Should hotels advertise “all-in” prices, too?

If you recall last month’s dust-up about airfare pricing, you’ll know that airlines feel singled out by the federal government, which is now requiring them to advertise fares that include all mandatory taxes and fees.

Here are a few details about that dispute. Never mind that other federally-regulated industries have the same pricing requirements, including anyone buying gas, cigarettes or alcohol. Airlines wanted to see other examples in travel, dammit.

And so did readers.
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Bill aims to scuttle new airfare pricing rule

Enjoy the government’s new airfare rule. It might not last.

On Jan. 26, the Transportation Department began requiring airlines and ticket agents to quote fares that include all mandatory taxes and fees. Since 1988, they’d been allowed to advertise fares that didn’t include government-imposed taxes and fees.
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Car rental agencies and cities get ready to go head-to-head over taxes again

Ready for Round 2 of car rental companies vs. cities?

You might recall the opening salvo two years ago, when then-Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) introduced the End Discriminatory State Taxes for Automobile Renters Act of 2009. The law, backed by car rental companies, would have limited the excise taxes that a municipality could levy on the agencies’ vehicles. Cities fought the measure, saying that it would limit their ability to raise money and that it represented an unwanted federal intrusion.

What’s that? You don’t remember any of it?

Well, here’s something you probably can remember: your last car rental bill.

Drew Tipton does. His 18-hour Avis rental at Chicago O’Hare cost $61. Then Avis added an 11 percent concession recovery, an $8-per-day mileage surcharge, an $8-a-day customer facility charge, a license fee of $1.25 per day and a 20 percent tax, and – ka-ching! – suddenly his rental fee had ballooned, to $97.

I remember my last rental, two weeks from Thrifty in San Francisco last month. The base rate was $693, and I paid $300 for optional insurance. But once the company was done with me, I’d paid a total of $1,276, including a $24 tourism surcharge, an airport concession recovery fee of $114 and $85 in taxes.
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“There are no polite words to describe what I feel has just been done to me”

No industry piles on the fees and surcharges like the car rental industry. Yes, they have their reasons. And yes, they have competition from airlines, which haven’t met an ancillary fee they don’t like.

But sometimes it’s useful to watch the rubber hits the road, so to speak. I’m talking about a postmortem on a real car rental bill.

Like Paul Irvine’s. He recently rented a car from National at Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, which is one of the most notorious places for car rental fees.

Here’s the damage:

5 days @ 38.50 per day = 192.50
FSO = 32.32
Customer facility charge = 15.00
National busing recovery fee = 4.49
Concession recoup fee = 26.78
Sports venue tax 5% = 12.43
Veh lic recov 2.34 per day = 11.70
Veh rental tax 10% = 25.05

Total = 320.27

That’s some bill!

Irvine can hardly believe it.

I can’t fathom which of the above constitutes sales tax, analogous to what one would expect to pay when buying a meal or a shirt but the difference between the rental charge itself and the grand total, composed of additional taxes and charges ripped out of an unsuspecting consumer, is $127.77. This represents approximately 40 percent of the overall cost. There are no polite words to describe what I feel has just been done to me.

It is simply unbelievable that a company can get away with the kind of charges they willingly tack on to a customer’s bill to fatten their own bottom line and that, in addition, they can be coerced by a local, state or federal government entity to extract even more blood to pay for their own programs which have not survived a simple cost-benefit analysis to the extent that they could be funded out of general tax revenues.

There is something seriously wrong with the financial machinery of this country and the inter-relationships between private wealth and the public purse. I’m wondering what can be done to lift the veil on this kind of robbery so the public can be better protected.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

This is one of those rare cases when I feel that the victims aren’t just renters like Irvine, but the car rental companies, too. When 40 percent of the money you take from your customers goes to taxes and other fees, you aren’t a car rental company anymore. You’re a quasi-government agency that collects taxes from unsuspecting travelers.

This madness has to end.


Part of your nonrefundable airline ticket is refundable, after all

It turns out your nonrefundable ticket isn’t entirely nonrefundable, after all. Taxes and government fees, which until now have disappeared into a void — and many believe, are simply pocketed by airlines — can be returned.

Just do what Susan Cornell did when Spirit Airlines wouldn’t refund the taxes and fees on her canceled ticket: dispute your credit card charge.

Several months ago, she asked Spirit for her money back, but it didn’t bother responding. Undeterred, she wrote to government officials and told her story to a national audience on Peter Greenberg’s radio show.

Today we checked our American Express bill, where we charged the Spirit tickets, and we were given a $42 credit yesterday from Spirit. This is the amount in dispute — We won!

Apparently they can’t keep the pre-paid travel taxes and government fees!

Maybe this small victory will put the spotlight on Spirit’s billing practices and force Spirit to return money to others. Can you imagine how much money that might be?

Yes, I can.

It has all the makings of a class-action lawsuit that would involve the entire airline industry, particularly if an audit showed that airlines kept all of the money paid in taxes and fees and passed none of it along to the government. But even if it did, passengers would be able to take up their case with governments and airports. I’d pay good money to see that trial.

Has anyone else managed to get a refund on fees and taxes on a domestic, nonrefundable airline ticket?


Hey Priceline, I want my taxes back!

Question: I’m trying to get a partial refund for my airline ticket, and am getting nowhere. Maybe you can help me.

I recently booked a nonrefundable ticket on Lufthansa from San Francisco to Istanbul through Priceline.com. I had to call off my travel plans because of an illness, so I decided to recoup my rather sizable surcharges and fees, which amounted to about $350.

I phoned the airline to ask about a refund, and an agent suggested I get in touch with Priceline. But Priceline said it could only refund the taxes and fees if Lufthansa agreed to it. The back-and-forth continued, with neither side able to help me.

I feel Priceline is responsible for the refund, since it was my travel agent. How do I get these two groups to talk to each other and rectify the situation? — Kevin O’Connell, San Francisco

Answer: Priceline should have helped you with your refund instead of passing you off to Lufthansa.

While it’s true that a nonrefundable airfare isn’t refundable, there’s another part of your ticket that I think should be reimbursed. Certain government taxes and fees ought to be returned to you.

It turns out your base fare was $50 less than the other fees you paid. And getting more than half your money back for your airline ticket is better than nothing.

I’ve often wondered what happens to all of those extras that get tacked on to your airline ticket. There’s a long list of them, including a federal excise tax, a passenger facility charge and a September 11th Security Fee. Do those get sent to the government when you cancel your flight? Or does the airline just pocket them?

When you ask the airlines, they insist the money is going to the right place. Some carriers will refund a portion of your fees upon request; others won’t.

To avoid a runaround, you should have put down the phone and picked up a pen. A brief, polite letter or email to Priceline would have prevented the seemingly endless game of pass the buck. You can also forward a copy of the letter to Lufthansa — or, if necessary, to a supervisor at Priceline.

A phone call is probably the least efficient way to initiate a refund request, but I don’t have a problem with starting the process with a verbal request. The moment you run into trouble, hit the keyboard.

I contacted Priceline on your behalf. It apologized for the delay and refunded your taxes and fees.