The air wars are underway. However, the taxes and fees can ruin the so-called deal.

Airline ticket sale

Southwest started the trend announcing $40, $80, and $120 fares. Frontier is also running a deal offering fares to/from select cities for $49-134. American is offering flights for $69 for some cities. Finally, tonight I saw Continental joined the party without advertising they dropped their prices.  When the big carriers join the savings race, you know the air fare wars are on.

I’ve been checking flights for several days now hoping to cash in on Southwest’s deal. Of course, as I’ve previously reported flying out of Cleveland is not cheap. The cost is $80 versus $40 in Pittsburgh. That aside, my boyfriend has a restrictive travel schedule that requires he fly on peak days which means it’s difficult to make the Southwest deal work for him. The deal doesn’t apply on Sunday, and that’s the day he has to fly back.

For days, I’ve been running all sorts of fare combinations trying to find a way to make the trip work for both of us. I didn’t find anything that would allow my boyfriend to get back to town on Sunday for a reasonable price. I held out until tonight knowing the Southwest deal ends Thursday, June 23rd. As a last ditch effort, I ran the fare on Continental and couldn’t believe my eyes. Out of nowhere, appeared a fare for $220 roundtrip on peak travel days. Southwest was going to cost us $200 on non-peak days and the Continental fare was nonstop whereas Southwest had a stop. We booked the nonstop flight immediately. It was a no-brainer.

Then, I began thinking about how that lucrative fare on Southwest suddenly jumped to over $200. The sale was $80 each way. That brings the total to $160. The taxes and fees added up on Southwest to almost $53.96. The final tally was $202.80.

Then, I compared the same route on Continental. On Southwest, there was a stop, but Continental offered a nonstop flight. So, automatically the taxes and fees should be higher on Southwest because the rates are figured based on the number of times you get on and off a plane and which airports you travel to, from, and through. However, the difference really surprised me.

Remember, Southwest quoted a fare of $160, but the total was $202.80.

Continental quoted a nonstop fare at $199. Their taxes and fees were only $21.40. That made me think a bit. Why were the taxes and fees $53.96 on Southwest? I clicked on Continental’s hyperlink for “Taxes/Fees” for the itemized list of   Continental fees. When I added up Continental’s itemized list, it came to $35.28. So, how could Continental list my taxes and fees as just $21.40? At the bottom there was a disclaimer that some of the fees and taxes are included in the quoted price.  The quoted price was $199, and the total price was $220.40.

While there are many variables that impact the amount of taxes and fees you pay, it’s clear the airlines are not adding the fees to the ticket in the same way. We’re paying the fees, but the way those fees are explained to the consumer varies. It means you need to read the fine print and really see if a deal is as good as it sounds.

Changes on the way

The other issue with taxes and fee deals with when you find out about them. Sometimes, you don’t know the true cost of taxes and fees until you get ready to purchase the fare. While sites like Travelocity make it clear the true price you’ll pay from the moment you get your first search results.

All these variables are the reason the government is looking at ways to make airline fees more transparent to the consumer. Starting in late August, the Department of Transportation says airlines will have to disclose all potential fees including baggage, meals, reservation change fees and so on. Plus, government taxes and fees will need to be included in every advertised price. It will be interesting to see how this rule changes the pricing game.

For now, there seems to be two very different marketing strategies. One company advertised the low fare on the front end to hook you in. Then, you get hit with taxes and fees that are almost as much as the fare. The other airline advertises a price that’s close to the final price with taxes and fees. Unless you are paying attention to the taxes and fees, you might not catch this. It’s another reminder that you really have to look around and look beyond the advertised price and really pay attention to the final price. It pays to shop around, and read the fine print.

It truly is a game. If you’re willing to play it, you can save.