US Airways Gets the Cranky Jackass For Adding Booking Fees to Their Own Website

This one is just mind-boggling. US Airways has quietly slipped in a $5 surcharge when you book flights at usairways.com, their redjackassown f*&*’n website! I’m not sure when it started, but it had to have been recently. Combine this with the expiration of the online booking bonus at the end of November and they have not only eliminated any incentive to book on the website, they’ve actually created disincentives. Add in the fact that they bury this surcharge into the base fare so you won’t find out it’s there and US Airways gets the first fire-red-with-anger Cranky Jackass.

First of all, let me show you what I found. I always participate in the Phoenix HeartWalk every spring, so I looked up flight options from Long Beach to Phoenix leaving Feb 29 and returning Mar 2. I usually start with a metasearch site like Kayak or Sidestep and then go directly to the website for booking. This time, I tried Farecast and saw this:

07_12_12 ussurchargefarecast

I clicked through to US Airways and the price didn’t show up as $117 but rather $122.30, as you can see here:

07_12_12 ussurchargewebsite

I started trying to figure out what was going on, so I looked around at a bunch of other sites. You can see I’ve cobbled together the prices from the OTAs below:

07_12_12 ussurchargeweb

They’re all also $122.30 except for Orbitz with its penny rounding error and Priceline with its $117.30 price. So while Orbitz, Travelocity, and Expedia add their $5 service fee, US Airways has quietly decided to do the same for bookings on their own site. What’s even more shady about this entire thing is that US Airways has buried it into the base fare so you would never know that you were paying $5 more than the base price. And since Priceline no longer has booking fees, you can actually get the flight for less money by booking on Priceline.

Now my curiosity got the better of me, so I called up reservations to see what they’d say. They told me that fare would be $122.65 plus a $10 reservation fee. I have no idea how they ended up being $.35 more than anywhere else, but it’s clear the $5 fee applies to phone reservations as well. And that’s on top of the $10 fee they already charge. At this point I decided to see if I could get to the bottom of this, so I opened up the KVS Availability Tool and looked at the surcharge fare rules in the SABRE system. Unfortunately, this is what it gave me:

07_12_12 ussurchargekvs

Though this won’t show me the surcharge, I have to think there is one in there or it wouldn’t be hidden from agency view.

This makes absolutely no sense to me on so many levels. First of all, all US airlines, including US Airways, have spent years trying to convince customers that the best place to go to find the cheapest fare is their own websites. It was an unwritten agreement between airline and customer that you could go to the website and not find it cheaper anywhere else except for possibly from the stray consolidator or when packaged with hotels and car rentals. Now, US Airways has decided to chuck that right out the window. The years and money they’ve spent on building up that reputation have been flushed right down the toilet. And the fact that they try to hide it in the base fare so the customer can’t see it makes it even worse.

What does this mean to me? Well, if I do fly US Airways (and this does make me slightly less likely to do so), I’ll book at Priceline. There’s no reason to spend more money to buy on the US website if I can get it cheaper elsewhere.

Did they really think people wouldn’t find out about this? Did they think they could charge more and nobody would change their behavior? I asked my PR contact at the airline and he wasn’t aware that this was happening he said “the $5 increase you’re seeing is essentially a fare increase to fares booked at usairways.com.” (updated 12/11 @ 1002p)

I’m sure they’ve done the calculations. They’re smart people. The bet is that they can make more money with that $5 hidden surcharge than they’ll lose from people ditching the airline, migrating to Priceline for cheaper fares, or booking via other OTAs for more amenities and better service. Sadly, that bet is probably right in the short term and potentially right even in the long term but that’s harder to predict. That’s why if they had done this so that people could clearly see the fee, it might be hard for me to argue even though I don’t agree with the decision. But the sneaky nature of this just leaves me feeling cheated.

What does this mean for the OTAs? Will Priceline re-institute a booking fee or will they continue to have a price advantage? If I were Priceline, I’d keep the advantage and enjoy the influx of people who will book on the site. But you have to think that US Airways will pressure them to add a fee again. If not, lower back-end commissions may be in their future. (I’m assuming they still get some.) For all the other OTAs, well, things just got interesting. Many of them offer customer service above and beyond what customers get through the airline, so if the price is the same, why not get more for your money by booking through OTAs?

And what about the metasearch guys? After I found that issue on Farecast, I looked at Kayak and Sidestep as well, but USAirways.com didn’t even show up as a seller. Maybe US Airways will plan on backing away from all metasearch guys now that they won’t look as competitive as they did before. If not, metasearch sites like Farecast will have to adjust their USAirways.com fares by $5 to be accurate.

Wow. This one is just incredible.


26 Responses to US Airways Gets the Cranky Jackass For Adding Booking Fees to Their Own Website

  1. Wonko Beeblebrox says:

    What’s interesting to me is that the same fare basis code exists for both flights(EXAUSA4Y), and yet the two fares are exactly $4.65 different.

