by Pinnacle Airlines, based on one way travel with a round trip purchase, only on super bargain days–November 21,22,25,26, December 25, and January 5th, does not include the ticketing fee, federal excise tax, passenger facilities charges, or the September 11th security fee.


So what does a $50 ticket really cost? $186.40 before you add in the Northwest ticketing fee. By the way, fares will be higher if you elect to fly on days other than those mentioned.

The crime is, that while “disclosed” these fees will not materialize until after you have clicked “buy.” When you call a travel agent, the price quoted should be the total price including all taxes and fees – no surprises.

Are you mad yet? Well, it gets worse.

American Airlines last week created and amended its “rollover policy”. They called it an amendment, but since no one could confirm its existence, I figure they also created it (a typical airline tactic).

Prior to November 4th, if American lowered the price of a purchased ticket (fare war, pesky Southwest sale, etc.), it would issue a credit for the difference in the form of a voucher. However, you or your travel agent had to catch them in order to get the credit.

Now, they are considering this a “change” and will be charging you $100 to issue the voucher. Thank you Mr. Arpey. But according to American, “This change will allow American to lower its operating costs, while continuing to offer fares competitive with low-cost carriers. Customers still can travel at low fares, and enjoy the benefits of American’s extensive…”

While the airlines seem to hold a monopoly in the skies, they do not when it comes to the fine print. Next time you take a cruise, check out their fine print.

Pregnant? Better check. Thinking of canceling six months in advance? Better check. Always dreamed of seeing Barcelona by sea? Better check. Cruise lines are not obligated to transport pregnant women, refund your money within certain time frames, nor are they obligated to visit the ports of call that they advertise.

And don’t think that hotels and packaged tours are exempt. You can be walked from one property to another if the property is sold out. Car rentals? When was the last time you rented a car for $49 a day and were not saddled with fee upon fee upon fee? All clearly detailed in the fine print.

Web booking has its own perils. Most of the sites give information “as-is” which leave you with no recourse if it is incorrect, old, or never transmitted to complete your transaction. Additionally, most sites claim (in legalese) that they “are not suitable for any particular purpose” – muddle that one for a bit.

When you accept their terms and agreements by using the site, you usually waive any right for a monetary claim. Dig a little deeper and you will see that by use of these sites, you agree to sue and be sued in particular jurisdictions convenient to – you guessed it, the airline, car agency, cruise line, or hotel.

Most traditional travel agencies do not have such requirements.

Considering the number of people traveling at any given time, the industry actually does pretty well in avoiding litigation. Most consumers are lucky and never have to exercise their rights, but occasionally, someone will get the short end of the stick.

Hopefully it will not be you, but if it is, you had better be familiar with that fine print.

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