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Give Spirit a “C” for Chutzpah

Spirit Airlines’ current press release—a screed against the new federal requirements for truth in airfare advertising—turns the concept of “transparency” on its head. Yes, Caroline Costello has already posted a good summary of the issue, but I feel compelled to add a supporting voice.

Spirit states that the fares it lists are now “distorted because the U.S. Department of Transportation is forcing us to hide all of their taxes and fees in the fares you see, including our sale fare advertisements” and that, as a consequence, “fares can no longer be ‘transparent.’” Really? Telling you up front what you really have to pay is somehow less “transparent” than luring you with a low-ball fare figure then adding in a bunch of extras before you buy? Especially when some of the “fees” that Spirit classes as “their” (DOT’s) fees are really Spirit’s own fees?

For many years, I’ve advocated a “buyability” test for any and all price postings, in airfares as well as hotel accommodations and other travel services. That means you should actually be able to buy the service for the featured price. Sounds pretty “transparent” to me.

To cement its chutzpah award, Spirit has mounted a separate Keep My Fares Low website to justify its deception. If Spirit were to name that site honestly, it would be “Keep My Fares Looking Lower Than They Really Are.” DOT’s rules don’t increase Spirit’s fares; those rules merely require they be posted accurately.

Spirit—which relies heavily on extras and fees for total income—is still free to add a laundry list of “optional” fees, which it liberally does. The taxes and fees that DOT requires be included are limited to those that are mandatory and unavoidable.

The new DOT rules are a valuable forward step for consumers. There are still a few loose ends, however, mainly fare postings at half their real price as “each way based on round-trip purchase” and phony “optional” fees that really aren’t optional in any practical sense.

Spirit urges you to let your elected officials know that the DOT should reduce this regulation that “burdens the American people.” Really? “Burdens?” Seeing what you really have to pay is a “burden?” I suggest instead that you let these elected officials know that you strongly support truth and accuracy in price advertising and that you give the DOT a high five for its new rules.

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