    …and that $4.65 difference + that weird $0.35 extra phone difference equals a nice even $5…

  2. US Airways really did earn the JA award for that fee. I wonder what else they’re brainstorming to make a buck or five on.

  3. flightjunkie says:

    $4.65 plus the 7.5% US tax = $5.00.

    Surcharges are filed untaxed, and like the base fare, will be taxed 7.5%, which makes up the $5 difference

  4. Jeff Dean says:

    $0.35 is also the 7.5% transportation tax on $4.65. So $4.65 plus tax adds $5. Which then makes you still wonder why the phone quote was another $0.35 higher but it’s as if another $4.65 was being taxed.

  5. Chris says:

    The important question is: Now that US Air is charging this fee, are they going to invest the time and money to make their website work?

    I’m a regular business traveler based in Philadelphia, and have been perpetually stymied by the US Air website. I can see the flights I want exist, but I haven’t been able to book them through their site. I end up buying the ticket from another OTA who will sell me what I want.

    I’ve found the problem to be the worst with Star Alliance code shares (United and Lufthansa), but there have been times I haven’t been able to book itineraries on US Air equipment on their site that other OTA’s have been able to sell me.

    This has prompted me to adopt a personal “avoid US Air” policy. I will spend more on a ticket and more time in the air to get somewhere that should have been more straightforward on US Air. This stunt of theirs now saves me the time of even looking at their site.

  6. Me says:

    12. SURCHARGES
    FOR FARES WITH FOOTNOTE B NOTE – GENERAL RULE DOES NOT APPLY THE PROVISIONS BELOW APPLY ONLY AS FOLLOWS – SALE IS RESTRICTED TO SPECIFIC AGENTS. A FUEL SURCHARGE OF USD 4.65 PER TICKET WILL BE ADDED TO THE APPLICABLE FARE. UNLESS OTHERWISE SPECIFIED THE PROVISIONS BELOW APPLY ONLY AS FOLLOWS – SALE IS RESTRICTED TO SPECIFIC AGENTS. A FUEL SURCHARGE OF USD 4.65 PER TICKET WILL BE ADDED TO THE APPLICABLE FARE.

  7. Wonko Beeblebrox says:

    Usair’s website says that there are no booking fees when booking at usairways.com:

    http://www.usairways.com/awa/content/traveltools/specialneeds/ticketingpolicies/taxesfees.aspx

    [snip]
    SERVICE FEES
    Ticketing Fee

    US Airways adds a $10 fee for tickets purchased at Reservations and a $20 fee for tickets issued at airport and city ticket offices. There is no booking fee for tickets purchased or redeemed on usairways.com.
    [snip]

    hrmmm….

  8. OAG says:

    Hey CF,

    US has a fuel surchage of $4.65 per ticket on many of their fares. They are not alone on this and many carriers have been very active playing the fuel surcharge game since mid-November. You are right they will get a number of customers who pay $5 more to book on them rather than jump to a non-fee based OTA. Display competitiveness by the initiating carrier prevented this applying to OTAs. On another note they are at least in compliance with the DOT while some carriers are bending the rules.

    The DOT has a full fare advertising rule (14 CFR 399.84) which states that all non-goverment imposed fees like a fuel surcharge should be in the ticket price displayed on an airline or travel agent website. So the $98 fare on US from LGB to PHX should not be advertised as $98 but as $103 and they don’t need to display the $19.30 in segment tax, PFC, and the security fee. On their low fare finder US is showing $103 so they are complying with the full fare advertising rule. I am not sure why farecast shows $117, sounds like an issue with them while Kayak shows the $122 you will pay on the US site. I added the link below that talks more about advertising fare rules.

    http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/rules/20010118.htm

  9. Flyingcat says:

    I think you are off in calling this something underhanded. US is adding a surcharge that other airlines including LCCs have tacked on with the fuel increases.

    If anything the story is not that US is adding fees.

    The story here is that Priceline in some sort of fare goofup is not adding the surcharge to US tickets purchased on thier website.

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  12. Fees are complex and I haven’t had the time to check out your reasoning fully. But I agree it seems silly for an airline to disincentivise customers from using their own site. US Airways is hardly the only airline to do that though, for example Qantas charges A$6.60 for credit card payments online for bookings from Australia(unavoidable unless you have an Australian bank account with linked bpay), when you can avoid the fee booking elsewhere.

  13. Jeff Dean says:

    Flyingcat, I must disagree with you. It is underhanded as it appears US is only charging this “fuel surcharge” on their own distribution channels. Via any other distribution channel, it is not charged and as near as I can tell, is not supposed to be charge. So in essence, US has two different fares – one for other distribution channels and one for their own and the one for their own is greater than other by an amount that just happens to be equal to the booking fee most of the other channels charge.

    They can call it anything they want but that doesn’t change the fact that they’ve have for all intents and purposes added a an additional fee (bundled as part of the fare) for booking through their own distribution channels.

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  18. JR says:

    No, it hasn’t been relaxed/removed. This is easy to see by looking at a one-way vs. a round trip fare. For example, IAD-TLH is $354. The price for a one-way trip from IAD-TLH, or from TLH-IAD is $359 + taxes, etc … in either direction. But the r/t is ticketed as $359 on the outbound, $354 on the return. If you buy the one-ways you pay the $5 fee twice (once for each ticket). If you buy the r/t you pay it once.

    So, yes, the extra $5 per trip is there. Call it what you will, fuel surcharge per ticket or booking fee for usair.com, but it the charge isn’t there on other outlets (Priceline, etc) we’re getting hosed for using usair.com Not cool … and a dumb idea if the goal is to drive people _to_ usair.com isntead of away from it.

  19. CF says:

    Thanks for the update, JR. You’re right. It’s back in force on LGB-PHX as well. Lame.

  20. Renee says:

    Higher taxes and fees on some of the cheap fare sites are higher than on the airline sites. Make sure to compare total prices when shopping. Your cheap fare lead-in price may not turn out to be cheaper after all.

  21. David Porter says:

    Changing departure city using dividend miles!!!!My original cityof departure was Buffalo but due to business I was going to be in the Phil. Pa. area and therefore wanted to depart from Phil. I am willing to give the two seats from Buffalo to Phil back to USAirways for free for resale to gain more revenue. All I wanted to do was elminate driving from Phil. area to Buffalo to catch a flight to Phila. THE COSTS FOR THIS REQUEST IS 150.00/ticket or 300.00. HOW USER FRIENDLY AND COOPERATIVE IS THIS AIRLINE? When having other choices of airline carriers why would anyone select USAirways if they treat their customers like this.

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  23. Kberns says:

    Games Priceline Plays

    PRICELINE has wasted more than 2 hours of my valuable time in the last 12 – don’t let it happen to you. There are other discount travel vendors.

    I was looking for a flight + hotel + rental car for a three-day business trip from Washington (DCA) to Ann Arbor (DTW) in mid-January. After more than an hour of having the Priceline site throw away information or produce different flight itineraries and hotels multiple times, I came up with a package that included only nonstop flights albeit at undesirable times. The price was not cheap but it was acceptable.

    After I selected everything the Priceline site wanted me to select and entered all my demographic and credit card information, a pop-up box appeared on my screen as shown below:
    __________________________

    Signin……
    Important Information About Your Package
    We were unable to complete your Vacation Package booking; please contact us at 1-800-658-1496 to speak with a representative who can update you on the status of your request. We apologize for the inconvenience.
    Your Priceline Package Request Number: 588-637-941-12

    Vacation Help: 1-866-PRICELINE
    ______________________

    When I called the 800-658-1496 number shown, a recording told me that Priceline was very busy and I should get off the line if I wasn’t already in transit or starting a purchased trip within a week. I stayed on the line anyway and the next option was to press 1 to speak to a representative if I had a “Package Request Number.” I entered said number, and then was asked for the telephone number I had used in my attempted booking. If I hadn’t entered the right number, I would have been hosed right there – which would have been just as well, considering what a totally useless and galling experience it was to wait for and then speak to a Priceline representative who gave his name as Lycan.

    Priceline had enticed me into wasting this call simply so that a human being could tell me that my attempted reservation had been “rejected.” Lycan speculated that the reason might be that my credit card had been refused (a business Amex???) or that some segment of my trip was unavailable. In any event, he apparently had no access to information on the actual reason for the rejection or the opportunity to complete the transaction on the telephone, which was what I had been expecting.

    I asked to speak to a supervisor. Priceline’s system designers are clearly Catch-22 fans: if the website rejects your “request,” you have no booking, and without a booking, the Lycans of the Priceline world aren’t allowed to let you speak to a supervisor.

    Why on earth not just tell me to beat it when I click on “submit” the itinerary? Why subject me, and their telephone people (wonder what part of the globe they are in) to a nuisance call where all Priceline wishes to disclose is that they rejected a request for a $1000 transaction, for no discernible reason?

    I’ll have to be truly desperate before I ever try to use Priceline again. I’m urging all my relatives, friends and business associates to skip this customer-hostile company and I hope that the anonymous travelers out there also take heed.

    Thanks for listening.

  24. jro says:

    US Airways SUCKS.

    I have a $646.19 credit for a flight. I want to use my $646.19 credit towards a new flight that only cost $300. I was told that I would be stuck with a $150 change fee but my credit was large enough to cover that. US Airways now wants me to pay an additional $150 on a credit card and forfiet the remaining balance. How does that make sense? A $300 flight is now going to cost $800.

    Now I know why I prefer to fly Southwest.

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